Pickled lemons are a fantastic condiment to have handy to add to your cooking or to a finished dish. The complexity of flavour that a little pickled lemon creates really intensifies the enjoyment that your guests will derive from your food. Now this is the ultimate in slow food as it may take up to three months for these lemons to get really pickled. You will need a very big jar with a seal tight closure to hold as many lemons as you can fit, because if you have to wait that long you will want to do a lot.
12 med sized lemons
2kg rock or sea salt
1 bunch fresh rosemary
1 bunch fresh thyme
2 Tbsp coriander seeds
2 Tbsp whole black pepper
1 Tbsp whole cloves
1 Tbsp star aniseed
1 Tbsp cumin seeds
Take each lemon and make two incisions as if to quarter the lemon lengthwise but leave a couple of centimetres so that the lemon remains whole. Then mix your spices and herbs through the salt before packing this salty mixture around the lemons inside the jar. You will want the lemons completely covered by the salt before sealing your jar and storing in a dark place for its lengthy sojourn. You will notice after a few days that the salt leaches out the moisture from the lemons and that your jar fills with a brine solution, this leaching out takes the bitterness with it. At the conclusion of the pickling time you use the lemon peel not the flesh, as the flesh is very salty but the pickled peel is piquant and wonderful.
I like to add my preserved lemon cut finely and curled over fresh cheeses as a canapé topping. It is great in marinades for olives or added to fish dishes of most persuasions. It will pick up the pedestrian and make it interesting.
Salt is great on nibbles and here are a few taste enhancers to start a celebration with.
Kumera or Sweet Potato Crisps
In one of my restaurants I used to lay these out on the tables to start with and they proved so popular that I had to cease the practice as people started ordering less food.
If you don’t have a deep fryer just use a large heavy based frypan or saucepan and use a mix of peanut and olive oil. Peanut is great for frying & the olive is for flavour and health. Depending on the quantity of crisps you are aiming for — one medium sized sweet potato will make a couple of bowls. The key here is that you will need a certain volume of hot oil to deal with the inherent moisture in the sweet potato. Either hand slice or put through the food processor the sweet potato until you get very fine discs (machine is much easier to achieve the level required) Now you are going to get better results with at least a litre of oil brought to a good heat, just before smoking. You may like to dry off the sliced kumera with paper towel to reduce the moisture and then test your oil with one disc. When ready add in a proportion of the sliced kumera that the oil is comfortable with, it really is a case of testing the waters — most likely it will take you three lots. Fry the kumera until brown & crispy & then drain on kitchen paper. If you are very concerned about excess oil you can further remove excess oil in a warm oven. Salt liberally with the finest salt that you can afford before serving in bowls.
Mediterranean Chilli Popcorn
2 cups popping corn
1 cup olive oil
6 red chillies
6 large cloves garlic
6 sprigs of fresh rosemary
salt & black pepper to taste
In a heavy based large saucepan with a heavy lid pour in your oil & then your popping corn. Add to this chillies whole, garlic cloves whole & unpeeled, sprigs of rosemary & an initial salt & pepper. Cover with lid & place over a good heat. Things will soon start popping so keep your lid on. I like to give the whole saucepan a shake or two so that as much corn gets popped as possible. When the pops have died down, open your lid to be assailed by a wonderful aroma of olive, garlic, rosemary and popcorn of course. More salt & pepper before serving.
Warmed Kalamata Olives in Infused Oil
So that we don’t waste any of the wonderful oil that we fried our kumera crisps in, add a little of this still hot oil into a skillet or frying pan. Leave it to cool down a bit, say 5 minutes & then chop up a lime & 6 cloves of garlic & a piece of ginger & add this to the warm oil, before adding in 3 cups of kalamata olives. Stir through for 5 minutes & add salt & pepper to taste. Serve on a platter.
The Thais, of course, are great exponents of salty food and one of the simplest delights that I enjoyed while I was in Thailand, was the gracious way that your Thai hosts would bring you regular freshly prepared snacks.
Salted fresh pineapple was a favourite of mine and is a great way to experiment with the many new salts that are now available in the marketplace. Choose a ripe pineapple by its aroma, if you can find one that has not been too dulled by refrigeration, and cut it up into bite sized pieces and lightly salt with a special salt. Accompanied by a fresh lime soda or a cold beer — and heaven is right there on that tropical island inside your taste buds.
Cheeses were also derived from their contact with salt; the great preserver. On this occasion milk curdled through exposure to salt, thought to have first occurred when milk was carried in animal skins that had been cured by salt to become vessels. This was then found to be a way to preserve a source of nourishment that had before this quickly perished and gone sour.
Fish has however been the most well known beneficiary of its relationship with salt. Anchovies although not as salty today as they were when there was no refrigeration are a reminder of our salty past. Salted Herring were responsible for the beginning of the great wealth accrued by the Dutch as they traded these salty fish around the world.
Way before this however, comes a recipe from the fourth century BC by the Sicilian born poet and gourmet Archestratus, for Salty Baked Tuna:
“Take the tail of the female tuna – and I’m talking of the large female whose mother city is Byzantium. Then slice it and bake all of it properly, simply sprinkling it lightly with salt and brushing it with oil. Eat the slices hot, dipping them into sharp brine. They are good if you want to eat them dry, like the immortal gods in form and stature. If you serve it sprinkled with vinegar, it will be ruined.”
Archestratus – The Life of Luxury.
Salads are a delight in summer and the crunch of greens amid the tang of a vinaigrette or crudités dipped in aioli are all worthy offerings on my banquet table.
Fresh Asparagus Spears dipped in Lime & Cashew Mayonnaise
Whole free range egg or egg yolk mayonnaise with a teaspoon of Dijon mustard ;
1 Tsp honey
1 Tbsp white vinegar
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
½ cup roasted salted cashews
1 ½ cups olive oil drizzzled in slowly.
Freshly ground black pepper & sea salt to taste.
Whizz it by hand or in the blender adding in your oil slowly as you go.
Lightly steam or blanch your asparagus spears & serve accompanied by your tangy mayonnaise.
Fresh Fig & Goats Cheese Salad
Figs are a divine extravagance and for this dish you will only need a few.
3 Figs sliced lengthwise into quarters
150g fresh goats cheese
1 cup chopped fresh basil
3 Romano tomatoes sliced lengthwise into quarters
Dressing – ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tsp finely sliced preserved lemon
sea salt & black pepper to taste.
Gently arrange dobs of the goats cheese amid the figs & tomatoes & basil on a platter & lightly dress before serving.
Crunchy greens in the form of a mixed leaf salad with the great variety of lettuces we have available now & some rocket & perhaps some watercress. All lightly dressed with a fragrant vinegar & cold pressed macadamia or walnut oil.
The BBQ or grill holds a special place in my summer kitchen, where if possible the blue sky is my only ceiling. Preparation of a marinade is one of the best ways to give great flavour to the food that you create.
2 Blocks of firm tofu cut into squares or triangles
1 Pack wooden skewers soaked overnight
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup lime juice
2 Tbsp mirin or dry sherry
2 tsp grated ginger
Marinate the tofu overnight for the best results and then skewer on your sticks. For best results dry the tofu pieces before barbequing.
Perfect with this is a Spicy Sate Sauce:
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp peanut or canola oil
1 Tbsp finely chopped garlic
1 Tbsp grated ginger
1 tsp finely chopped birdseye chilli
3 Tbsp brown sugar
150g roasted peanut butter
1 Tbsp fish sauce
½ cup soy sauce
3 cups coconut milk
In a heavy base saucepan heat your oils & add in garlic & ginger & chilli, sauté for 5 minutes before adding in sugar; soy sauce; fish sauce & peanut butter. Stirring constantly as the peanut butter melts in, begin to slowly add in your coconut milk until you have a creamy consistency.
Colourful Mediterranean vegetables take to the grill particularly well, and all you need is a great olive oil, lemon juice and salt of course. Slice your pumpkin; any ripe variety will do, thinly into quick cooking discs; along with eggplant, treating this in the same manner. Red capsicum slice into long strips. Find some space on the grill & lightly oil them & salt them as they cook, turning them over when ready. Finish with lemon juice; a splash of soy & a little extra virgin olive oil on their platter as you serve them.
Salt is wonderful rubbed into the skin of meats & fish before baking or grilling as it seals the surface to keep the natural moisture in & enhances the flavour.
Whole Baked Pink Snapper on the BBQ
Every banquet table needs a star & a big fish emerging from an alfoil tuxedo with a steaming aroma of the Mediterranean all about, is that star.
1 whole pink snapper cleaned & prepared
1 large ripe peach stoned & chopped into pieces
1 bunch watercress, washed & destalked
2 tsp sliced preserved lemon
6 large cloves garlic thinly sliced
½ cup chopped continental parsley
¼ cup toasted almond flakes
2 tbsp virgin olive oil
2 tsp special salt of your choice
black pepper to taste
This is where we get to salt the skin of our big fish & then fill the cavity with all our ingredients. I like to wrap my fish in an inner layer of grease proof paper or edible leaves that will prevent the skin sticking to the alfoil. We will need to secure the fish reasonably firmly in its alfoil jacket. If you have access to the hot coals of the BBQ I like to really wrap up the fish in alfoil & place it in the coals – otherwise a lighter wrap & on top of the grill. Now this is going to take some time depending on the size of the fish. At least 40 minutes but you can always check with a little incision. As I said when you get your fish on the platter the oohs & aahs, well, it makes it all worthwhile.
Summer fruits are mouth watering & inspiring.
Mangoes, paw paw, lychees, cherries, tamarillo.
Dress in a little lime juice & serve with double cream whipped through with roasted hazelnuts & some tangy gelato.