“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” — James Beard
On a Monday, from a very tiny kitchen in Florida, I close my eyes for a second and let the aroma of the toasted spices guide my way to a far away land of palaces and vibrant oasis. A place where the flavors of the food are as vibrant and bold as the rays of sun showering its people. Morocco is a mystery to my western upbringing. It’s traditions, customs, and food are but faraway whispers and I can hardly make out what those whispers try to say. And yet, I begin by trying to understand the food, because food is something that we share. Humans pass down food from one generation to another. We gather around our most coveted recipes and celebrate special occasions in the presence of an elaborately prepared meal. A universal experience indeed.
Step out of your comfort zone and step into somebody’s shoes. Let some of their experiences become a part of yours.The easiest way to do this is to begin in the kitchen, with everyday ingredients, molded into out-of-this-world flavors.
Consider the lemon. This ubiquitous citrus fruit is also a staple in Moroccan cooking. A lemon gets cut into 6 wedges before it gets tossed in sea salt and spices. The wedges, salt, and spices combined can live for up to 4 weeks in the refrigerator before being used for the first time. By then, the lemons have expelled much of their juice and the rind would have softened into a salty, tangy, and bitter condiment that can be added to couscous. lamb roasts, and even salad dressings. The spices impregnate the rind with their sweet essence, creating a culmination of exotic flavors, perfect for the adventurous cook.
- 5 lemons cut into 6 wedges
- 1/2 cup of sea salt
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 10 coriander seeds
- 4 cloves
- 5 peppercorns
- juice of 1 lemon
In a clean container; plastic, mason jar, etc. pour 1 tbs of salt. layer as many wedges of lemon as possible without layering lemon on top of lemon. Add a layer of salt, enough to cover the entire surface of the first layer of lemons. sprinkle some of the spices. Now, repeat with a new layer of lemons, then slat, then spices, until they have all fit into the container. Seal and store in the refrigerator for 4 weeks before using.
Alright, so I have been bitten by the canning bug! It is itching and I cannot make it stop!
Not very long ago I found a wonderful book online which explained the basics about canning; Food in Jars by Marissa McClellan. In her book she presents very basic recipes for the beginner canner. These are recipes that do not require a pressure canner but rather use a water bath canning method. Along with her recipes, she includes water bath times and tips to ensure your jars have been processed adequately.
As a rule of thumb, foods that are acidic or have added vinegar (as in pickles) or lemon juice can be processed in a water bath. This is a faster way to create an air tight seal in the jars. On the other hand, foods with a pH level of 4.6 or above are considered low acid. In turn, these foods must be processed with a pressure canner because the pressure will create the high temperatures required to kill the bacteria that causes many illnesses such as botulism. If the vegetables or fruits being canned are delicate and do not stand up well to the heat, it’s a good idea to do a refrigerator pickling process. It is always important to sterilize the jars and lids used in canning by boiling them in water. Likewise, you want to wash hands, clean surfaces, and disinfect veggies, fruits, and other foods being used. Of course if you have worked with food before, this is always an important step in food prep.
Because I do not have a pressure canner, I used a water bath method to prepare a wonderful pickled cauliflower. Since it’s the season of giving, Im really excited to give out my little jars filled with the ubiquitous cauliflower, except this time the flavor packed tanginess will come as a pleasant surprise as it gets eaten on a crispy baked cracker and sprinkled with some soft cream cheese, perhaps topped with a sundried tomato slice.
Pickled Cauliflower (adapted from the book; Food in Jars)
You will need…..
- A large stock pot with a rack to place on the bottom
- 3 ea 1pint/ 500 ml mason jars
- 2 cups white vinegar
- 3 tbs pickling salt
- 1 lemon, sliced
- 1 1/2 tsp mustard seed ( I toasted these)
- 1 1/12 tsp cumin seed ( i toasted these)
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- 3/4 tsp peppercorns
- small cauliflower (cut into florets)
- Sterilize jars and lids by submerging them into simmering water in the stockpot while the recipe ingredients get get prepared.
- combine vinegar with 1 1/2 cups of water, add salt and bring the brine to a boil.
- Remove jars from water bath and drain all water from jars.
- Slice the lemon and place it in the jars. Divide the spices equally into each jar. Prepare the cauliflower by cutting the florets and arranging them equally into the jars.
- Pour brine over cauliflower in jars.
- Tapping will push all air bubbles to the top. Assemble lids and tightly secure them on the jars.
- Place jars inside stockpot with boiling water, use a rack to keep them elevated from the bottom of the pot but allow the water level to cover the jars completely Boil for 10 minutes. Allow them too cool countertop.
Pickles, I once thought, were those round and tangy, mushy and lackluster circles that I did not want inside my burger. I never knew a good pickle until I started working with food. I still remember the moment that I tasted a crisp, clean cucumber pickle. The ying yang of sweetness and acidity was a perfect match for the juicy fat of a hamburger, the way it should always be. I have actually learned that pickles are not always cucumbers. You can pickle carrots, and jalapenos, which are a staple in almost any Mexican household. During my pickling/canning phase, I pickled those utterly cute baby carrots and some unforgivingly spicy jalapeno peppers. Like I said before, I cannot stop this pickling madness, I want to pickle everything in my fridge………….