Preserved lemons

I’ve never actually bought ready-preserved lemons, as I decided to try making them myself once and realised how easy it was. Whenever I’m running low, I just do another jar of them so that they’re ready by the time I get round to needing them.

I usually either use these in tagines or chopped up into ‘grainy’ salads (for example those involving bulgar wheat, cous cous or pearl barley). They have a lovely salty, tangy taste.

To prepare them once they’re preserved, scrape the flesh from the peel with a teaspoon and discard. Rinse the peel thoroughly before chopping and adding to your chosen dish.

Ingredients

  • Unwaxed lemons
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Bay leaves
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Mixed peppercorns

Start by choosing your jars. It’s best to use jars with no metal in the lids or attachments as the salt water will corrode them. Kilner-type jars are therefore not a good idea (trust me on this one- I preserved lemons in a Kilner jar once and the salt water residue corroded the metal lever closure until it just pinged off in the fridge one day). You want the jars to be large-ish, but also small enough to comfortably fit in your fridge as you’ll need to keep the lemons in there once you open them. I usually use 100g size coffee jars with plastic lids.

Sterilize one or two of your chosen jars, using your preferred method. (This article gives more details on sterilizing stuff.) Meanwhile, fill a large jug with boiling water and leave to cool. Tip a reasonable amount of sea salt into a bowl.

Once you’ve got your nice, hot, sterilized jar(s) and your boiled and cooled water, it’s basically just an assembly job:

Cut your lemons in half lengthways, then almost quarter them lengthways but leave them attached at the bottom. Open the cut in the halved lemon and generously pack it with sea salt. Sprinkle some sea salt in the bottom of the jar, then add your halved lemon, squishing it down into the jar. Repeat this process, packing the halved lemons tightly down into the jar and adding bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns and more sea salt in among the lemons. If your jar’s a bit bigger, you can leave the lemons whole and cut a cross lengthways almost to the base, packing the lemons with salt as before. Try to squeeze as many lemons into your jar as you can.

Once your jar is full to the top, sprinkle on some more sea salt and pour the boiled and cooled water into the jar right to the top. Cover with cellophane and a rubber band and then screw the lid on tightly. Invert the jar a few times to distribute the salt and leave in a cool, dry cupboard for at least a few weeks before eating. Invert the jar every now and again to re-distribute the salt. Once opened, keep in the fridge.

Beef Tagine

I’m not going to advertise this as any kind of ‘authentic’ tagine recipe (although I’m not sure what that might even be), nor is it cooked in a proper tagine pot (although it could be for anyone who has one). I’ve never even been to North Africa. It’s just my interpretation of a beef tagine that I cook fairly regularly in the slow cooker and it tastes good, which is what’s important. The slow cooker has the same effect as a tagine pot, cooking the meat slowly so that it’s nice and tender.

I don’t tend to add dried fruit to tagines because Owen has a weird thing about dried fruit in savoury food, but you could easily chuck some in to this recipe. Perhaps some dried apricots or figs or whatever you fancy.

Ingredients

  • 60g dried chickpeas
  • A level tablespoonful of caraway seeds
  • A level tablespoonful of cumin seeds
  • A level tablespoonful of coriander seeds
  • A teaspoon of ground coriander
  • A teaspoon of ground cumin
  • A teaspoon of ground ginger
  • A teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • A teaspoon of paprika (not smoked)
  • 500g beef stewing steak, cut into chunks
  • A handful of flaked almonds
  • An onion, sliced into half moons
  • 1 or 2 red peppers, chopped into small chunks or strips
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • Half a teaspoon of chilli flakes or a red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • A tablespoon of cornflour
  • A tin of chopped tomatoes
  • Half a large preserved lemon
  • A tablespoon of honey
  • A beef stock cube

Soak the chickpeas overnight or for at least 8 hours in plenty of water with a bit of bicarbonate of soda added to it.

Into a large, deep, dry frying pan, add the caraway, cumin and coriander seeds and toast on a medium heat until they start to become aromatic but without burning them. Add the seeds from the pan into a pestle and mortar and bash until they’re powdery and fragrant. Add the bashed seeds along with the ground coriander, cumin, ginger, cinnamon and paprika to a bowl with the beef chunks and rub with clean hands to coat the meat. Set this aside for a moment.

Add the flaked almonds to the dry pan and toast them on a medium heat until they start to colour, but again, don’t let them burn. When they’re nicely toasted, add them to the pestle and mortar and bash them gently to break them up a bit. Set aside.

Brown the spice rub-covered meat in batches in the dry pan and remove with a slotted spoon into a bowl.

Add a small glug of oil to the pan and fry the onion and peppers on a medium heat until the onion turns translucent. Add the garlic and chilli and fry for a couple of minutes more.

Add the cornflour and stir in until it’s coated in oil.

Add the tinned tomatoes (whizzing them first in a food processor if you like), then refill the tin a third full with water and swill around to get the remainder of the tomato-y goodness. Add this water to the pan as well.

Remove the flesh from the preserved lemon with a spoon and discard. Finely chop the remaining lemon peel and add to the pan.

Add the honey and crumble in the beef stock cube, and drain and add the chickpeas. Add the browned meat along with any juices.

Stir everything together before putting into the slow cooker and cooking on low for 6-8 hours. Serve with cous cous, and maybe sprinkle some more toasted almonds on top to finish.