If you weren’t among the 700-some lucky ones who attended last week’s Washington Post Live Future of Food conference — and I do mean lucky; I’m told more than 3,000 others couldn’t be accommodated at the limited-seating event — today’s Food section will be interesting reading. We give you condensed versions of talks by some of the speakers, including Britain’s Prince Charles, and reporter Tim Carman interviews the experts to get a sense of the most urgent food-related issues facing us today. Elsewhere on the front page of the section, you can read about a food-chain success: the much-maligned bluefish, which is at high sustainability levels and which, despite a bad rap, tastes delicious if you know the secret to preparing it. Read our story, and you’ll find out what it is. And in his Cooking for One column, Joe Yonan helps another solo cook learn to love her greens. On the back page you’ll find Bonnie Benwick’s report on two new cookbooks with a gimmick: All of the recipes have just a handful of ingredients.
And don’t forget today’s Free Range chat at noon, your chance to ask us about matters weighty and light, from the global food supply to what’s for dinner tonight. When the hour’s over, I’ll gather up the leftover questions and pick ones to answer here in this space next week. Like this question, from last week’s chat:
I have some leftover preserved lemons (that no doubt came from somebody’s free-range sustainable lemon farm and were transported to Whole Foods via electric car while being carefully packaged in reusable containers). What to do with them?
Ah, a comedian. Well, I’ll answer your question anyway, even though for me it stirs up deep, uncontrollable feelings of shame and remorse.
I needed three preserved lemons fast, and the closest source to my house was a Mediterranean market that sold them only in big, and I mean really big, jars. So I shelled out megabucks for the jarful, convinced I’d use them all. That was a couple of years ago, and I finally couldn’t stand to look at them anymore. Into the garbage disposal they went, where I’m happy to report they gave the kitchen sink drain a lovely, lemony fragrance. But the stench of guilt remains.
Reader, I will not let you meet the same fate!
To use up those lemons, let’s start with something called chermoula, a thick, versatile sauce that can be used raw or cooked, as a marinade, topping or even stuffing for grilled or baked fish, chicken and vegetables. There are many variations on the theme; this one is from food writer Tamasin Day-Lewis.
This will make enough for 4 to 6 servings: Toast 1 teaspoon each of cumin seeds and coriander seeds in a small skillet for 1 minute, crush them and put them in a food processor with a small onion that is coarsely chopped, 3 cloves of coarsely chopped garlic, a teaspoon of sweet paprika, 1 / 2 teaspoon of powdered ginger and 1 tablespoon each of cilantro and flat-leaf parsley leaves. Pulse until things look finely chopped.
Coarsely chop a preserved lemon (rind included, seeds removed) with 12 glossy, pitted black olives and stir that mixture into the mixture from the food processor, adding a little olive oil to loosen it up a bit. Season with salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste.
Next I‘m suggesting two more recipes, one with green beans, the other with eggplant, to help you unload your stash. But first, I feel obliged to mention that one way I could have avoided buying all those lemons would’ve been to preserve a few myself — just a modest number. In case that idea appeals to you, here’s our go-to recipe for Quick Preserved Lemons that cuts a lot of time out of what can be a lengthy process.
This recipe is noisy and fun, but watch the splatters. When the raw green beans hit the hot oil, they spit and sputter and soon become slightly caramelized and brown on the outside; during the cooking and afterward, the insides of the beans will soften.
Preserved lemons are available at Mediterranean specialty markets (including Lebanese Taverna Market, 4400 Old Dominion Dr., Arlington; 703-276-8681) and at the olive bars of some Whole Foods Markets. From David Scribner, chef at Surfside restaurant in Glover Park.
6 to 8 servings
- 3 to 4 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 pound green beans (stringed if desired)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 3 medium cloves garlic, cut lengthwise into very thin slices
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped herbs, such as thyme or tarragon
- 1/4 cup preserved lemons, cut into strips
Heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a large skillet over high heat until the oil just begins to smoke.
Add the green beans, and stir or toss to coat evenly; cook for about 4 to 6 minutes, making sure to keep the beans moving so that all sides get browned or slightly caramelized. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Add the garlic and stir to mix well. Cook, stirring or tossing, for about 4 minutes, until the garlic has softened and browned slightly. Add the herbs and mix well; cook for about 30 seconds, then remove from the heat. Add the preserved lemon and stir to incorporate. Transfer to a large platter; serve hot or at room temperature.
Preserved lemon teams up with green olives and vinegar for a tart counterpart to the eggplant in this traditional Moroccan eggplant dish. Preserved lemons, with their unusual pickled flavor, are indispensable in Moroccan cooking. Typically, they're made by covering lemons with salted lemon juice for a month. We're providing a method to obtain some of the tang of preserved lemons in just 20 minutes. Serve with rice. Adapted from "Moroccan Modern," by Hassan M'Souli (Interlink Publishing, 2005).
- 1 preserved lemon, or 1 thin-skinned fresh lemon, thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 4 small ( 1 1/2 to 2 pounds) eggplants
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic , crushed
- 4 Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
- 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup white vinegar
- 1/2 bunch cilantro leaves, chopped
- 12 green olives, preferably cracked green or Picholine
Chop the preserved lemon into small pieces. If starting with a fresh lemon, heat 2 teaspoons of the oil. Add the sliced lemon in a single layer and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the salt and a pinch of sugar. Cook, turning occasionally, until the lemon is tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Chop into small pieces.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Halve the eggplants from stem to tip, then score the flesh deeply into large cubes without slicing through the skin. Brush the cut surfaces with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Place the eggplant pieces, cut side up, on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they are fork-tender. Remove from the oven and cut into large cubes, including the skin.
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, then add the tomatoes, paprika, cumin and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the eggplant cubes and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add the vinegar, cilantro and half of the lemon pieces and simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and let stand for a few minutes. Serve warm, garnished with the olives and remaining lemon pieces.