My mom sent me a new cookbook, Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous - My Search for Jewish Cooking in France written by Joan Nathan. It is not a trendy cookbook and it isn't trying to be. If the cookbook had been released four or five years ago when foam was all the rage, the author still wouldn't have mentioned it. This cookbook is refreshingly unique in it's abject refusal to be trendy. I know very little (but more now!) about French Jewish cooking but this seems pretty straightforward in delivering what it promises. It has beautiful pictures but the recipes and stories are the center of the book, not the shiny pages or beautiful photographs.
Her recipes seem accessible to me both from a time and experience standpoint for the home cook (even one with small children in the house). Most fill one page with a few that span over two pages and they almost all sound like things we would like to eat - Fennel Salad with Celery, Cucumber, Lemon and Pomegranate or Brisket with Ginger, Orange Peel, and Tomato for example. It is also filled with interesting stories like the one about Marthe Layrle who lives on a farm in Southwest France and who did amazing things during World War II. She grants the author, and now us, a unique view of a very different lifestyle.
The first recipe I tried from the book was Preserved Lemons. I love lemons and seem to have passed that love down to my daughter who at age 3, will sit and eat them raw. She requested one this morning in fact. I had a couple of bags of Meyer Lemons so I decided to preserve them. The hardest part of preserving lemons is that after you jar them, you have to stick them in the refrigerator and just wait a couple of weeks.
Then you can just let your imagination run away with what to do with them. Slice and layer them on a fish and bake it. Stuff them in a chicken along with some herbs and garlic and roast it. Or, as Ms. Nathan suggests, throw one in some hummus. I cooked my own garbanzo beans though canned beans are fine - but if you are pondering cooking your own, read this for some general encouragement on why you might consider giving it a try.
Barely Adapted from Joan Nathan's Recipe
1 cup or more of lemon juice
2 T Olive Oil
Rinse the lemons and cut off the very tip of each end. Then cut them in quarters but not the whole way through (see picture above). Sprinkle the pulp sections of the lemon liberally with Kosher salt. Place them in a jar and fill with lemon juice and then water* so that they are completely covered.
Let them sit over night and then cover the top with the olive oil. Place in the refrigerator and allow to cure for 2 to 3 weeks.
* Ms. Nathan recommends using straight lemon juice. This sounded good in theory but I found that I had to use a lot of lemons (more than 1 cup though it depends on your jar I guess), so I did a mix of lemon juice and water so I wouldn't need to purchase quite so many lemons.
Hummus with Preserved Lemon
2 cups of garbanzo beans
2 tsp salt
1/3 cup tahini
1/4 - 1/2 preserved lemon, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Drain the beans, saving the liquid they were sitting in.
Place the garbanzo beans, tahini, 1/4 preserved lemon (minus any seeds you see), the garlic and 1 tsp salt into a food processort. Add 4 T of bean liquid. If you didn't save it or don't have the liquid you can use water. Blend until smooth, adding more liquid if the hummus congeals and is too dry. I usually end up adding about 6 - 8 T of liquid.
Taste and add the rest of the preserved lemon and salt if desired. The preserved lemon holds a lot of salt itself so consider that when tasting and adding more.