One of my favorite words to use in the kitchen is eyeballing. It’s not a word I learned at school, but I immediately knew what it meant when my colleague used it in the kitchen. Now I use the word in every cooking class that I teach and tell people that eyeballing is great technique to have mastered. I used it when I made a new batch of Preserved Lemons.
Starting to teach cooking classes in another country can be quite struggling. You have no clue what people know about ingredients and cooking. You certainly don’t know all the words. Sometimes dishes are totally new to you (Like we know bananas foster in The Netherlands. Not!). But I struggled the most with measuring.
Simply measuring ingredients.
In what country did I got caught? Myanmar? Liberia?
No, but the USA is the only other country in the world besides those two that doesn’t use the metric system. A system in which 100 grams is 1/10 of a kilo. And where you easily can calculate with milliliters as well.
Needless to say, I was in a total shock.
How to multiply 4 tablespoons? Do I really have to scoop up 4×4 tablespoons? What’s a pint? I know in British-English they use it to order a glass of beer, but in the kitchen? How many cups (or preferably, grams) is a stick of butter? Is a pound the same as my Dutch pound?
Well.. No, 16 tablespoons is a cup. A pint is 1/8th of a gallon, which (that gallon, I mean) is about 4 liters, but a little bit less. A stick of butter is half a cup, so 110 grams. Will a cup of water then be 220 grams? Close, but it is 235 grams. If you multiply this cup by 2, you’ve got that pint. Two pints is a quart. And they are 4 quarts in a gallon, or 16 cups.
Oh, are you still there?
And no, a Dutch pound is 500 grams, here in the USA it is 10% less, so 450 grams. And that is …
Needless, to say, I trained myself in eyeballing. Made it a sport to use the Dutch equivalent, my carpenter’s eye, to the max.
[Carpenter’s eye? Yes, I see it immediately if something isn’t lined out properly, if a painting on a wall is not level.]
And even more than before, I consider eyeballing, basically measuring without any tools, as on of the most important techniques to master in the kitchen.
For instance, I literally tell all students in my cooking classes never to measure the oil that you need to bake or fry up things in a skillet. You just need enough to cover the bottom of your skillet with a thin film of oil, or less if you use a non-stick one.
Okay, over to the preserved lemons.
What are preserved lemons?
Will you settle with “lemons that preserved”? In salt and their own juice? Cause that’s what they are. Salt, acid and time change the flavor and texture of the lemons and the rinds become edible as well.
Also called Salted Lemons. Here’s my pic on Instagram of them (do you already follow me there?).
How do you use preserved lemons?
In the Moroccan kitchen they’re a staple and used in all kinds of dishes. In the traditional tajines (stews), seafood and salads. I like them to spicen and brighten up my couscous a bit, as I don’t like plain couscous (as you can see). But they’re also good in sensational salads with ‘other’ grains. And how about chicken skewers, for that extra je ne sais quoi? Lemon-umami, I once saw it described.
Can you eat all of it?
Yes! In some recipes you only use the rind, in others the ‘flesh’, or both. I would say, just taste the lemons (warning; they’re salty and acidic so only a tiny bite is enough) and try what you like the best.
I use the flesh in dressing and other dishes with a soft texture (drinks!) and chop up the rinds in stews or when a bit chewy is fine, or when there is time to break it all down.
How to make preserved lemons?
When I just arrived in California I couldn’t find them anywhere so I made them myself from memory. And this is a typical example of a recipe that you can make by eyeballing. Once you understand that you’re preserving lemons in quite an amount of salt and (freshly pressed) lemon juice, you’re set.
But I will write down a recipe below, no worries.
Yes, they are. But not in a bad way. I only write this to be able to say a new saying or phrase that I just learned; that I’m up into my eyeballs with them.
You can buy them at Mediterranean stores or supermarkets with a large ‘ethnic’ supply, like WholeFoods. But they’re so easy to make them yourself, and now citrus season is coming, the only reason not to make them, is that you have to wait. At least 2-4 weeks, but usually 6 weeks, depending on how small (or big) your lemon pieces are.
I used (for a small jar, about 1 cup):
3 lemons, organic (but have 1 or 2 extra on hand)
flavorings, optional (see tip below)
Clean the jar. Wash it thoroughly, rinse even better and dry it. To be really sure to kill all bacteria, I put the jar and lid (metal or glass) in an oven of 215 F | 100 C for about 15 minutes.
Cut the lemon. I simply cut 1 lemon in 6 parts.
Tip: Traditionally you make incisions from the top of the lemon to the bottom, but keep the parts connected at the base. Toss with salt, especially between the parts. This is great when you make a big jar full, but not very convenient to fill up a small jar, so here’s why I simply cut the lemon into parts.
Add salt. Do about 1 teaspoon of salt in a clean jar.
Tip: Add flavoring. My favorite are fennel seeds. But you can add all kinds of other spices/mixes as well, like black peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, coriander seeds, cloves, bay leaves.
Fill the jar with the lemon parts and squeeze them a bit. Maybe need a few more parts to fill up the jar? Do so! The idea is that the jar is packed with lemons, not with salt and juice.
Add a big scoop of salt and fill the jar with lemon juice until all lemon parts are covered. Put the lid on and shake a few times to remove air bubbles. Or poke around with a small spoon to remove them.
Wait. Leave it on the counter and start tasting after 4 weeks.
You can keep the preserved lemons in the fridge for like forever.