I have never been a fussy eater. But when I was younger, and I don’t think this classifies me as “fussy”, olives were too salty, ginger was too spicy, and I couldn’t quite see the point of black liquorice. As my tastebuds have aged, and no doubt reduced in numbers, I can suddenly eat olives by the oily handful and, well, the briefest of glances over this blog will show how much I love ginger now. Liquorice I still have no time for. There’s a photo of me on my first birthday showing how I, with quiet resolve, plucked a black jellybean from my birthday cake and chewed on it. The photo shows my immediate distaste upon chewing. I’m very sure that if I ate a black jellybean now I’d pull a pretty similar face. And while my tastes have expanded, I still have that not entirely useful, Homer Simpson-like quality of “Ooooh look, food, I’m going to eat it all!” documented at that birthday party long ago.
I first tried preserved lemons last year when my godmother gifted me a jar of them that she’d made herself. I was never exposed to them as a child – Morrocan chic hadn’t quite reached the rural outpost where I lived – but I’m sure they would have seemed aggressively salty and sour to my young self. Right now, to my current collective of tastebuds, they are so, ridiculously good. I’m pretty sure it’s not how they’re supposed to be used, but I love just eating slices of lemon whole, straight from the jar. This Christmas just gone, inspired by the now long-consumed preserved lemons I was given, and hungry for more, I decided to make my own as edible presents for people. Obviously I couldn’t blog about this prior to Christmas, but now that we’re safely in January…it’s on.
Predictably, I turn to Nigella Lawson and her engaging book How To Be A Domestic Goddess. In the final chapter, all about preserves and pickles and jams and other exciting things, she has a recipe called “Edith Afif’s Lime Pickles”. The recipe is a little quirky but seemed straightforward enough, and the end result is exactly like preserved lemons, but with limes in their place. I couldn’t afford as many limes as Nigella asked for so used a mix of limes and lemons and didn’t feel bad about it at all. Limes are expensive but lemons are not, the salt I found for about a dollar at the supermarket and the olive oil doesn’t have to be fancy so all up these are a rather tidily priced gift. As I believe in self-gifting, I set aside my own personal stash as well as divvying up the fruit slices into pretty jars for other people.
Edith Afif’s Lime Pickles
From Nigella Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess
10 limes (or a mixture of lemons and limes)
1 kg coarse salt
Approximately 500mls olive oil, not extra virgin
1 tablespoon tumeric
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 dried chilli peppers, crumbled.
I have a confession to make. I completely forgot to add the tumeric and am retroactively kicking myself about it as I’m sure it would have looked gorgeous and tasted amazing. But the end result is still fantastic without it so don’t fear or go on a dazed mission to the supermarket if you don’t have any in the cupboard.
- Cut the fruit into eighths lengthways and cover the bottom of a baking dish with them. Cover the limes in the salt and then put in the freezer overnight. I actually forgot about them for a couple of days and they were perfectly fine.
- Remove from the freezer and thaw. Rinse under running water in a colander. I saved some of the salt which had absorbed an amazingly citrussy flavour and used it on a poached egg. A worthwhile recycling effort. Shake the lime/lemon slices to remove most of the water, and divide between clean jars (fills roughly 3 x 350ml jars).
- Mix the oil and spices together in a measuring jug then pour into each jar. Add more oil if the slices aren’t covered.
- Close the jars, put away in a cool dark cupboard for a week or so – the longer the sit, the more ridiculously good they’ll taste.
Nigella says “you either have a sour tooth or you don’t” (and I maintain that I have a fat tooth, if not several) but I think these have mainstream appeal. The sharp, satiny slices of lime and lemon give this incredibly savoury, mouth filling citrussyness, not overly salty despite the fact that they were blanketed in salt at one point. Sliced or chopped finely they add a softly sour kick to basically anything – salads, couscous, pasta, tagines, anything meditteranean. As an added bonus the oil surrounding the fruit slices takes on a gorgeous flavour and can be spooned from the jar and used as a useful condiment in its own right. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t use these in something. Even though they sound like something other people do and you don’t, preserved lemons (or limes…or lemons) are completely within reach and not difficult at all. It’s a tired argument but if I can handle making them without any ensuing trauma, basically anyone could.
So, I heard this wacky rumour that food blogs need to have decent photos. Which is a shame because I made this amahzing Feta Bread on Tuesday night and even though it tasted like a dream it didn’t photograph so nice. While I was considering just uploading my ugly photos anyway as good photography isn’t so much a right as a pleasant surprise round these parts, I think I’ll just quickly share the recipe instead.
From Simon Rimmer’s The Accidental Vegetarian
This makes two large loaves. You could halve the recipe if this scares you, but you will eat all this bread, trust me.
- 15g (2 sachets) instant dried yeast
- 1 tsp sugar
- 600mls/1 pint warm water
- 1 kilo strong bread flour
- 2 T salt
- 4 T olive oil
- 350g firm feta cheese, crumbled – I used Whitestone which was perfect – solid chunks of sharp cheese. If you use a softer variety it will likely disperse into the dough and you won’t get any noticeable bits of feta in the bread, but it’s not the end of the world.
- Handful of mint leaves
Dissolve the yeast and sugar in a little of the water. This will take about five minutes. Tip in the flour, the rest of the water, and mix to a dough. Knead for 7-10 minutes until it forms a springy, firm dough that isn’t sticky. You may need to add a tiny bit of extra flour or water but go very gently with this. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, leave it to rise for about 2 hours. It will rise to spookily large heights. At this point, punch it down and knead the oil, mint and cheese into the dough. What Simon Rimmer doesn’t tell you is that this is a mission and a half. The dough doesn’t really absorb the cheese at all and you kind of have to prod the bits of cheese in with your fingers and hope for the best. Coax the dough into two loaf shapes on a paper-lined tray, cover with a clean teatowel or a bit of tinfoil and leave at room temperature for 40 minutes. Finally, bake at 180 C/350 F for 30 – 40 minutes, which doesn’t sound like a lot but it’s just right.
This bread is off the scale good – softly chewy, almost buttery in flavour which is odd considering there’s none in there, crusty, and punctuated by chunks of gorgeous feta cheese and cool mint leaves. You could actually leave out the feta and still have wonderful bread – it’s not exactly a recipe I can afford to make every week for that very reason. But it does make a lot of bread, and amazing stuff it is – shoved in a sandwich press for a minute or so, it makes the most incredible toast. The first loaf didn’t last long but we sliced up the second, bagged it and froze it, toasting slices straight from the freezer. We finished the last of it yesterday and I’m actually feeling a bit fragile knowing that it’s no longer in our lives. The feta aside, there’s nothing unusual or different about the method so, putting aside the possibility that I am a bread whisperer, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher why it turned out tasting so outrageously delicious.
I’m feeling much better than I was at the start of this week, which is good of course. On Thursday we attended an awesomely elegant book club initiated by our ex-flatmate, but not ex-friend Ange, and last night we finished Season 4 of The Wire. Gruelling? I felt like how a potato must feel after being mashed. Absolutely mind-blowingly good though, but now I’m torn about whether to recommend it or not – it’s utterly brilliant but you get emotionally invested in characters against your will and none of them are really ‘safe’. That’s all I’ll say…Tomorrow is that rare delight – a public holiday. (Wellington Anniversary Day) This year’s a bit desperate as two of the usual public holidays have the useless bad timing to fall on a Saturday so I’ll have to enjoy tomorrow even more, a bit tough because Tim’s working tomorrow at stupid Starbucks, earning enough to be thankful he’s got a job at all but not enough to actually do anything…but anyway. I’m sure I’ll be able to entertain myself, if nothing else the fact that it’s a Monday and I get a sleep in will be pretty fantastic.
Title comes to you via: Time Warp from the Rocky Horror Show…those of you who wanted to have probably already seen the film so instead I link you to a clip of the utterly lovely Raul Esparza of the 2000 Broadway revival cast vibrato-ing his lungs off. I love the music from Rocky Horror, it reminds me of the score to Hair in some ways because it’s so joyful and all over the place and the lyrics and melody don’t flow in the way you might expect it to. “It’s just a jump to the left…”
On Shuffle while I type:
We’re going to Laneway music festival next Monday so in honour of that fact we’ve been refresher-coursing the acts that are going to be there including…
Katrina by the Black Lips, I love their scrappy, poppy sound and can’t wait to see them live.
I Had Lost My Mind by the deeply intriguing Daniel Johnston.
Dog Days Are Over by Florence and the Machine. It would be easy to narrow one’s eyes in dislike at Florence Welch, what with her unattainably long legs and doe eyes and tendency towards music videos where she canters about with flowers in her hair and floaty capes and no trousers. But her music is gorgeous and this song in particular is pretty astounding – she’s closing the festival and I’m very excited about hearing her sing it live.
Next time: Last week we invited Ange over for pancakes and Thoroughly Modern Millie (ie the second greatest film in existence, after A Mighty Wind, and that is truth.) The pancakes were flipping marvelous and I think I got a decent photo or two out of them so…that’s what you’re likely to be seeing.