Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pantry Rummaging- Tuna and Preserved Lemon Salad

Yes, it's that time of year (still) in the Pacific Northwest.  I don't want to go out in the weather to shop and I end up rummaging through the pantry like a squirrel digging up its cache of nuts.

One of the things in my cache is a jar of Moroccan preserved lemons that I made before Christmas. I gave some out as gifts even though I knew that they risked lingering uneaten in the backs of refrigerators all over Portland.  Preserved lemons add a wonderful citrusy spark to any dish and don't have to be saved for the occasional Moroccan stew.

The pantry inspection also yielded cans of tuna, butter beans, Hatch green chiles and some leftover pasta.   Some good, birthday present olive oil, and a sprinkling of bright red ground sumac that Chris brought back from Morocco,  finished off a satisfying, protein rich salad.  I didn't get to go to Morocco, sadly,  but I was easily consoled with some spices and an orange pouf from the souk.

For the salad:

1 can of solid chunk tuna, drained
1 can of butter beans*
2 or more tablespoons of green chiles **
1 tablespoon of chopped preserved lemons***
A couple of good glugs of olive oil.  Use less if you are using tuna in oil.
Leftover pasta if you've got it
Fresh ground pepper
Ground sumac if you have it. ****  Hungarian paprika is nice, too.

*Eden brand has no BPA (bisphenol A).  I buy a bunch when they go on sale.

**I wish I had a freezer full of frozen Hatch New Mexican chiles.  The canned chiles are convenient and easier to get in Oregon, but they retain their 'canned' taste more than I would like.  However, they are still surprisingly high in vitamin C, making them a good winter food.   To avoid having the leftovers taste even more tinned, make sure to store them in a glass jar in the refrigerator.

*** Preserved lemons are easy to make and very convenient to have on hand for any dish that needs to be 'brightened'.  Meyer lemons make the tastiest preserved lemons that I've tried.  Most people cut the lemons in quarters almost to the bottom of the lemon and then stuff them with salt and add lemon juice to fill the jar.  I decided this year to cut thin slices of lemons into quarters and layer them with salt to avoid the hassle of cutting up a whole lemon every time I wanted a bit of preserved lemon for a dish.   After pressing the salted lemon bits down with the back of a spoon, I filled the jar to the top with more squeezed lemon juice.  The lemons need to sit and ferment for a few days to a few weeks before use.  They end up a bit syrupy and the rinds become very soft.  Just chop them up rind and all to add to food.  Be wary of adding salt to the dish when using preserved lemons as they are essentially a brined food and very salty.  Most people say to rinse the lemons first and some say to remove the pith or rind.  Sometimes I rinse these and sometimes I don't, but I always use the rind for its wonderful flavor and texture.

**** Sumac can be found in Middle Eastern markets.  It is a small dark red berry that is usually ground and added to soups and stews.  It is a bit sour, astringent and earthy.  The first time I used it was in college when the owner of a Lebanese restaurant finally gave me her 'secret' ingredient for the lentil soup I was obsessed with.   I had made the simple soup at home over and over to no avail until she told me to add the ground sumac.


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