Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pumpkin Pie Wontons with Maple Cream Dipping Sauce

 Pumpkin Pie Wontons with Maple Cream Dipping Sauce

Just in Time for Thanksgiving:  Pumpkin Pie Wontons with Maple Cream Dipping Sauce
by Victoria Challancin

With Thanksgiving looming for Americans, even for expats like me, I wanted to offer a simple seasonal dessert that would be a perfect ending to a heavy meal of turkey and all the trimmings. Although I tend to stick to traditional family recipes for this beloved holiday, I can easily see substituting this easy-to-prepare dessert for my aunt's traditional pumpkin pie.  Good enough to eat a dozen, yet small enough to be satisfied with just one, this dessert is guaranteed to gratify all.

The filling comes together quickly, and the wontons fry in minutes.  Perhaps the maple cream dipping sauce is gilding the lily, but it is tasty enough to be included and offers that last bit of decadence to polish off a day of general gustatory excess.

Pumpking Pie Wontons with Maple Cream Dipping Sauce

Cook's Notes:  If using canned pumpkin, there is more enough to easily double this recipe.  And why not?  If opening a packet of 50 wonton wrappers, it is easy enough to make more than the twenty listed in the recipe amounts.  And trust me, these disappear almost as quickly as you can fry them, roll them in sugar, and put them on a plate!  You can use plain water to seal them, in lieu of an egg wash.  Also, these can be baked--but they are definitely better fried!

Recipe:  Pumpkin Pie Wontons with Maple Cream Dipping Sauce
(Recipe from
Makes 20 wontons, but can easily be doubled

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons canned pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (see the recipe below)
2 tablespoons Neufchatel cream cheese, room temperature
20 wonton wrappers
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water)--or just use plain water
Vegetable oil for frying
Powdered sugar or cinnamon/granulated sugar for dusting

Optional Maple Dip:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup Neufchatel cream cheese, room temperature (or use regular cream cheese)
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a small bowl, whisk together pumpkin puree, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice and cream cheese until combined.

Lay wonton wrappers on a clean surface.  Brush egg wash (or even plain water) along edges of each wrapper and place 1 teaspoon filling in the center.  Fold each wrapper into a triangle and pinch edges to seal.

In a large, deep saucepan over medium heat, bring about 1 1/2 inches oil to about 320 degrees F.  Drop 3-4 wontons (or more if you can add them without crowding the pan) into the hot oil and cook 2 to 3 minutes each side or until golden brown.  Alternately, you can spray the wontons with oil, dust with cinnamon sugar, and bake for about 15 minutes or until golden.

Remove wontons with slotted spoon and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain and cool slightly. Repeat with remaining wontons.  Dust wontons with powdered sugar or cinnamon-sugar.

To make the dipping sauce:  In a small bowl, whisk together powdered sugar, cream cheese, maple syrup and ground cinnamon.  Serve dip alongside warm wontons.

How to make Pumpkin Pie Spice Mix:
Makes 2 1/3 tablespoons
(Adapted from The Contemporary Encyclopedia of Herbs & Spices by Tony Hill)

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Place all ingredients in a small bowl.  Whisk or stir to combine.  Store in an airtight container for up to 1 year.

Parting Shot:  

©Victoria Challancin

Flavors of the Sun Cooking School
San Miguel de Allende, México

Please ask permission before using photos or text.  Thank you1

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Day of the Dead 2014: Symbolism and Colors

On an altar in the main square of San Miguel de Allende, November 2, 2014

Day of the Dead:  Symbolism and Colors

by Victoria Challancin

In Mexico, my adopted home, we dance with death on a near-daily basis, but never as we do on el Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, when real communication with the dead is believed possible.  

Together, dear Readers, we have talked about The Poetry of Death, sampled the alfeñiques or sugar skulls/figures, strolled through the Day of the Dead Markets, we have built altars, visited altars, and seen even more altars, enjoyed the food...together we have done all this, and yet I know, that if you are a non-Mexican reader, you no doubt find it all strange, if not disturbingly macabre.

In a past post, I summed it up as I best know how:  ...with all the death imagery, that constant reminder of our mortality, humor permeates all.  In Mexico, it is not that loss isn't felt, that grief isn't present, or even that sadness isn't is more that a sensible perspective exists, allowing us to feel the sorrow, remember those who have most touched our lives, and always know that death is an inevitable part of life.  Death.  The one inevitable experience that no once can escape.  No one.

Reams have been written about Mexico's celebration of the Day of the Dead and its obsession with Death.  Reams.  Volumes.  Often I read that it is an example of how Mexicans laugh at death.  I don't believe that Mexicans laugh at death at all, rather they "celebrate" death as a means of staying connected and honoring those that they love, those who have passed on--albeit in a joyful and colorful way.  No dreary mourning here.  Instead, we have a vivid connection to the Cycle of Life.

The indigenous peoples of Mexico, such as the Nahua, Purepecha, Totonac, and Otomí believed that the souls of the dead return yearly to visit with their relatives.  And they come laughing, drinking, dancing, singing and generally being merry, just as when they were alive.  There is surely a message for us all here--seize the moment and live!

“The Mexican... is familiar with death. (He) jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it. It is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love.”     Octavio Paz, Mexican Poet and Writer

(Note:  November 1st is known as All Saints Day and the 2nd is All Souls Day--the days when the dead return to us each year).   

Instead of wearing masks and costumes meant to scare away the evil spirits, Mexicans offer beauty in the form of floral arrangements, favorite sweets and food, and photos to both remember and welcome the loved ones who have passed on.

The Symbolism and Meaning of the Colors
The most common colors seen on the altars for Day of the Dead are purple, yellow, orange, white, red, and pink.  Each one carries its own meaning.

Purple:  suffering, pain, loss, and grief

Yellow/Orange:  the brilliance of the sun and a new day

White:  purity, promise, and hope

Red:  the blood of life which sustains not only the body but the soul and a symbol of sacrifice

Pink:  celebration and joy

A Catrina

Why Skeletons?
They dance, they prance, they cavort, they sing, they eat, and laugh.  They represent those who are no longer with us in the flesh, but are with us in spirit.  They remind us that they are still here, still a part of us, and they remind us literally of what is inside every one of us--our skeleton, representing our inner selves, our souls.  They also remind us of the good things in life:  good wine, family, eating, singing, dancing, and playing.  And they do it so well.

A friend and her partner dressed as a Catrina and a Catrín
Calaveras, or Skulls
In addition to the entire skeleton, the heads, or skulls alone are a beloved emblem for the Day of the Dead.  Often depicted in humorous settings, they can be caricatures of famous people such as actors or politicians, musicians, dancers, policemen, and revolutionaries.  The most iconic of these symbols come from the works of artist José Guadalupe Posada whose 19th century engravings form the basis of the beloved Catrina figure  (see above).  Note as well that the pre-Columbian Mexicans viewed the skull as a symbol of life, rather than death.

The Marigolds
Cempazuchitl, the Náhuatl or Aztec word for marigold, act as symbols for death in ancient Mesoamerican mythology.  Often they are seen broken open, so that their petals can be used to lead the dead home where they are honored and prayed for by their loved ones.  They are also woven into arches and left whole in vases or growing in pots--the "flower of the dead."  These flowers are also called zempasuchil. cempasuchil, or zempasuchitl.

Las Ofrendas, or Offerings
Favorite foods of the beloved are always offered on the altars.  You will see sugar cane, oranges, apples, pan de muerto, peanuts, seeds, beanstequila, beer, tamales, refried beans, charro beans, nixtamal, tacos, enchiladas, and more.  Photos always are lovingly placed alongside the food offerings.  Toys, pipes, hats, and other personal belongings also find their way to the altars.

Papel Chino or Papel Picado
The beautifully and often intricately cut tissue paper designs can been seen decorating not only altars, but also homes, streets, neighborhoods, and shops.  They often show skeletons cavorting in their very human ways, displaying the same antics as the living.  This delicate tissue also represents the wind and the fragility of life.

Pan de Muerto
One of the staple foods on any altar is pan de muerto, or "bread of the dead," which symbolizes the souls of the departed.  This slightly sweet egg bread can be found in a variety of shapes from simple round with crosses or bones atop them to elaborate skulls and skeletons.  

Candles and Incense
The candles, or fire,  are meant to guide the spirits to their final resting place as well as help them return to visit the living.  Incense also helps to carry the soul along, with soft scents, on its journey.

Alfeñiques, or Sugar Figures
Although I have written extensively about alfeniques before, and shown lovingly made examples from the local Day of the Dead Market, no post about Day of the Dead can miss mentioning these whimsical sugar figures, made with powdered sugar, egg whites, and a vegetable adhesive made of lemon.  Check out the link above for many examples of the types of sugar figures Mexicans put on their home altars.

Day of the Dead
San Miguel de Allende, México

Parting Shot:  
A Degas-esque ballerina offering, made by a precious Mexican friend and her father

Please ask permission before using text or photos.  Thank you!

Victoria Challancin
Flavors of the Sun Cooking School
San Miguel de Allende, México

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tamarind--Facts, Fun, and Recipes

Tamarind--Facts, Fun, and Recipes 
by Victoria Challancin

It's all in the name.  For me, it's always in the name.  Tamarind.  Tamar Hindi.  Indian Date.  Tamarindus indica.  And although I have eaten tamarind in various dishes all over Southeast Asia, for me it will ever be dual-linked to the Arab world, where I first really discovered it, and to Mexico, where it flourishes in the cuisine.

Even though I was vaguely aware that tamarind was an ingredient in several popular sauces I used and loved, such as Pick-a-Peppa and Worcestershire (and later HP Sauce), I never really got to know it as an ingredient until I first lived in the Middle East in the mid-seventies. In Abu Dhabi, where I moved in 1975, I encountered tamarind first as a cold drink, delicately flavored with rosewater, offered during Ramadan as a traditional drink.  Sour and haunting, the elusive flavor of tamarind was enhanced for me by what was then to me a very exotic ingredient, rosewater.  Since that time, both ingredients have found their way over and over in my cooking.

Here is a lovely version of that drink by Sawsan, the exceptional blogger of Chef in Disguise:

Sweet Tamarind Drink
200g package of tamarind
1 liter water
Sugar to taste
Rosewater (optional--but not really, at least to me)

Break apart the tamarind into small segments.  Place it in a pot with the water and 2/3 cup of sugar.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, then lower the heat and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.  Turn off heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes.

Strain the mix through a fabric with fine weave or some coffee filters.

Taste and adjust the sugar to your liking.  Cool in the refrigerator.  Add a small amount of rosewater just before serving.

This next recipe is one I have used and taught, however I did find one that looks even better, if more complicated on Food and Wine's site:
My version is also nice with a bit of fresh ginger and/or some cinnamon added.  But that could be gilding the lily!
Margarita making, in my experience, involved tasting and adding, adjusting frequently so you can just the right balance of sweet-sour-tequila.  Feel free to tinker with this.  I do.

Tamarind Margarita
(Recipe by Victoria Challancin)

Per serving:

Chile-Lime powder to rim the glass  (I use Tajin brand)
2 lime wedges (one to moisten the rim  of the glass, one for garnish)
2 tablespoons (I like a strong tamarind flavor--use less if you don't)
1 1/2 ounces good-quality tequila
1/2 ounce orange liquor
1/2 ounce simple syrup (use more if you like it sweeter)

Rim the glass with a lime wedge, cutting a slit in the lime to facilitate the process.  Fill a cocktail shaker with ice/  Add all of the ingredients and shake well.  Strain into a prepared glass and serve.  If you prefer a slushy marg, simple place all of the ingredients in a blender and give it a whirl.

To Prepare Fresh Tamarind
Crack open the tamarind fruit/pod, removing all bits of the brittle covering/  Peel away the stringy fibers.  Place the peeled pods, about 2 1/2 cups, in a pot with water to  barely cover the fruit.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes.  Stir to dissolve the pulp.  Strain liquid into a bowl by pressing the solid contents through a fine sieve.  Use a spoon to scrape all the pulp from the bottom of the sieve--you don't want to miss a drop!  Discard the leftover seeds and fibers.  Alternatively, the pulp can be soaked in just warm water for about 10 minutes before removing the pulp, though this method is less efficient.

This drawing has been in my files for so long that I no longer where I originally found it.

Later in Mexico, I found tamarind in a special mole from Oaxaca,  in various aguas frescas (see my article on Mexican fruit drinks here), in a chicken dish cooked with apricots for a sweet and sour kick, as a glaze for grilled shrimp, as a flavor for a hot corn-based atole drinkand in more recent years it has flourished as a popular margarita flavoring. (see the recipe below)  But of course, my most vivid tamarindo moments always involved my child, born and raised in Mexico, who loved (and still does) the popular sweet/sour tamarind candy rolled in chile powder which always tumbled out of the broken piñatas of his younger years.  In fact, even when he was 20, I asked what I could bring from Mexico when I visited him in Los Angeles, where he was living:  "Pulparindo!" he happily cried.  Pulparindo, indeed--his favorite candy from his youth.  Of course he also asked for Tajin, a chile-lime powder popular for sprinkling on fruits and even sandwiches made with milanesas of chicken or pork.  So I dutifully found the requested items, but in tiny form, so that I could hide them in the pockets of his clothes, in his shoes, under his pillow, basically anywhere I thought it would a fun find for him once I left.

A very small sampling of typical tamarind-chile Mexican sweets called dulces de tamarindo, my favorite being the one served in the ceramic shoe!  Note that the little pot of tamarind sweet comes with its own spoon/shovel.

A bag of whole tamarind pods from a local grocery store; in the market it is found loose and in bulk

                                                                                         Mexican Tamarind Martinis with Sour Plums                                                                             Photograph by Zachary Popovsky

While working with the wonderful Hip Entertainment Group production company in Los Angeles on a FoodNetwork show, I was asked to develop a tamarind martini recipe.  Of course I left it to my 20-year-old son, at the time, knowing he would do a great job, a far better job than I, in fact.  Here is what Zack created, complete with the tiny sour, salted plums readily found in Mexico.  In the end, the main producer decided to feature a tamarind margarita instead...and more's the pity.

Ingredient Note:  Saladitos are a common sweet in Mexico, made from dried, salted plums, often with the addition of sugar and anise.  Similar to chamoy, a sweet/sour/ chile sweet made from dried apricots and frequently paired with other fruits, saladitos are often sucked on their own or placed at the bottom of a glass filled with a soft drink such as Sprite.

Mexican Tamarind Martinis with Salted Plums
(Recipe by Zachary Popovsky)
Makes 6 servings

12 oz shelled fresh tamarind pods, rinsed with cold water
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup Mexican chile-lime powder (available in Mexican or Latin markets)
1 lime wedge
6 salted plums (available in Mexican or Latin markets)
2 to 2 1/2 cups vodka

Combine the tamarind and 4 cups water in a medium-size heavy saucepan set over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. Boil, uncovered, until the tamarind is very soft, about 10 minutes.

Carefully pour the tamarind water into a container and set aside.

Using a potato or bean masher, mash the tamarind with seeds in the saucepan.  Return the reserved tamarind water to the saucepan and mix it into the mashed pulp.  Strain the mixture into a pitcher, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.  Discard the solids.

Stir in 3 cups fresh water to form a fairly concentrated mixture.  Add the sugar and stir until it is dissolved. This concentrated mixture can be made up to 2 days in advance and kept refrigerated.

To prepare the martini glasses:  Pour several tablespoons of the chile-lime powder onto a flat saucer.  Make a gash in the lime wedge, using it to rim the martini glasses with lime juice.  Dip the rims of the glasses in the powder, tapping lightly to shake off any excess.

For each martini serving, combine 3/4 cup tamarind concentrate and 1/4 cup vodka in a cocktail shaker with ice.  Shake vigorously.  Strain into a prepared martin glass and serve.  Or, for a faster preparation, mix all the tamarind water, all the vodka, and some ice in a large pitcher and pour the mixture into each martini glass.

Tamarind History and a Few Fun Facts:
  • Botanically speaking, tamarind is native to tropical Africa, but because it is so prevalent in India, many people believe it originated there.  
  • It grows wild in Sudan and can be found in many other African countries as well
  • Arab traders traded tamarind to India and today, India is the number one producer of tamarind
  • The Portuguese introduced tamarind to the East Indies
  • The Spanish traders took tamarind to the Philippines and then to Mexico
  • Early colonists distributed tamarind throughout the Americas during the 17th century
  • Although India is the largest commercial cultivator of tamarind today, it is also produced in Mexico, Sudan, Thailand, Taiwan, China, Cameroon, Nigeria and Tanzania
  • The ancient Egyptians cultivated tamarind
  • The etymology of the word "tamarind" shows that it comes from the Arabic "tamar," or date, and "hindi," which means "Indian," hence "tamar hindi," or tamarind, Indian date
  • The tartaric acid, a powerful antioxidant, found in the pulp pairs well with both meat and vegetable dishes 
  • A tamarind tree can grow up to 80n feet in height, making it among the largest of the tropical trees belonging to the Fabaceae family
  • Each fruit pod has a brittle outer shell which encases the soft, fibrous pulp, and contains up to 10 hard dark-brown seeds
  • African children often use the  seeds from tamarind pods are often used in games
  • Minerals found in tamarind pulp include: copper, potassium, calcium, iron, selenium, zinc and magnesium
  • Rich in vitamins, including thiamin, vitamin A, Vitamin C as well as folic acid, niacin,  and riboflavin
  • Tamarind is rich in phytochemicals such as limocen, safrole, and cinnamic acid
  • Tamarind has beend used as an emulsifying agent in syrups and decoctions in various pharmaceutical products 
  • Fresh tamarind pods are available in late spring and early summer seasons, but process tamarind (i.e. in blocks, slices, paste, concentrates, balls, syrups, etc) are available throughout the year
  • In India, a special wooken stick is kept in the kitchen for the purpose of beating the pulp to remove the seeds
  • Tamarind blends well with other flavors; one popular drink blends the pulp with dates, sugar or honey, cardamom, cloves, and coriander seeds
  • Tamarind pulp is also sued as a solidifying agent in confectionaries
  • Tamarind has no known reported cases of allergic or toxicity
  • Eye drops exist that are made from tamarind seeds to ease dry eye syndrome (the seeds contain polysaccharide, which is adhesive and sticks to the surface of the eye for longer durations compared to other eye meds)
  • To alleviate biliousness and bile conditions, tamarind juice is drunk with lemon, milk, honey and dates
  • Combining the seeds with equal portions of cumin and sugar is a cure for dysentery, as is tamarind milk
  • Tamarind has even been used to combat body odor!

Health Benefits:
  • Because of the refrigerant properties of tamarind, it makes a good drink for anyone suffering from fever
  • Tamarind is packed with vitamin B and calcium
  • Tamarind is also slightly laxative
  • The sticky pulp is a rich source of non-starch fiber which increases the bulk of food and augments bowel movements
  • The fiber found in tamarind binds to toxins, thus helping to protect the colon mucus membrane from cancer-causing chemicals
  • The fibers in the pulp also bind to bile salts, which helps protect from cholesterol and aids in the expulsion of LDL cholesterol levels from the body
  • As with all ancient foods, tamarind has a long history of medicinal uses which range from easing stomach discomfort, aiding digestion, treating fevers, and use a a laxative
  • Sore throat, rheumatism, inflammation, and sunstroke have all been treated with tamarind
  • Dried or boiled leaves and flowers have been commonly used as poultices for swollen joints, sprains, boils, hemorrhoids, and conjunctivitis
  • Tamarind is best avoided by those who have diabetes as it is high in sugar
  • A brief breakdown in tamarind's health benefits shows that  its vitamin B content aids the nervous system;  its magnesium helps keep the bones strong; because if its high source of fiber, it helps overcome constipation and aids digestion; its high levels of potassium helps control blood pressure; its high iron content helps prevent anemia; the thiamin and niacin found in tamarind help control cholesterol levels; the riboflavin content of tamarind helps release energy from carbohydrates; rich in calcium, tamarind helps the process of blood clotting (with vitamin K);
  • the vitamin C found in tamarind helps maintain healthy teeth and gums; and among all the fruits and vegetables, tamarind is the highest source of protein, which can help produce antibodies that fight viruses and bacteria

Global Uses of Tamarind:
  • In Ghana, it is used to make a poisonous yam palatable and safe
  • In India it often appears in chutneys, curries (particularly vindaloo curries), rassams, and sauces and is used in ayurvedic medicine as a digestive, laxative, tonic, anthelminthic, antipyretic, and astringent, plus as a treatment for sore throat, urinary problems, some venereal diseases, ulcers, liver disease, and more
  • In Guadeloupe it is often found in jams and syrups
  • In Java, tamarind often livens up fish
  • Throughout Southeast Asia tamarind appears on the table in a variety of dishes from condiments to drinks to main-dish sauces, especially in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines 
  • In the Philippines tamarind can be found in several soups and candies; the leaves are also popular as a soup ingredient
  • In Thailand a special cultivar has been developed to yield a fresh fruit that is sweeter and less sour than is usual
  • In Thailand, it also often is eaten in a sour curry and of course, no self-respecting Pad Thai dish would be authentic without it!
  • In Mexico it is used in sauces, snacks, and sweets--almost always paired with chiles
  • Balls of tamarind pulp (see photo above) rolled in chile are common in Jamaica, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, and particularly Mexico, where it flourishes (it is also found in other Latin American countries to a lesser degree)
  • Throughout Africa it is a common food plant used to boost nutrition
  • In Nigeria a breakfast porridge is made of tamarind and millet powder to be eaten with bean cakes
  • In southern Kenya along the coast, tamarind is used to garnish beans and legumes and also to make juices
  • In Myanmar, young, tender leaves and flower buds are eaten as a vegetable
  • In Myanmar, the leaves are often made into a salad with boiled beans, peanuts, and fried onions
  • In the Chinese province of Yunnan, tamarind is used in jams and chilled drinks
  • In Lebanon a commercial tamarind soft drink is sold
  • Throughout the Middle East and Iran, tamarind is used in savory meat stews, often combined with other fruits
  • In Turkey tamarind is consumed as a cold drink
  • Tamarind leaves make up about 50% of the food source for ring-tailed lemurs in Madagascar
  • Throughout Southeast Asia, tamarind is used as a poultice for fever
  • The dense and durable wood of the tamarind tree has a strong red color, making it popular for furniture making and hard wood flooring
  • Tamarind concentrate can also be sued to remove the tarnish from brass and copper
                                (Thank you, Wikipedia, for much of this)

Parting Shot:  Rain Buddha
Photo taken by my dear friend Tom in his garden here in San Miguel

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved

Flavors of the Sun Cooking School and Travel
San Miguel de Allende, 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

How to Make Preserved Lemons and Use Them

How to Make Preserved Lemons and Use Them
by Victoria Challancin

Each year when I lead groups to Morocco, I visit the souks seeking my annual dose of sensual stimulations, always highlighted by a visit to the olives, spices, and preserved lemons.  Every single time, I am dazzled anew.  Every time I seem to literally leave my skin and allow my being to enter a world unknown, a world of colors, sounds, and sights so exotic, yet oddly so familiar--so utterly beautiful that they almost take my breath away.  Truly, I do not exaggerate.  And words seem to fail me.

One of the ingredients I love most in Morocco is the preserved lemon.  Common throughout North Africa, where they are used in a variety of tagines, or stews (see my recipe for a Chicken Tagine with Green Olives and Preserved Lemon, a Moroccan classic), just a little bit of these salt-cured beauties adds an intense citrus kick and subtle lemon nuance to a variety of dishes.  And for those who do not have access to year-round citrus, they satisfy that yen for a bright citrus note, even when lemons are out of season.  For my readers in San Miguel this is an especially nice bonus as, although we have limes available all year, Eureka lemons are a relatively new item here and the availability is sporadic at best.

A Bit of History
Throughout history, pickling has been both a practical and economic way of preserving food. Although in our modern world preserved lemons often considered to have a North African provenance, citrus is commonly preserved in many other diverse cultures as well.  In Cambodia whole preserved lemons are often added to a soup called ngam nguv.  Chanh muoi, the Vietnamese version using limes (lemons are used in other countries), is often used to make a sort of salty-sweet lemonade with sugar and water or carbonated water.  The lime pickles of the Indian subcontinent are legendary and varied in their preparation, which often includes a spicy oil with lots of chile.  The internet also tells me that lemon pickle is used in Africa as a folk remedy for excessive growth of the spleen!

Hank Shaw, cookbook author and writer of the immensely entertaining and interesting blog hunter.angler.gardener.cook, delves into the history of the preserved lemon a bit more.  He says that the earliest reference in English that he found came from an English cookbook called A New System of Domestic Cooking by Eliza Rundell, written in 1808.  And in Little Women, a childhood classic and favorite of mine, the barrels of pickled limes mentioned there referred to Florida key limes shipped north even during the Civil War era.  Mrs. Bradley's Housekeeper's Guide (1860) suggests salting quartered lemons and allowing them to dry in the sun for days, until leathery, then packing them into jars with ginger and vinegar, and waiting for at least 6 months to use them.

Shaw [thank you, Hank, for this wonderful research that I am paraphrasing here] also tells us that lemons are boiled in Sri Lanka until they split, then are stuffed with salt and submerged in vinegar. Later, six months later to be exact, they are minced with shallot and chiles to be served with rice or curry as a sort of exotic gremolata.  Russians also submerge lemons in brine, to be used after some months sliced thinly to be served with wild game.  

Going back in time even further and using a method similar to the standard Moroccan version, Shaw tells us that the Greeks began by preserving citrons and by the 1st century had also begin to preserve the lemons they brought from Persia.  Both the Chinese and East Africans preserve lemons as well. Ibn Battuta, my favorite traveler of all time, reported in 1325 that he ate preserved lemons in Somalia, leaving Shaw to wonder if he had brought the recipe back to his native Morocco at that early date!

                How to Make Moroccan Preserved Lemons
There are countless recipes and variations for making preserved lemons online.  In one earlier post titled "Olives, Preserved Lemons, and a Moroccan Tagine" In this post I even give a recipe for Quick Preserved Lemons by Kitty Morse, a cookbook author who was born and raised in Morocco.  Note that the quick-fix version, while giving you something to use in a pinch, lacks the depth of flavor and nuance that makes preserved lemons so special.

Recipe:  My Version of Moroccan-Style Preserved Lemons

To make my version of Moroccan-style preserved lemons, I use Eureka lemons because I like the flavor and because they are available.  Some people like the sweetness of Meyer lemon.  Scrub the lemons first, cut off the tips, partially quarter the lemons lengthwise, leaving them intact at the stem base.  Pack with Kosher or sea salt (not iodized table salt, which alters both the texture and the flavor). Place them in a sterilized jar, using a sterilized tool such as tongs.  Smush the lemons down into the jar, squeezing out the juice as you push.  Fill the jar and add additional salt and more lemon juice if your lemons aren't juicy enough to produce enough juice to cover the lemons.  After a day or two, you can add more lemons, using sterilized tools, of course.  It is just that simple.  Now you just have to wait 4 or 5 weeks to allow them to cure.  

Variations:  I have made them with the addition of spices such as bay leaves, cardamom, black pepper, but I actually prefer the simple method which I outlined above.  I also noted that Yotam Ottolenghi, by favorite chef of all time, uses rosemary and chile in his version--I've not seen that elsewhere, but can imagine that they would yield an interesting flavor.  Other ingredients I have seen include, turmeric, sugar (why?) turmeric, coriander seeds, cloves, fresh ginger, garlic, white wine vinegar
Tips for Using Preserved Lemons
  • Rinse the salted lemons before using
  • Remove pith and pulp using a spoon and cut the rind into small pieces, small cubes or narrow strips.  Sometimes in cooking classes I have taken in Marrakech, the pith and pulp are also used.  To me the best of the flavor is in the rind as it contains the flavorful lemon oil.  Also, because these are such a salty ingredient, it will take a little practice to understand just how much to use, hence it is easier to eliminate the pulp and pith--up to you.
  • Don't worry if the lemony liquid in the jar thickens with time.  This is both normal and desirable.
  • Apparently, if the lemons darken somewhat, it is a good thing.  My instinct is to go for the most lemony-yellow color when making or buying, but Gemma of Souk Cuisine assures me the lightly browner ones are the most delicious.  I wish I had known that before I tossed my last batch when they looked less than a perfect, bright yellow!
  • Sometimes a white film will appear on the lemons.  This can simply be washed away.
  • Use a clean utensil to remove lemons from the prepared batch as your hands would contaminate the remaining lemons.
  • Make sure your lemons stay submerged in the liquid in the jar.
  • Some recipes suggest lightly blanching the preserved lemon before using to bring out the natural sweetness, however, I have never done this.
  • If the color or flavors change noticeably (in an unpleasant way, of course) over time, discard them and start again
  • Be sure to reduce the salt in a recipe using preserved lemons, or at least check before adding salt
  • Be adventurous and use a bit of preserved lemon in any recipe that might call for regular lemons, just use discretion as they are intensely flavored and intensely salty!

Preserved lemons are to fresh ones what cured salami is to fresh meat.  No they are not fresh, but they are just as good, if not better.  It is a different taste and sensation.  Funkier, more mellow.

Need Inspiration?

Traditional and Non-Traditional Uses for Preserved Lemons:

Some of the ways I have used preserved lemons in my kitchen:
  • In a traditional Moroccan tagine, where I first learned to love them.  See my recipe here.
  • With purchased mayonnaise and lots of garlic to make an aioli
  • In a vinaigrette
  • In a beurre blanc to serve with seafood
  • In tuna salad
  • In tapenade
  • In gremolata
  • In hummus
  • In guacamole
  • In a Caesar Salad
  • In pesto
  • In lentil soup
  • With capers and artichokes over chicken paillards with a touch of white wine
  • In a Mediterranean-style quinoa salad.  Actually, I have used them minced into many grain salads, including tabouleh
  • In a non-traditional Mexican tomato-tomatillo salsa
Some of the ways I have seen them used online:
Note:  I apologize for the lack of links here.  When I made my first batch of preserved lemons some years ago, I looked online for inspiration, without copying down the recipes.  I just noted the names of the recipes to be used either as a suggestion for me to create my own version, or to be looked up later.  If any appeal, I am certain a Google Search will yield immediate results.  If I know the source, I will give it.

  • Roasted Tomato and Preserved Lemon Sauce
  • Zesty Salsa with Preserved Lemons
  • Roast Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Braised Vegetables
  • Moroccan-Flavored Pork Ragu (sounds good even if Moroccans do't eat pork!)
  • Preserved Lemon Cocktail (Eat Boutique)
  • Use them on pizza
  • Make a condiment by blending them with olive oil
  • Pizza with Za'atar, Preserved Lemons and Ricotta
  • Toasted Orzo with Preserved Lemon, Pine Nuts and Currants (A New Way to Cook)
  • Bake fish in foil or parchment with preserved lemon and fresh herbs
  • Add to cooked vegetables
  • Add to chili
  • Add to a sweet potato salad
  • Add to seafood risotto (or vegetable risotto--or any other)
  • Add to marinades
  • Make a compound butter and add tiny minced pieces of preserved lemon and herbs--and garlic
  • Add to a Greek Salad (the flavors are perfect with feta and black olives)
  • Preserved Lemon Semifreddo with Basil Syrup
  • Pureed Preserved Lemons (Food in Jars)
  • Strozzapreti with Spinach and Preserved Lemon (Bon Appétit)
  • Baked Chicken with Artichokes, Cinnamon, and Preserved Lemons (The Kitchn)
  • Leeks with Preserved Lemons and Tarragon (MJ's Kitchen)
  • Grilled Bread with Thyme Pesto and Preserved Lemon Cream (Food52)
  • Rice Salad with Merguez and Preserved Lemon Dressing (Food & Wine)
  • Marinated Mozzarella with Preserved Lemon and Basil (Donna Hay)
  • Pasta with Preserved Lemon and Roasted Garlic  (ryanbros)
  • Fettuccine with Preserved Lemon and Roasted Garlic
  • Cauliflower Couscous with Preserved Lemons
  • In a Bloody Mary
  • Preserve Lemon Relish (with dill and shallots--from Simply Recipes)
  • Toasted Kale and Pan-Fried Chickpea Salad
  • Preserved Lemon Quinoa with Shaved Brussels and Toasted Walnuts
  • Artichokes with Parsley and Preserved Lemon Pesto
  • Nectarine and Sweet Onion Salad with Preserved Lemon Dressing
  • Israeli Couscous with Roasted Butternut Squash and Preserved Lemon (Gourmet)
  • Pernod Shrimp
  • Preserved Lemon Hummus
  • Preserved Lemon Rice
  • Chicken Braised with Preserved Lemons and Cinnamon
  • Preserved Lemon Rice
  • Salmon Quiche with Preserved Lemons
  • Preserved Lemon Caesar Salad
  • Roasted Pepper, Tomato, and Salted Lemon Relish (Kitty Morse, Moroccan Cusine)
  • Parmesan, Preserved Lemon, and Thyme Wafers
  • Lemon Tossed Salad
  • Chicken, Nice Style (Babs in Toyland)
  • Tabbouleh Wrapped in Romaine Leaves
  • Pine Nut and Preserved Lemon Couscous (Emeril Lagasse)

Moroccan-Style Recipes Using Preserved Lemon:
Note:  Check out  Moroccan Food for great and authentic Moroccan recipes (many of these are from that site).

  • In a tagine with chicken and lavender tagine olives (I mentioned this one earlier, but it THE classic recipe for using preserved lemons)
  • With a leg of lamb
  • With snapper and fennel
  • Marinated Quail, Chicken, and/or Duck with Preserved Lemons and Harissa
  • Shrimp with Preserved Lemon
  • In a Carrot Salad (cooked or uncooked, Moroccan-Style)
  • Spicy Potato Tagine with Preserved Lemon and Olives (Paula Wolfert via epicurious)
  • Moroccan Meatballs with Preserved Lemon (Kirsten's Kitchen to Yours)
  • Moroccan Butternut Squash Chickpea Stew (Use Real Butter)
  • Chickpea and Tomato Tagine (Kirsten's Kitchen to Yours
  • Moroccan Grilled Chicken with Preserved Lemon
  • Couscous with Mint and Preserved Lemons
  • Root Vegetable Couscous with Preserved Lemon
  • Moroccan Fish Tagine
  • Moroccan Style Cauliflower
  • Spinach Salad with Preserved Lemon and Olives (Christine Benlafquih)
  • Djaj (Chicken) Souiri (Christine Benlaquih)
  • Tagine of Chicken with Fennel
  • Lamb with Cabbage
  • Beef or Lamb Tagine with Carrots
  • Tagine with Fava Beans and Artichokes
  • Brain with Preserved Lemons
  • Tangia
  • Salade Mechouia
  • Chicken with Nigella Seeds
  • Chicken with Potato and Olives
  • Moroccan Fava Bean Salad with Olive Oil and Spices
  • Tagine of Lamb, Peas, Potatoes and Zucchini
  • Lamb with Eggplant
  • Lamb with Cauliflower or Green Beans
  • Chicken Mezgueldi
  • Moroccan Artichoke Salad
Note:  These darker lemons are preferred by Gemma, owner of the cooking school Souk Cuisine in Marrakech  (see my post here on a fun and informative class I took there last April).

Like what you see?  Join me in April 2015 on one of my tours to Morocco.

Parting Shot:  My Own Latest Batch 
 A recent batch of Eureka lemons I put up about six weeks ago, now ready to use!

Want to join me next April in Morocco?  Contact me by email for more information.

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.
Please ask permission before using photos or text.

Victoria Challancin
Flavors of the Sun Cooking School and Trips
San Miguel de Allende,