Though the process of pickling and fermenting has become increasingly trendy in both the US and the UK, the process was originally done as a means of frugality, using up as much of a resource as possible in as many ways. I cannot think of a culture or region of the world that doesn’t use some form of pickling, fermentation or preservation within their cuisine. Our palates were meant to enjoy and crave some of that salty, briny, bitter flavour in our diets, so it makes sense from both a biological as well as economical perspective to stick some sort of produce in salt and see what happens. And that’s kind of what I did here.
Prevalent in both North African and Middle Eastern cuisine and used in a variety of ways from soups to tagines to even medicinally, preserved lemons add a unique element of bitterness along with their sour element to a dish. Generally speaking, bitter flavours are ones that often take some time to train our palates to enjoy, from bitter leaves like endive and kale, citrus peeks or even the pulp itself such as grapefruit, horseradish or wasabi that include both heat with a bitter taste, or certain hops in beers, it seems to me that an appreciation for bitter is likely to come with both age and exposure.
A bit over a month ago a friend and I (one I mentioned in an earlier post here) on one of our adventures came across the most intoxicating new-to-us restaurant, serving flavourful, thoughtful “Modern Day Jerusalem” food with influences from Southern Spain, North Africa and The Levant (Eastern Mediteranian). We both fell so in love with their version of a preserved lemons that I couldn’t help but ask one of their chefs how they made it. As if we were guests at a dinner party, one of the chefs sweetly talked me through what she did to create the best version of preserved lemons that I have had to date. Throughout the rest of dinner, and on the train ride home I kept repeating her directions as a mantra; over and over in my head. When I woke up the next morning it was the first thing I thought about, and by the end of the day, I had a covered glass jar of lemons, salt and olive oil sitting in my fridge. I’m not sure I’ve gotten it exactly as they do at Palomar, but this comes close to the bitter lemon nirvana I experienced there and is enough to see me through until I get the chance to visit once again.