Friday 11 March 2011

A Taste of Winter Sunshine

All the Citrus fruit always seems to look its best at this time of year. Oranges and Grapefruits are in season and are all looking so juicy and tempting. Lots of beautiful pink grapefruits, blood oranges and now is the time to make marmalade, as servile oranges are around, but only for a short while. It really is cold outside at the moment and these fantastic fruits really are like a taste like a mouthful of sunshine, from the other side of the world. Although Lemons apparently don't have a season, they too always seem best in the winter. So I decided to make a batch of Preserved Lemons because I had a craving for Moroccan Lemon and Coriander Chicken.

My recipe for preserved lemons comes from Claudia Roden, in her fantastic book "Middle Eastern food". Every time I pick up that book I can't stop reading and find new and exciting recipes that I would love to try. But since we are on the subject of citrus, I thought I would share with you her fantastic, famous recipe for Orange and Almond Cake. This is a Sephardic recipe and one I often make for Passover, as it has no flour in it. It is really unique in its use of whole oranges which are boiled first and produces a cake which has more of a pudding consistency. It is delicious with a dollop of vanilla ice-cream.

My Moroccan Lemon and Coriander Chicken, (I won't call it a Tagine, since I did not cook it in one, although I really must invest in one soon), is a combination of other people recipes, which I have adapted over the years.  I use Ras-El-Hanout Spice Blend by Seasoned Pioneers which is an impressive combination of Galangal, Rosebuds, Black Pepper, Ginger, Cardamom, Nigella, Cayenne, Allspice, Lavender, Cinnamon, Cassia, Coriander, Mace, Nutmeg and Cloves.  I also particularly like the little re-sealable pouch it comes in, to keep it fresh. Top Marks!  I don't use any extra chilli but added extra black pepper to add a little kick.  I like to have this with simple plain Cous Cous maybe with a little fresh chopped coriander and a little finely chopped preserved lemon mixed through it. 

Preserved Lemons in Salt

You can add spices such as cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, coriander seeds, cloves, peppercorns, dried chilles, and cardamom pods if you like.


Lemons (Organic, un-waxed if possible)
Kosher salt or Natural Rock Salt
Large Kilner Jar

Scrub the lemons under running water with a stiff brush to remove any dirt and impurities. Starting at one end, cut the lemons in half lengthwise, but stop about 1/2 an inch before you reach the bottom. Repeat the cut perpendicularly so you have cut each lemon lengthwise in a "X" formation, but not all the way through; they should still be attached at the bottom, about 1/2 an inch. Liberally sprinkle salt on the inside of the lemons. Hold them open with your fingers and really get the salt inside them. It is a little bit like those fortune-teller origami toys kids make out of paper. Place each lemon in the jar, pushing down on them and squeezing them to release the juices. Keep adding Lemons until you absolutely cannot get any more in. The lemons should be completely submerged in juice. If they are not, top up with some extra lemon juice. Seal the jar.  Let the jar sit at room temperature. Every few days, turn the jar upside down and shake it to distribute the salt and liquids. The lemons will be ready in three weeks, or so, when the rinds have softened.

Moroccan Lemon and Coriander Chicken

Olive oil (or Argan oil if you have it)
One whole chicken jointed or 800g of chicken drumsticks
2 heaped teaspoons of Ras-el-Hanout or more to taste
Two onions, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
One cup chicken broth (or water)
Large pinch of saffron
Two preserved lemons, chopped
One bunch coriander, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a tagine. Fry the chicken until all sides begin to brown. Remove and add the onions.  Cook for 10 minutes until soft and just about to brown.  Add the garlic and the Ras-el-Hanout and a generous amount of salt and pepper.  Fry for a few minutes to release the spices. Add chicken broth, or water and the saffron and return the chicken . Bring briefly to boil. Reduce heat. Cover, but leave a crack for steam to escape. Simmer over low heat for thirty minutes or more. When the chicken is cooked, check the sauce.  There should not be too much liquid.  If necessary remove the chicken and reduce.  Add the preserved lemons and the Coriander. Add salt and adjust seasoning.

Orange and Almond Cake
2 large oranges
6 eggs, separated
250g caster sugar
250g ground almonds
1tsp baking powder
Place the clean, whole and unpeeled fruit in water to cover, and bring to the boil. Simmer for 1½ hours or until soft, adding more water when necessary. Drain the oranges, cut into quarters, discard any major pips, and whiz the rest, including peel, in the food-processor. Add the egg yolks and sugar into the food processor and continue to mix until completely smooth. Add the almonds, and baking powder. Mix for a minute more and  pour into a 23cm (9in) spring-form cake tin and bake for about an hour at 180C/Gas 4, until firm to the touch (cover with a loose sheet of foil if over-browning). Cool in the tin before removing.  You can also try making little "Madeleine’s" with the mix.  They worked really well.  Don't forget to butter your tin thoroughly. 


When I make a large cake I like to decorate it with these Candied Orange Slices.

Candied Orange Slices
Take an orange cut whole sliced as thin as possible. Set these aside. In a large, heavy skillet, bring 1.5 cups water and 1 cup of granulated white sugar to a boil... then add the orange slices. Let it boil for about 5-10 minutes, turning once or twice, then reduce the heat to medium and let it continue cooking for about 30 minutes turning occasionally. The liquid will thicken and become syrup. Reduce the heat until the oranges are at a low simmer... continue cooking and occasionally turning until the syrup is thick and the oranges are translucent but still intact. 
Remove from heat but let the orange slices remain in the pan as they cool for about 10 minutes... then remove to a sheet of wax paper to cool completely. The syrup remaining in the pan can be saved and used in other dishes... great fresh orange flavour for cakes and puddings.

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