Category: condiments

Retro-style Indian “lime pickles.”

Indian pickled limes.

Retro-style? Salad oil? Lime pickles? What the hell is this?” That’s probably what you’re thinking reading this recipe. And I don’t blame you, really. But you should get the backstory before you think I’m totally insane.

Because lime pickles are totally a thing, and this is indeed a vintage- or “retro”- recipe.

A few months ago on a really rainy, chilly, gross Friday night, Jay & I stopped in to one of my favorite thrift stores. There wasn’t much to get. I was a little disappointed. Until he found a stack of 1960′s/1970′s McCall’s magazine cookbook supplements! SCORE!

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Q & A time: why aren’t my pickles crisp? … and more!

Why aren't my pickles crisp? And other burning questions- answered!

You probably thought you were so smart. You looked everything up, or bought a book. You sterilized your jars, you made sure to boil your brine, and you washed all your produce thoroughly. You used your canning rack & processed them, and proudly went to open a jar a few months (or days) later and…

Limp pickles. Gross, limp, soft pickles.

I feel your pain, and I’m here to help.

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Garden vegetable quick pickles.

Quick garden vegetable refrigerator pickles.

It’s nearing the end of a quiet, still, warm summer day. Its just about 5 p.m. The birds are still chirping, and it’s still light out, but the light is diffused; not so strong as it was just two or three hours ago. Everyone is just getting home from work or the beach, and kids are just pulling up on their bikes after a day out with friends.

And me? Well, I decide to make pickles.

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Easy to make citrus “finishing” salt.

DIY citrus salt.

Well, if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been seeing this all over the place: citrus salt!

I think every blog out there has made it. Or some version of it. Or at least raved about it. Which is partially why I’ve avoided it for so long. I hate jumping on bandwagons, even if they’re damn good bandwagons. Like the cupcake craze. I love me some cupcakes, so what can I say.

But we’re coming into the season of cook outs, and fishing, and bright summery food. It was a rainy day, and I was sitting on the couch daydreaming. And I thought lemon salt would be amazing with grilled fish. Or wait, what about grapefruit salt rimming a glass? Or lime salt with chips & guac? And so then I deigned to make some citrus salt despite it’s popularity.

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I can’t believe it’s… butter.

Julia Child might be my spirit animal. The mere fact that she once said, “if you’re afraid of butter, use cream” is enough for me. Not to mention the myriad of other amazingly awesome things about her, she was a butter lover. I’m a butter lover too. I love butter like there’s no tomorrow. I love olive oil, don’t get me wrong. Big hunks of crusty bread dipped in a high quality olive oil is as close to heaven as it gets. But butter! There’s NOTHING like butter. And I find I can never have too much of it around. So I decided to try my hand at making my own, & it’s deceptively simple.

Like making homemade bread, making homemade butter has a kind of impressive nature. It practically screams either “AMISH!” or “HOMESTEADER!” Which I assure you I am neither; as best evidenced by my extreme lack of any religion, my nose ring & my obsession for going out to eat & looking in mirrors.

Quick & simple homemade butter. Made in a stand mixer using just heavy cream (40-60% butterfat) & salt.

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Ch-ch-ch-chili oil.

Okay, guys. This is another one of those “not really a recipe” recipes. Meaning it’s more like a how-to, not so much a full on recipe, just like that tarragon vinegar I made.

Homemade chili oil how-to.

Yep. Chili oil. An incredibly versatile condiment used for both cooking & as a “garnish” if you will.

Chili oil (also called hot chili oil or hot oil) is a condiment made from vegetable oil that has been infused with chili peppers. It is commonly used in Chinese cuisine, East and Southeast Asia and elsewhere. Particularly popular in Sichuan cuisine, it is used as an ingredient in cooked dishes as well as a condiment. It is sometimes used as a dip for meat and dim sum. It is also employed in the Korean Chinese noodle soup dish jjamppong.

Chili oil is typically red in color. It is made from vegetable oil, often soybean oil or sesame oil, although olive oil or other oils may be used. Other spices may be included such as Sichuan peppergarlic, or paprika. The spices are soaked in oil. Commercial preparations may include other kinds of oil, water, dried garlic, soy sauce, and sugar. Recipes targeted to Western cooks also suggest other popular oils such as rapeseedgrapeseed or peanut, and any dried or fresh chili peppers. The solids typically settle to the bottom of the container in which it is stored. When using chili oil, the cook or diner may choose how much of the solids to use; sometimes only the oil is used, without any solids.

Chili oil is commercially available in glass jars, although it may also be made from scratch at home.[1] It is usually available by request at Chinese restaurants.

-Wikipedia

You can use any dried pepper you like, from Habanero (WHOA!) to chipotle to Ancho to Thai chili pepper (WHOA again!). Depending on the pepper you use, your flavor will differ or range from spicy to mild & smoky to hot & fiery. And of course, that depends on your taste. But choose wisely- if you’re not a fan of hot stuff, don’t use a super hot pepper. The internet is a great resource for Scoville scale measurements & also to find out what peppers taste like what.

Ever since my debacle last year with searching for chipotles, I’ve since learned to never be without dried chilies. When I find them, I buy them. I haven’t in a while because it just so happens I have a full stash. But I have noticed that this year, dried peppers are much more common, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding any. If you grow your own peppers, you can dehydrate them yourself to use in flavoring oil or other recipes. I keep my stash in a quart jar, hidden in a cool, dark, dry place so they stay dry.

Dried chilies for homemade chili oil.

The oil you use will also depend on you. What will you be using the oil for? Olive oil is good if you’re using it as a garnish. Vegetable oil, corn oil or peanut oil are best if you plan on cooking with it. Sesame oil is not suitable for high heat, so it’s best used if you’re planning on sprinkling the oil on top of already cooked food (stir fry, maybe? Or fried rice?). Coconut oil can be used over relatively high heat, and has little flavor, so it might be a decent choice as well. Whole Foods Market has a good rundown of oils on their website, you might wanna take a peek.

All I did to make this oil was:

  1. First, I found a bottle to use. I bought this little bottle at Michael’s for like $1.20, but you can find ones like it just about anywhere, or you can use a jar.
  2. Then I heated a 1/4 cup of oil over low heat. I used corn oil myself. Once it was hot but (not scaldingly so), I added a whole dried chili & 1 tablespoon dried red pepper flakes, and then I let the chile get hot. I did NOT let it cook! I just heated it enough to release the oils & flavor.
  3. I removed it from heat & let it cool to room temperature. Then, using tongs, I put the whole chili in the bottle. I poured the chili oil over it, then poured more fresh oil in to fill the bottle, and then I let it sit in a cool, dark place for one week before using. The longer it sits, the hotter/more flavorful it gets.

Obviously, you can add more chilies if you’re using a larger container. And you’d use more oil, as well. Experimentation is the name of the game!

How to make an easy chili oil.

A certain lemon je ne sais quoi.

Preserved lemons are probably as old as lemons & salt themselves. The version I’m giving you is the most popular on the internet these days: Moroccan preserved lemons. But there are other versions as well; Russian and Indian to name a few. The “Moroccan” version is pretty common, and there are sources that say that there can be references to it found in a British cookbook from the early 1800′s. But it’s been a Moroccan secret ingredient long before that. The Greeks, the Chinese, Indians, Africans and Cambodians all preserve lemons and have for centuries. Some preserve them whole, some slice them into small pieces and other just into quarters. Some add vinegar, some add more lemon juice, some just use salt and others still add spices or chiles. Or even some sugar.

When added to a dish, even subtly, they add a certain “je ne sais quoi”; a certain something you can’t quite put your finger on.

I have no Moroccan ancestry, no mediterranean or Eastern ancestry at all actually. I’m from Western European/Eastern European stock, but the absolute furthest East I mean is the border of Poland and Russia (or whatever countries they became after). I’ve never eaten a preserved lemon before, nor have I seen one in person. As much of a food lover that I am, I don’t much care for East Indian fare. I’ve got pedestrian and almost child-like tastes when it comes to food; pub food, fresh salads, well-made pastries, bacon. Another confession? I don’t like lamb; a dish that preserved lemons are frequently paired with. But regardless of all that, this intrigued me. And when things intrigue me, I want to make them. I want to figure them out and get to the bottom of what the deal is with them. Why are they popular now? Why has there been a resurgence in the creation of these things? What are they good for?

Because I genuinely didn’t know. I never ate one.

But if it’s one thing I do know, it’s this: at this time of year, citrus is aplenty. Every other post on every other blog is about citrus something-or-other. Blood oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits… they’re all over the place. But there’s only so much marmalade and curd one can make. There are only so many cocktails you can make with an orange slice or a lemon wedge. The lemons in the bowl on the table stare you in the face every morning, to the point where they start to look possessed after a while, and you need something new & different to make with them before they become a total waste (or, before you decorate your entire house in dehydrated citrus slices).

(The above photos were taken on day two. By day four, my lemons weren’t quite entirely submerged in juice, so I poured a little more in.)

PRESERVED LEMONS

Ingredients:

  • Clean, sterilized jar, pint or quart
  • Meyer or regular lemons, scrubbed clean (preferably organic), 3-4 for pint jar, 8-10 for quart
  • Kosher salt or all natural sea salt
  • Lemon juice (optional)
  • Bay leaf, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, or other spices (optional- I added none for my first batch)

Directions:

  1. The concept is very simple: cut the lemons into quarters, but not all the way through (leave a part attached so that the four pieces aren’t completely separated). If there are little nubbins on the ends, specifically if using regular lemons not Meyer, cut those off first.
  2. Then open the lemon, and add a tablespoon of Kosher salt to it. Add a layer of Kosher salt to the bottom of your clean jar, and add the first lemon. You can lay it sideways or stand it up, depending on how much room you have, how big your jar is and how many lemons you’ve got to use. Add another sprinkling of salt on top. Repeat until all the lemons are used & your jar is full. If you want, add your spices along with two tablespoons lemon juice (both optional), then add a layer of Kosher salt on top before closing the jar (not optional).
  3. Give the jar a shake every day for three to four days, and every other day open it and press down on the lemons to expel more juice. After the fifth day, they should be submerged in their own juices. If they are not, at this point you’ll have to top them off with extra lemon juice. Any “exposed” lemons can turn nasty.
  4. Now this is the part where people have a difference of opinion; some say at this point you should refrigerate them for 3-4 weeks and then they’re ready for use. Others say you can now process them in a waterbath for 10 minutes and they’ll be shelf stable until you’re ready to use them. And others still say they can be kept out of the fridge on the counter for use right away. I suppose it’s all a matter of opinion & taste, so do as you like.

You can use any kind of jar you want for this, providing you won’t be processing them. A parfait jar works fine, as does an old spaghetti sauce jar (thoroughly cleaned out of course). This recipe works for all varieties of lemons and also for limes! I used two Meyer lemons and two Eurekas myself, and I think I’m going to give it a whirl with some limes.

Then, around day three or four of sittin’ in that ol’ jar, this is how they look:

Alright, so now that you’ve made them, what do you do with them? After some initial internet browsing, I discovered these little gems are pretty versatile. The general rule is to separate the rind from the flesh and pith and use the rind, but some folks do in fact use the pulp as well. The flavor is supposedly amazingly bright yet delicate, bold but not as bitter as a fresh lemon. The skin actually becomes so soft and tasty, you can eat it straight out of the jar (just give them a rinse first, to get all that salt off).

And let’s not even talk about how amazing the SMELL is when you open the jar.

Seriously. The smell is like, pure lemon. You think a fresh cut lemon smells good? This smells a million times better. Cleaner, less bitter smelling, if that makes sense.

But it doesn’t matter how they look or smell if you can’t figure out how the hell to eat them. Thanks to a great article at SeriousEats, I discovered you can use them with ice cream or semifreddo as well as on savory dishes. Perfect. Here are some other ideas:

  • With fish- the preserved lemons can be used however a regular lemon would be with fish, both raw fish (sushi) and cooked fish
  • With poultry- same idea as above; lemon pepper chicken, etc.
  • In salads- separate the rind from the flesh, slice it thinly and top a salad with it
  • In salsa- adds a tangy brightness to tomato or mango salsas
  • With lamb & vegetable tagines
  • In a couscous, quinoa, bulgur or pearl barley dish
  • With a curry
  • On top of vanilla ice cream or mixed into a lemon ice cream
  • The juice can be added to a bloody mary

Of course, mine aren’t quite ready yet. So when they are, I’ll be sure to give you all an update and maybe even a recipe for how to use them.