Thursday, April 29, 2010

Preserved Lemons and Sourdough Starter

Okay...can anyone tell I've had a visit from the DIY fairy today?  I always find myself lacking when it comes to preserved lemons because...well, they are just hard to come by in this neck of the woods (NECK being the operative word here).  Maybe theres a Moroccan or Middle Eastern Market around here somewhere but if there is, I sure haven't found it.  I did NOT like living in Orlando but I will say could find just about anything you wanted there.  I'm on a strip of land between the Caloosahatchie River and the Gulf of Mexico...a sitting duck for a hurricane mind you...and if I went into the market and asked where the preserved lemons were, I'm sure they'd look at me like I had three heads and a tail. 

So I did a little surfing to find out if I could make them at home without giving myself botulisim and it turns out that I CAN!  The method is pretty much the same no matter where you read it...make cross cuts in lemons...pack with salt.  The spices added to the jar vary from none at all to bay leaves, hot chili peppers and a variety of aromatic seeds or pods.  Since I couldn't find a general consensus on what was "authentically Moroccan", I decided to improvise with what I have on hand...necessity being the mother of invention!

I had bay leaves but I just don't like them least not dried.  I do like fresh ones but I don't have any of those.  One of my favorite things about Moroccan food is the complex blend of spices...sweet, savory, spicy, bold, tangy...all in one bite!  So a raid of the spice pantry provided me with my OWN quirky mix in which to preserve my lemons.

Preserved Lemons

This happens to be a mixture of broken cinnamon sticks, pink peppercorns and corriander seeds.

You'll need a jar large enough to accomodate the number of lemons you wish to preserve.  Wash and sterilize the jar.  With all this salt and lemon juice, you could probably dissolve a car battery but just don't take any chances.  I don't want it said that you got a recipe for Fungi Jungi from ME!

Scrub the lemons with a brush and veggie wash ( I use Dr. Bronner's pure castille peppermint soap...20 drops in a 10 ounce squirt bottle of water).  Since you're going to be using the lemons peel and all I do recommend buying organic.  Make cross cuts (like you are going to quarter the lemon lengthwise) through the lemon but do not cut through. 

I used coarse kosher salt to pack the cuts in my least a tablespoon per lemon.  Just hold the cuts open and pack with salt.  Place the salt packed lemons into your clean glass jar and press down with a wooden spoon to get some of the juices extracted.  Add the spices or seasonings of choice (or not). 

Put the lid on your jar and place it in a cool place away from direct sunlight.  I just have mine on the back of the counter.  Everyday for 2-3 days you'll want to open the jar and press down gently on the lemons with a wooden spoon.  If they are not particularly juicy, add some fresh lemon juice.  When the lemons are softened and completely submerged in liquid, you may refrigerate them. 

You should allow them to cure for 20 days before using them.  They should keep for about 6 months in the fridge providing you don't cross contaminate the contents of the jar by sticking a fork with some kind of food on it down in there.  Just thought I'd throw that out there because I'm surely not the only woman whose husband has RUINED the sour cream or mayo doing that!

Heres an aerial view of my jar...wide mouth works best.  You can see the pink peppercorns and some of the corriander seeds.  The cinnamon sticks have fallen though to the bottom.  I tossed another tablespoon of salt over the top of the last lemon just for good measure!

When your lemons are finished curing, you'll want to rinse a lemon when you use it to remove the extra salt...but don't rinse the whole jar...only what you're going to use.

The DIY fairy also put a little bug in my ear about a sourdough bread starter today.  My grandfather had this horrid looking clay pot with a lid that sat wayyyyyyyyyy in the back of his fridge for the duration of my childhood...and beyond.  If you opened it there was a layer of sour, smelly water on top of another layer of GOO.  As a child who got into EVERYTHING and to whom nothing at the GP'S house was EVER offlimits, I remember sticking my finger in that stuff and licking it because I was SURE my grandfather was hording some delicious treat in there.  You know, sourdough starter is probably one of the worst tasting things on the planet!

I learned from a very early age though, that what he MADE from that smelly goo was one of the BEST things on the planet!  My grandfather made sourdough rolls that were so good they would make your tongue want to slap your brains out!  He was known (and revered) all over Knoxville Tennessee as a baker to be recconed with...especially when it came to those rolls.  We literally stood by the stove like pigeons on fence posts waiting for him to pull those big sheet pans full of pillow-soft rolls out of the oven...and then paint the tops with obscene amounts of melted butter!  My mouth is watering.  I WISH I could make rolls like that but his were just incomparable.

However, I DO have his recipe and from time to time over the years I will attempt to make them.  I've never gotten them to taste like Papaw's rolls but they are still good.  Maybe it was his starter?  Who knows how old that thing was!  Anyway, today I decided I was going to start a new one and see how long I can raise it.  I'm going to think of it as another pet that must be fed and watered and taken out now and again.  I'm thinking of naming it Lucky after my late grandfather's late basset hound.  That dog just plain old STUNK all the time but he was a good boy!  HA...that way anytime anyone asks me to make sourdough bread I can say..." you want to get Lucky?"

Paul Arnold Scates would roll over in his grave if I cheated and added yeast to boost this starter along.  Equal parts water and flour in a clean glass jar or other non-metal containment device.  Make sure to use a clean jar...we don't want any streptacoccolibadjuju competing for real estate with our new colony!

This is a two quart jar in which I've mixed 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour with 2 cups warm distilled water.  I used a silicone coated whisk (no metal) to mix out the flour lumps.  This jar does have a metal lid but its unlikely that your starter will bubble up high enough to reach it in a jar this size. 

Now, tomorrow and each day after that for the next 3 or 4 days I'm going to have to feed Lucky because he'll have eaten up all the sugars and unless I give him more he won't grow.  I'll stir well and then remove about half the contents of the jar.  Replace it with 1/2 cup warm distilled water and 1/2 cup of flour.  I'll keep Lucky nice and warm by letting him rest in the microwave.  NO...I'm NOT microwaving my pet!  He's just sleeping in there because it's dark and warm.  After about 3-4 days, Lucky is going to start smelling a little ripe...kind of like a spilled beer.  From this point on, I'll probably want to put in hybernation (fridge) until I need him.  When he's hybernating he only needs to eat once a week...same proceedure. 

The liquid and the flour will inevitably seperate.  This water is called HOOCH...being from Tennessee, I tend to think of this as a bootlegger's term.  That probably isn't far from wrong.  Just stir the hooch back into the flour before using the starter.  When you are ready to bake with it, you'll need to make a sponge with some of your starter, flour, water and sugar.  You may or may not want to use yeast to boost your dough.  Just be aware that sourdough starter by itself will require much more rise time.  My grandfather always made his sponge 24 hours before he made the rolls.  I will post the recipe and method later, after Lucky has matured.

I may even breed Lucky with a nice little wheat-colored number...they would produce healthy offspring!


  1. Hi Jilly. Girl, I was just thinking I should make Moroccan lemons. We actually call them Algerian lemons, b/c I have a lot of Algerians married into my family. Hence this is a delicacy we associate with them. Algeria is next door to Morocco though, so I'm sure your recipe will suit my taste buds just fine...
    I'm going to go ahead and do it this week!

  2. I've been contemplating preserved lemons for weeks now and I just got a nice batch of fresh organic lemons from the co-op Monday so I figured today was the day!

    I used to be married to a Serbian years Algerians but I have read some recipes for Algerian food that use preserved lemons.

    I'm just a green eyed, red haired Irish witch ;)

  3. "streptacoccolibadjuju" ??! Definitely sounds like a guy I DON"T wanna meet ROFL Really fun, enjoyable post. I read every line and was a little disappointed that the end seemed to come too soon! I've made preserved lemons before - they're gorgeous! But I'd really like to give sourdough starter a try - you make it sound so easy!

  4. Thanks Denise...I've been reading on your blog as well and really enjoy it. Yes... that guy is like the Carrie Underwood song says...a good time cowboy cassenova...but he's sugar coated misery...LOL.

    The sourdough starter really is pretty simple. You'll want to leave it at room temp and feed everyday until the entire surface is bubbly and it WILL smell like stale beer. You can leave it out at room temp longer but just be aware that it will be VERY sour and some people don't like that extreme sour taste in the finished bread. Refrigeration slows that down and sort of "holds" the starter where it is.

    Next week I'll probably be making my grandfather's rolls and posting the recipe.

  5. Those preserved lemons look good.

    I bake a lot of breads but have never used a sourdough started. Sounds a little scary to me but those sour dough breads sure taste good.

  6. Sometimes, the stinkiest stuff are the most delicious and just packed with flavors. The main obstacle would be getting past the smell!

    From where I come from (Southern California), "hooch" is a loose woman, if you know what I mean. That was how it was used when I was growing up anyway. Definitely nothing culinary related.

    Those preserved lemons look wonderful. Somehow, I happen to notice your cool manicured thumb! :)

  7. LOL Ive heard hooch used thusly myself. My oldest daughter always calls "tacky women" by "hoochie mamas"...LOL

    She would probably call me one if she looks at my blog and sees that thumb nail...haha! They are my real nails too...coated with wildly colored mylar to keep me from chopping them off with my big Santoku knife!

  8. BTW...for anyone who is curious...Lucky is certainly growing on the fast track here in this hot, humid Florida weather. This morning (not even a full 24 hours after his "birth") he was double in volume and has begun to smell a little parmesan cheese/dirty sneaker-like. I will probably feed him around 3 pm today.

  9. I want to make this and learn how to spell "streptacoccolibadjuju"

  10. LOL Rick...I think you should make a bacteria cupcake and call it Streptacoccolibadjuju!


Wooohooo, yippeeee...I've got comments!

About Me

My photo
Fort Myers, Florida, United States