middle eastern

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preserves

it’s lemons, it’s a pufferfish, it’s hitler’s head

I was a bit sad to find that the Flannery O’Connor facebook fan site’s nicely quoted punchline (“Joyce who?”) from her short story The Enduring Chill had been spoiled by a few holy joes trying to find the tale of redemption in it all – stamping on the funny in the process. You can only be lectured so long by a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, who believes that death, offering the hope of resurrection, is no bad thing and was once a paramedic. It’s not surprising, comedy and organised religion have never been equal partners. They fight over the same epistemological turf [sex, death, walking into bars] and in the end humour needs serious people more than serious people need humour. Eco covered this well in Name of the Rose, with the heretical book [spoiler alert] being a book of gags by Aristotle. While the book was about a deductive proto-Holmes unravelling superstition, there was enough slack in the mystery to force the reader into interpretation and interpretation based on context. As he says in KANT and the Platypus

I would not say we can have any real knowledge; if anything, I would maintain that we have an excess of real knowledge. Some are prepared to object that there is no difference between saying there is no truth and saying there are many truths. But we might likewise object that this excess of truth is transitory; it is an effect of our groping our way along , between trial and error; it indicates a limit beyond which these different perspectives (all partly true) could one day be combined in a [jar].

The relatively simple tale of preserving lemons in salt in a jar suffers from an excess of knowledge on the internets and is widely open for interpretation by both readers and writers on the internets. There are at least three different cutting techniques, at least one glaring omission of a hygiene step and differing values placed on perceived taste over cretinism.

This is what I can tell you:

- obtain lemons from your tree or a neighbourhood tree. Don’t buy them, I thinks it better if you just face up to your lack of social connections and your eventual stabbing – Kitty Genovese style – to indifferent neighbours

- don’t bother being too choosy, the ugly ones can be put to good use later.

- give the lemons a scrub and then lop the last few eights of an inch off the ends of the lemons.

- the lemon is then cut into quartered claw; an x made at one end that continues through to all but the last centimetre. The lemon is then stuffed with a tablespoon or so of salt and the salt gets to work on the freshly exposed lemon innards.

- somewhere it’s argued that commercial salt has a metallic taste and that their many mattresses have a pea underneath. Elsewhere it’s said that the added iodine is no bad thing when compared to the goitered life of a Catskills cretin. I used sea salt, if only for the reason that the coarse size allows for a good fill of the lemon, where a finer salt would smother.

- sterilise your jar. Food safety is something you don’t want too much vagary for. In the fridge or a cool dark space? I’m assuming there was a time of preserved lemons before the refrigerator and went for a cool dark space

- in the pantry, behind the booze. One suggestion I followed, and didn’t see elsewhere, was to top the jar up with a sealing layer of a 1/4 cup of olive oil. It seems sound advice.

- most of the action happens over three days. The lemons release their juices and soften. This means that extra lemons can be added to get a nice snug fit and you will need to fill with extra lemon juice to cover the lemons (from the uglies)

- cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, coriander seeds, cloves and peppercorns can all be added in their twos or threes or tablespoon or so.

- from here you’ve got about a month long wait. I’m planning on holding out until christmas, when it’ll be distributed up into gifts and hopefully put to good use. I’m freshening up tagines with mine and they also make for a lovely citric seafood pasta sauce.

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And this post is my yellow contribution to LiveSTRONG With A Taste Of Yellow 2009 – once again organised by the inestimable Barbara of winosandfoodies. The events is part of the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s efforts to raise cancer issues worldwide. I’d be surprised if you haven’t got your own experiences. Even in my own fortunate life I’ve got a grandfather I never met, a friend who scared the shit out of us last year, and a colleague who’s on the mend. Keep an eye out for the round-up on the 3rd of October.

UPDATE: it’s up and it’s awesome.

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yeah it's blurry

You can stop blurry photos like the above with a tripod, which is a three-legged thing. It’s interesting to note that there are few naturally occurring three-legged things.*

Tajines, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, refer to both the lidded slow cooking dish and the slow-cooked braise that’s cooked in it. English is reluctant to accept such ambiguity and if you’ve ever almost eaten a toaster, you’ll know why.

There are more than a few recipes for a tajine but I really like adding dried, or fresh, fruit such as chopped apricots, figs, sultanas and dates. I also like using lamb necks but shanks and diced mutton also works well. They all just melt together; you can’t identify the apricots and if you cook it long enough, you’ll just have to fish out a few bones.

It’s not dissimilar to a curry. The basic process is sautee the onions in olive oil /stir/ add the spices /stir/ add the meat and seal, then whatever fruit and veg you’re using /stir/ then the stock /stir/ and cook very slowly for a few hours with the lid on.

For spices I usually use a couple of tablespoons of ras al hanout and add a few strands saffron with the stock; meat – as mentioned; fruit – ditto; vegetables – usually diced sweet potato and then a tin of chopped tomatoes and soaked chickpeas but yes they’re pulses; enough stock – not so much to cover as to keep it all moist when lidded.

The spices are really only so much riffage on cumin and if you grind it fresh, you’ll not go wrong. Cinnamon quill? Why not.

You can add some chopped coriander at the end to lift it as well as some chopped and roasted almonds.

Another technique is to marinate the meat overnight in a combination of the spices, olive oil, a finely grated onion, and a bunch of chopped coriander and then add the lot to the pan. Seal the meat and then move to the adding the fruit and vegetables stage.

The complete dinner was home made olives, kofta and kangaroo kebabs cooked over charcoal, lots of lebanese bread, hommous, yoghurt, and the tajine with mograbieh and a beetroot salad. Tasty cheese platter and delicious homemade apple pie made an appearance. Myatt’s Field do a very nice tempranillo and eating the meal took the good part of five hours. Hot topics were iPods and children.

*I’ll acknowledge that ants have two sets of three legs.

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lamb tagine

Sorry for the not very exciting pic but this is really very good and one of the best things I’ve made for a while. It’s a combination of a few different recipes and techniques. I’ve been working through my half a dorper lamb from Dorper Lamb (same place I got my NYE wagyu from) and the rolled roast leg was very nice, reminded me more of venison. I’m also working my way through the Pickled Pink range I got given and am using now the photos are done (also really good, available at Tarts in Northbridge – the cafe, not just any old tart, and Sayers in Leederville). There was a jar of baharat and not knowing what it was, suspected it was Middle Easterny and found out it can be used for tagines – similar to ras al hanout.

Here’s the recipe in a very convincing recipe like form -

1kg lamb neck (or shanks)
2 cups chicken stock
olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tins chopped tomatoes – drained with juice reserved
2 pieces of lemon rind
1.5 tablespoons Baharat
4 fresh apricots, cut into large chunks
10 dates, seeded and halved
1 tbs honey
salt and pepper
2 tins of canelli beans (or similar), drained

Trim the lamb of excess fat and brown the meat in a frypan. Place lamb in a tagine or casserole. Deglaze the frypan with the tomato juice and add to the lamb. Add the stock and the lemon rind. Top with water to not quite cover the meat (remember the other ingredients). Get to a boil and the reduce to a simmer.

Meanwhile, fry the onion and the garlic in the olive oil until soft. Add the baharat and stir through until aromatic. Add the tomatoes and stir through until heated. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the beans.

Place the lid on and cook gently on the stove top or in an oven at 150C for an hour and a half. Add the beans and cook for another hour or until the meat is tender. Add water if necessary or remove lid to allow sauce to reduce. Season and you can also add a little more baharat to taste.

I served it with rice which was a bit of a bodge together of basmati cooked in chicken stock with a cinnamon stick and then fried onion, garlic, cardamom seeds, and hot chilli sauce sauteed together and finely chopped lemon rind all mixed into the rice.

Entree was the lamb kofte here served on a bed of rocket, parsley and mint with a lemon and EVOO dressing.

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bound


I’m backtracking here [cue waviness] but I should keep the recipe count up a bit and, as I didn’t get much of a chance after the New Years Eve dinner, I thought it’d be worthwhile going over the dinner in a bit more detail.

Chook and Sue and us decided two weeks before to have a proper dinner party for New Year at their place and the numbers were going to be from four to sixteen. They ended up being 11. The main concern was to allow the dinner to stretch through the evening so midnight would be part of it. This would be achieved by increasing the number of courses and this isn’t necessarily a hard thing to do. A cold soup can be made in advance. Seafood entrees are best left simple. Vegetables can be their own course. A sorbet isn’t too hard. A cheeseboard is just shopping and arranging, leaving only dessert and mains as the main concern. So seven courses isn’t much more of a stretch. They were:

Vichyssoise with a crayfish bisque base
Oysters with crème fraîche and salmon roe, ponzu sorbet, and champagne and chives sorbet
Sue’s Vegetable Terrine
Pear and limoncello sorbet
Spatchcock marinated in pomegranate syrup stuffed with lemon and thyme with poached baby pears, fig, and rosti
Cheeses
Gummo Trotskies – champagne zabaglione on pannetone with persian fairy floss and berry coulis


Chicken too dull, quail too small, pork too feasty, lamb too sunday, seafood too entree, venison to medieval, rabbit too pricey, pigeons too feral, steak too pubby, so this kind of left spatchcock. Spatchcock, poussin, is really just a young chicken and is a perfect size for mains with a surprising amount of meat. They’re also very reasonably priced at around $7 each. I thought I’d approach their cooking from a quail perspective and drew from a couple of recipes. I also decided to debone them, which was a considerable amount messy work, but good practice and it saves the guests from the pile of bones that shouts they’ve eaten a whole animal. And I then stitch them up again as if nothing had happened. The bones, handily become part of the stock. To compensate for the moisture giving properties of the bones, I bought some backfat and stuffed each one with half a lemon – and basted well. The only hiccup was the impossible task of finding kitchen string on NYE, which we ended up finding in a hardware store.

Spatchcock
Debone. This involves slicing down the backbone, working around the rib cage and dislocating each joint so there’s only one bone in each limb. If you come over to my place I can show you. The marinade is from a Moroccan recipe in the Delicious-let’s entertain (or just drink enough to give a semblance of) book that called for rose jam and since I couldn’t find any or had the disposition to make any, I used pomegranate molasses instead (sadly it was a month or so before pomegranates are in season). The amounts are for 11 spatchcocks: 6 crushed garlic cloves; 1tbs ground cumin, 1 tbs ground cumin; 3tbs pomegranate molasses; 1/3 cup of lemon juice and 1/3 cup of olive oil.

Once they’ve marinated for a few hours, stitch them up and truss them. You need half a lemon, a twig of thyme and a piece of backfat inside, and a piece of backfat over the breast.

Place them in the oven at 220 for 10 minutes and then lower it to 180 until cooked. I can’t recall how long exactly they took but I’d be surprised if it was as much as 30 minutes. Keep a sharp eye on them and give them a baste. They were done before the skin could brown which was a shame. In hindsight I could have browned them in a pan or given them a blast with the kitchen blowtorch.

Cherry Sauce
A Keith Floyd sauce and apparently good for all non-piscean white meat.
The chicken stock was already made so to complete the sauce: 250gm of pitted cherries, 3tbs chopped parsley, 1 tbs chopped dill, one glass of white wine and enough chicken stock to cover. Simmer gently for 15 minutes. Thicken with mashed together 25gm of flour and 25gm of butter. Add bits of it gradually, stirring constantly. Boil rapidly for two minutes and then puree.

Poached Baby Pears
These were a great last minute find at the Innaloo fruit and veg shop. Peel the pears, slicing the end off to allow it to stand, and rub with lemon juice to prevent discolouration. Poach a saucepan in white wine and chicken stock covered with a sheet greaseproof until they’re tender without being mushy.

Figs
Slice vertically, just there for looks and vitamins.

Rosti
aka Potato Cakes. I saved myself a lot of bother by finding a kind of blini pan – looked like a very shallow muffin tray. I could then cook them all at the same time rather than cook each one in a frypan.

Grate the potato into fine strips. You’ll have to use the mandolin for this job so mind your fingers – losing half a spud is better than several stitches. Once grated you need to get rid of the excess water and this can be done my sandwiching it between two boards with something heavy on it, harmless depleted uranium shells for example.

Shape them it to the pan (must get very small frypan too) and roast in the oven with a generous dollop of goose fat on each one. You can heat the fat beforehand to give it a bit of a head start.

spatchcock marinated in pomegranite syrup stuffe with lemon and thyme with poached baby pears, fig, and rosti.

Arrange nicely on a plate, spatchcock on the rosti, a tasteful drizzle of cherry sauce, pears in three, and a slice of fig. Tasty. Very easy to prepare during the meal as it’s just stuff in and out of the oven and would make for a very neat small dinner party.

Oh and you may have noticed the green ingredients. I found a cookbook with someone else who just puts the ingredients in mid-dialogue but distinguishes them by doing them a different colour. He’s this mad wild haired speccy English guy who lives on a farm and goes on about back to basics produce. He’s got this fantastic big book out but I can’t remember his name. Anybody know?

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