I love fruit. Here in Japan, fruit is highly seasonal. And winter brings a cavalcade of citrus fruits to tempt the palate, quench the thirst and boost your vitamin C intake.
The variety of citrus in Japan is phenomenal: green-tinged early-picked mandarins herald the end of summer; regular ones appear in time for the gobble-fest at New Year. The fragrant triumvirate of kabosu, sudachi and yuzu adds zing to Japanese food from autumn right through the long winter. Ponkan, sweet and juice-laden iyokan (which I eagerly await each year), tangellos, grapefruit, oranges... Whether for their juice or their peel, citrus fruits are exactly what you want when it looks like the sun may never again break through heavy winter clouds (although it seems to finally have done so today in Tokyo).
But to my mind, the ruler of the citrus domain is... Well, given the name of this blog, I'm sure I don't need to spell it out (g).
So, the time has come to get down to it with some recipes showcasing the ever fabulous lemon.
But first we need to make some preserved lemons. These are the "salty lemons" that opened my eyes to the fabulous epicurean treats that are out there in the world just waiting to be "discovered".
It is amazing that something so mind-blowing (to me, anyway) is so easy. All you need is a clip-top jar, lemons and salt. That's it! Oh, and the most important ingredient--time.
Through some kind of strange alchemy, these three ingredients give you not "salty lemons", but something altogether more delectable. A lovely mellow but tangy fruit, whose peel (and pulp, if you want, and who wouldn't want?) adds a fresh and fabulous dimension to so many Moroccan dishes. You can also add them to meat sandwiches in place of pickle, use them to brighten up a simple green salad or salsa, or just gobble them on their own. The "juice" somehow morphs into an unctuous syrup, that is just begging to jump into some salad dressing. (Lemon aficionados may even find a teaspoonful pinched from the jar a very sharpening way to jump-start a brain addled with the cold.)
Here they are, pictured with the original jar that my dear friend N brought from Australia (the contents long since savoured with relish).
1 Choose organic lemons, if you can. Scrub them with dish-washing detergent and rinse them very well, then pat dry.
2 Cut the lemons in quarters lengthwise, but not all the way through to the stalk. Fill each lemon with a heaped tablespoon of salt and place in the (sterilized, if you're worried about salt-resistant germs) jar, pressing down heavily as you go. Once the jar is filled with lemons, fill it to the top with juice from additional lemons, then seal. It is important to keep the lemons immersed in the juice so that mould does not form. (Although Claudia Roden tells us that any white mould that forms is harmless, and should just be wiped off. Not that I've ever had mould, but in case you do.)
3 Turn the jar over and press down on the lemons each day for a week, topping up with more juice if you need to. Leave to mature for a month on the counter, then store until needed in the fridge. These will last a very long time. Depending on how salty you like things, you can wash the salt off before you use them. I don't usually bother, though, and just adjust the salt in the dish accordingly.
For me, preserved lemons were a total revelation. They can be addictive, and even cause abnormal behaviour in users, such as strange urges to tour the world in search of other culinary treasures. You have been warned!