Lemon tree very pretty

lemon tree 1

Like almost everyone else, for years I associated vibrantly bright citrus fruits with summer, maybe it’s the association with sunny places like Valencia, Sicily or Morocco or perhaps the memory of lemony ice blocks and cool drinks on hot days,  lemon meringue pie on the picnic table and of course wedges of lemon with shellfish and summer seafood , but I hadn’t make the connection  that summer citrus fruits are the exception rather than the norm.

By contrast, with winter now here in Southern Australia, it is truly the best time of year for this family of fruits. One of the great things they bring to the table is the splash of bright colour and zingy flavor that seems to say “sunny days”. This is especially so as the days get cooler, skies become more grey and winter food as always, gets heavier and dare I say becomes a study in brown!

A great example of this seasonal bounty are the citrus trees in our little garden. The limes are just about over but still hanging in there, now in their “golden” stage , more yellow than green but at their most fragrant and sweet. We have also started to harvest the first of our old fashioned Navel oranges, even if they are still little sour at the moment, and coming on very soon after will be a terrific crop of mandarins that are, as yet, still pretty green, but it is the lemons I am most excited about.

This year has been a bumper season for lemons and even our dwarf Eureka lemon has put on a show. In fact everyone seems to have lemons to give away right now and we have many more than we need for immediate use. Of course finding uses for fresh lemons is not difficult, our featherlight lemon tart is definitely on the agenda as are sweet preserves like lemon curd and marmalade and  some lemon syrup will be great addition to have on hand for summer cocktails.

preserved lemons

But, there are also savoury preserving options. Right along the ancient spice trail from Morocco to Indian lemons and limes are preserved for future use. Pickling is popular in India, with spicy lime or lemon pickle a popular condiment, dried limes or Loomi are very common in the Gulf States and through to Iran, where they provide an astringent, sour and slightly bitter, powdered seasoning, but by far and away the best known preserved citrus has to be the salted lemons or “Msir” of Morocco.

Simply packed in salt this really is the easiest and most foolproof way to preserve lemons. Once ready the fruit pulp will have turned into a jell like paste. This pulp is most often discarded, along with the white pith so that only the skin or zest is consumed so because of this, juicy thin skinned lemons are best suited for this process. Importantly the pickling or salting process transforms the numbing quality one finds in raw zest, instead leaving behind almost artificial fragrant and intense lemony flavours.

lemon 3

Having these on hand is one thing but knowing how to best use them is another. They are fantastic shredded and stirred though warmed cracked green olives as an hors d’oeuvres or used as a late addition to freshen up a long braised tajine, they add a great piquancy and zing to a simple roasted chook and their flavours play off beautifully against sweet roasted red peppers and fresh green herbs in a simple salad, and for me, this alone is a perfect reason to put some of these winter preserves away for a (not so) sunny day.

Pickled Lemons

5 lemons
5 tablespoons sea salt
125ml lemon juice

Method

  • Wash lemons well and cut into quarters lengthwise without quite cutting through so that the lemon remains in one piece joined at the stem end.

lemon 4

  • Sprinkle inside the lemons well with salt and pack tightly into a preserving jar adding remaining salt between layers.

lemon 2

  • Fill jar with lemon juice and seal, place jars in a warm place for about 4 weeks turning jars occasionally

lemon 1

 

 

 

 

In a bit of a pickle …..

 

dead leaves

Our house smells kind of awesome right now, let me explain why….

The weather in our fair valley has turned, autumn seems to have come to a premature halt and it certainly looks and feels like winter out there right now. Of course that means our little vegie patch, along with everyone else’s, has entered that semi dormant state, which means before we can recondition the soil and sow our cover crops and some broad beans and garlic for spring, we need to clear the remnant summer vegetable fruits that are clearly struggling now that the cold snap has bitten. Luckily, we have already eaten most of the eggplants and there were only a few lonely zucchini bravely hanging on, but our tomato plants were still hopeful, holding a couple of kilos of green tomatoes that were never going to get any riper or sweeter.

green-tomatoes-600x400 (2)

 

Being a frugal type I really didn’t want to waste them so we decided to preserve, but following which process. Frankly I am not a fan of green tomato chutney but I do love a good South Indian Style Pickle. As with all recipes there are many variations and methodologies but when it comes to green tomato pickles there are a few main schools of thought. Starting out with pretty much the same ingredients, they are either simply salted and fermented or cured in the sun, but both of those take patience and time. Others fast track the process and involve a little cooking, and the following recipe takes this route.

ingredients

At once salty, sour, bitter, spicy and pungent, these pickles are kind of addictive, but oh so simple. Mustard seed and fenugreek are really the heroes and that’s what’s making the house smell so good, but on the down side as a fresh unfermented pickle they don’t last long, but that’s not going to be a problem. And so as I write this blog, despite the cold weather and drizzle, I have fired up our tandoor for some smoky grilled eggplant, yogurt marinated lamb, naan bread and those delicious green tomato pickles…. Excuse me while I eat!

lamb n naan

Green Tomato Pickles

60ml                           mustard oil
1 tablespoon              black mustard seed
½ teaspoon               asafetida powder
1 teaspoon                 fenugreek – ground
1 tablespoon              Kashmiri chili powder
750g                            green tomatoes – roughly cut in 1cm dice
50 ml                          fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon              salt

Method

  • Heat oil in a stainless steel saucepan until almost smoking, remove from heat and allow to cool, then reheat oil, add mustard seed frying gently until it starts to crackle and pop

mustard seed

  • Add asafetida, fenugreek and chili powder and continue to fry for one minute

sizzling spice

  • Add tomatoes, lime juice and salt and bring to a simmer

green toms

  • Cook for 20 – 30 minutes or until the oil starts to separate then remove from the heat, fill into sterilized jars and seal or place in a storage container and refrigerate until needed

pickle

Note: if not sealed into sterilized jars this pickle is best eaten in between 7– 10 days if covered and stored in the fridge

 

Delicious Nightshades

After last week’s plague of zucchini, it could only be a tomato tsunami this week. On a serious note it would be nice if things ripened evenly because it certainly looks like we’re due an eggplant glut in the next couple of weeks, ratatouille in installments anyone? Of course this is the joy of home gardening, but also why we love our farmers markets like our one here in the Barossa, (arguably one of Australia’s best), simply because different gardens have different things at different times.

toamtoes

Anyway this time, unlike my ponderings over zucchini, there really is no question what to make. Forget passata and relish, there will definitely be no bothering with “dead horse”, no for me there is only one thing to do with an abundance of sweet ripe tomatoes and that is make chutney.

ginger

However this is not your typical “Anglo” grandma chutney, spiced up with curry powder and a hadful of raisins. No, my recipe of choice is for an authentic Bengali “Tamator Chaatney”. Certainly there are elements of curry in the ingredients with ginger, chili, fenugreek and other whole “curry spices” but this is really so much about the tomatoes, so rich and bright red, with crunchy shreds of ginger and a beautiful spicy, sweet, sour balance.

spices

There’s nothing complicated in the prep either, the only technical part is slicing the ginger into fine matchsticks or if you’re into fancy terminology “Julienne”, but even that’s easy this time of year because tender, paper skinned, juicy young ginger from Queensland is in peak supply right now.

panch phoran

Essentially to make this, the simplest of chutneys, the spices including the “Panch Phoron” (a blend of five whole seeds, keep an eye on our website for the release of this and other Food Luddite spice blends in the coming weeks) are simply fried, the tomatoes and seasonings are added and the whole is simmered until rich. Lastly coriander leaves and lime juice are added and its ready for immediate use. However, with a layer of oil on top it will last for weeks in the fridge, but I doubt you can keep it that long, because it goes with just about everything!

 

Bengali Tamator Chaatney

120ml                                  vegetable oil
2 teaspoons                        panch phoron
4                                         green chillies – chopped
4                                         cloves garlic  – chopped
5 cm piece                          fresh ginger – shredded into fine matchsticks
1kg                                     ripe tomatoes – diced in approx. 1cm cubes
2 teaspoons                       salt
1/2 cup                               sugar
50ml                                   white vinegar
2                                         limes – juice of
2 tablespoons                    coriander leaf – shredded

Method

  •  Fry panch phoron in hot oil, add garlic, chilli and ginger and fry gently for 2-3 minutes
  • Add Tomatoes, salt, sugar and vinegar and simmer until well reduced and oil starts to separate at the edges of the pan.
  • Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly, stir through the lime juice and fresh coriander to finish
  • Seal in sterilized jars or store in the fridge in a sealable container with a little extra oil floated on top.

Why on earth would you want to eat a green fig?

glazed figs

When it comes to things edible we have a lot to be thankful of from the ancients of the Mediterranean basin. Imagine if you can, who would have first thought that a horribly spiny thistle, possessing bitterness beyond belief, could be transformed into the classic Artichokes a la Grecque, or that olives, equally bitter and looking poisonously purple when ripe, could be cured with salt water to become a delicacy and in fact a signature ingredient of a entire region. What about caper leaves, and to be honest caper buds and berries, then there are apricot kernels, which though full of toxic Prussic Acid (aka Hydrogen Cyanide), could be turned in to the delicious liqueur Amaretto, by steeping them in neat alcohol and adding caramel. Of course the list goes on, and includes the subject of todays blog, something that really is seemingly thoroughly inedible.

FIG1

You see, its midsummer here in the Barossa, and of course that means we are moving closer to vintage. It also means the ancient, gnarly, fig tree in our garden (see my previous post “What’s with the Figgin Seasons..”) is chockablock full of tiny green fruit, awaiting that final flush of growth and ripening that runs parallel to the Shiraz harvest in our locale. What’s more, as summer progresses we see hordes of birdlife descend to feast on the fruits of our valley at this time of year. As a consequence, each year we lose at least 60% of our fig crop to our avian friends and neighborhood possums. Just for once it would be nice to be able to use some of these fruits before they are either decimated by wildlife, or end up ripening so fast that I can’t keep up with them.

FIG2

But who or why on earth would you want to eat a green fig? At this stage in their ripeness, (or lack of) green figs are about as attractive a food as an olive straight from the tree or an artichoke bud straight from plant. They are hard, fibrous and oozing a irritating, lactic sap when cut. In fact, they are exactly the kind of thing the Mediterranean food alchemists would have had fun with. But I have eaten preserved green figs in my travels and with a little research I was able to discover numerous recipes designed to make these inedible “flower buds” delicious  The majority were for unripe figs cooked long and slow in a heavy sugar syrup and destined to accompany cheeses once fresh figs run out. With a bit of a tweak  I have come up with something unmistakably Mediterranean, one which sees them stuffed with pistachio nuts and candied in a spiced, rose flavored, wine syrup. FIG3 Green Figs and Pistachio Nuts in Rose Scented Wine Syrup

24 small                  unripe green figs
24                           pistachio nuts – shelled
¼ cup                     dried rose petals
4                             cardamom pods
4                             cloves
1                              lemon – peel and juice
2 cups                     sugar
½ cup                     honey
1 cup                      water
1 cup                      white wine

Method

Cut a small cross into the base of each fig, place in a stainless steel saucepan cover with cold water and bring to a simmer, cook gently until figs are just tender.

While figs are poaching make a little spice bag containing the lemon peel, rose petals and spices using cheese cloth or a little square of chux cloth, tie securely with kitchen twine and reserve.

When tender drain and refresh figs briefly with cold water and then drain for a couple of minutes before stuffing each fig with a pistachio kernel by inserting it through the previously made cross in the base.

Meanwhile prepare a syrup with the sugar, honey, water, wine and lemon juice and bring to a simmer, skim any impurities from syrup and pour over stuffed figs and spice bag.

Bring back to a gentle simmer and cook until syrup is rich and thick (2-3 hours), remove figs if they are getting over cooked and reserve them to place back in syrup once it has reduced to the desired consistency

Bottle while still hot if the figs are too be used later in the year or simply refrigerate covered if you plan to use them within a few weeks.