Even though I’ve almost lived in Bristol for a year now, I’ve only recently discovered that I live a mere 10 minutes’ drive away from Ikea. I used to make pilgrimages up from Devon to visit this place. I would always come back with a car-load of stuff that I didn’t really need and couldn’t quite remember buying, but that somehow felt completely necessary at the time. Upon hearing that my friend Nicola had never been to Ikea, I was dumbfounded. What, like, never? No. So the fact was that we had to go, and soon. I was trying to describe to her what was so good about it, using a series of vague gestures and half sentences. It’s a shop, yes. But so much more. You can buy furniture. And carpets and plants and photo frames. And then there’s the meatballs.
When visiting Ikea, I always endeavor to make a list and stick to it, but usually completely fail in the latter, and that’s if I remember to bring my list in the first place. I’m completely swayed by the cute Swedish names – it may be a boring curtain ring, but it’s called ‘Syrlig’, so naturally I have to buy it. The item at the top of my list was ‘clip-top jars’. I was shoving about ten into the (appropriately massive) trolley, to incredulous looks from Nicola, mumbling the words ‘dacanting’, ‘lentils’ and ‘useful’ as vague excuses. And they’re only 80p each – I think I sneaked in an extra two at the end for this reason alone. When I got my haul of jars home, I discovered that, despite stocking up on cashew nuts and cous-cous to have something to decant into my new jars, I still had a few spare. So, preserved lemons it is.
Preserved lemons are a staple ingredient in Moroccan cooking, especially in tagines and fish dishes. I was always a bit skeptical about their necessity (surely fresh lemons would do the trick just as well, right?) but once I tried the preserved variety I could see what all the fuss was about. The lemons are salted then packed into jars, covered with olive oil and left to do their thing for a few weeks. This renders the outer skin soft, and mutes the sharp acidic tang. They can be eaten, if you wish, straight from the jar. Whilst the lemons are preserving away for a week or so, Paris and I will be busy dreaming up ways to use them. Watch this space!
Makes enough to fill a 250ml jar.*
3 large lemons
3 tbsp flaky sea salt, such as Maldon.
150ml olive oil
Slice lemons into rounds about the thickness of a pound coin. Line a colander with kitchen paper, and lay the lemon slices in the colander, so they come up the sides. Cover with salt, making sure the salt coats both sides of the lemon slices. Cover the colander with a kitchen towel and leave overnight in a cool place. The next day, wash the salt off the lemons and pack the slices into a sterilised jar, preferably with a clip top lid. Fill the jar up with oil, and leave for at least a week before using.
*to sterilise the jar, wash it thoroughly with warm, soapy water, then pour a kettle-full of boiling water over it. Leave to dry before using.
Read Paris’ take on the subject here.