Lamb meatballs in tomato sauce

lamb meatballs

 

On Saturday we have been wined and dined exquisitely, including a spectacular tasting goose with all the trimmings. There is nothing so joyful than a long table full of happy people, laughter & merriment, champagne, good food and a few treasures form a well-stocked cellar. I am still dreaming about that particular goose with apple, thyme & chestnuts, red cabbage and Klöße (dumplings) and I am quite sure that something along those lines will become our Christmas dinner.

I don’t know about you, but I never have problems thinking about dishes for big occasions: Christmas, birthdays, dinners and can daydream about splendid meals – preferably perusing favourite cookbooks on a weekend lie-in where the only problem that presents itself is to make a decision when spoilt for choice. The everyday supper on the other hand proves more of a challenge: a weekday meal has to be simpler though equally tasty and sumptuous not just nutrition. Continue reading

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Lamb tagine with black garlic

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Black garlic is a real discovery for me. The cloves are slowly cooked or baked for ages until they have transformed into fudge-like black (garlic) truffels with just a faint hint of garlic (and no smell afterwards for those how might wonder). These mellow nuggets add an incredible depth of flavour to any dish and I am quite prepared to say that they are quintessential umami – albeit inflationary overuse of the term. If the gorgeous organic Spanish black garlic cloves (I am getting them at the Frankfurt Kleinmarkthalle) weren’t on the dear side, I’d eat them like bonbons. But, you’d better get some soon: the run might have already started since they feature as well in a few recipes in Ottolenghi’s new cookbook. Continue reading

preserved lemons

preserved lemons by the james kitchen
preserved lemons, a photo by the james kitchen on Flickr.
 

Seems like citrus week here, well it is the season and there are plenty around at the moment.

Lemons can be preserved in lots of different ways: in salt and lemon juice, pickled in brine, boiled in brine first & conserved in olive oil, just consult any book on Moroccan and Middle Eastern cuisine. Preserving them in salt is the easiest method, not the fastest, but the one I prefer since the lemons basically pickle themselves in sea salt and its own juices and over time gather an intense taste of the Mediterranean Sea with a hint of Morocco (I nearly said the wafting scented air and atmosphere of a Bazaar in Fez but thought it might be a bit too much).

You might be able to buy preserved lemons, I have not found them here so far or have never bothered to look any further after my first batch turned out really great a few years ago and they are so easy and quick to produce. Preserving these gives you the instant feeling of achievement and having something exotic in stock to look forward to experiment with after the month of maturing is finally over. So, while they work on their own, there is plenty of time to think about the plethora of things you can add them to. The formerly described method for impatient or time-restricted people which reduces the wait to five days, here.

Preserved lemons are a key ingredient in a lot of Moroccan dishes such as tabbouleh (tabouli) and tagines as the wonderfully spiced Chicken with saffron, preserved lemons and green olives. Even just a tiny amount of finely chopped preserved peel added to anything like a pulse salad, vinaigrette or dip, sauce for fish, meat, poultry etc. or tomato sauce provides something of an umami quality which might not even be immediately discernable but adds another layer of flavour, depth, warmth & brightness – comparable to what anchovies do to a sauce without being fishy.

 

Preserved lemons
adapted from Claudia Roden’s Tamarind & Saffron

4 organic lemons
4-5 tablespoons coarse sea salt
juice of 4 more lemons

 

Cut 4 slits into each lemon (as if you were cutting it into wedges but do not sever the pieces), stuff salt into these openings and squeeze the lemons into a jar with a lid. Leave for 3-4 days until quite a bit of liquid has developed, then cover the lemons with more lemon juice to cover the salted fruit completely.

If you want to seal the lemons completely from any air contact, pour a thin film of olive oil on top, I never needed to do that and omit this step.

Keep in a cool, dark place for about a month when they are ready to be used. According to Claudia Roden the preserved lemons keep for about a year and are fine if any show a thin white coating, which can be just rubbed of. Most recipes determine that just the peel should be rinsed and used while the inner flesh is to be discarded; I use the whole preserved lemon.

Tip: If you have just a minimal cut on your hands, I recommend wearing gloves otherwise the salty lemon juice will sting a little…

 

 

chicken tagine with preserved lemons & green olives

There is a myriad of recipes for chicken with preserved lemons & olives, even the recipe leaflet for the Cherry red tagine dish that I got from my husband delivers one, naturally. Claudia Roden (well known to the British, Americans might be more familiar with Paula Wolfert as an authority on Moroccan cuisine) has several variations in her different books, which are wonderfully evocative just to read and imagine cooking yourself through the pages. My copies are festooned with post-its to mark future projects and this one was amongst the first things I had prepared when my friend Anke came for a visit. Alone ingredients like saffron, ginger, coriander and preserved lemons are enough to convince me to make this, especially when I get to make the salted lemons myself and have a jar of these pretty preserves stocked in my larder.I changed the recipe a little bit and cut the chicken beforehand into pieces since I find it easier to serve it this way (also: dividing a chicken that is doused in sauce at the table rarely leaves me without accidents and I hate to finish an evening by treating stains in clothes and tablecloths) and everyone can choose their own favourites. Just a little more onion thickens the sauce a tad, I find, and why not used a whole preserved lemon instead of just the peel: the preserved flesh acts as a seasoning that brings lemony saltiness to the dish (keep this in mind and watch how much salt you are adding before) and intensifies the lemon factor. Also, I hate to throw these things away.If you are planning to cook this, preserve the lemons first (see next recipe) since they need a month to mature or see if you can find them at a Middle Eastern grocer, although I think better supermarkets might even stock them nowadays. For impatient cooks, Gourmet magazine had devised an express version which boils the lemons as a short-cut to speed up the process and shrink the waiting time to just five days.For a Moroccan feast, start with a spread of mezze (or kemia as the small appetizer dishes are called in Morocco) to pick at: any freshly baked flatbread, a plate of hummus, the (Turkish) walnut & pomegranate paste muhammara, small salads and vegetable dishes (lots of recipes to come in the future), olives and and and. Serve the chicken in a tagine or pretty bowl with bread, couscous, larger bulgur wheat pearls (or rice if you prefer) and some green vegetables on the side.

Chicken tagine with preserved lemon & green olives
4-6 portions, adapted from Claudia Roden’s Tamarind & Saffron

1 free-range or organic chicken, cut into 8-10 pieces (legs, thighs & halved breasts with bones)
olive oil
1-2 onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon saffron threads
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
salt & pepper
bunch coriander (cilantro), chopped
bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
about 300ml (1/2 pint) water
1 whole preserved lemon (which is what I use) or the peel of 1-1½ preserved lemons cut into small pieces
75g (3oz) or more green olives (Roden soaks them 2 times in water, I don’t)

Arrange the chicken pieces along with the onion, garlic, saffron, ginger, cinnamon, salt & pepper, coriander and parsley in a tagine or a small cast-iron pan or dutch oven. Add the water to nearly cover the chicken but not entirely. Simmer with a closed lid for about 20-25 minutes, turning the chicken pieces over from time to time. Remove the cover, include the lemon and green olives in the sauce, cook for another 15-20 minutes without lid. The chicken should be tender and nearly fall of the bone and the sauce reduced to a fairly liquid herby-lemony concoction, adjust the seasoning and serve with bread, bulgur wheat, couscous or rice and a generous helping of green vegetables.