Preserved Lemons

Brief can be good.  I love 90-minute movies, succinct writing, efficient meetings.  But the short local growing season of both asparagus and English peas doesn’t thrill me at all.  So in June I eat lots of both at every available opportunity.

This weekend’s dishes were made with asparagus from Tendercrop Farm in Newbury and English shelling peas from Cider Hill Farm right here in Amesbury.  Want some of your very own?  Better hurry, the clock’s ticking.

Asparagus ribbons wilted down in garlicky olive oil were tossed with pasta for a quick supper on Saturday, but you could just as easily serve a tangled pile of the vegetable itself – cooked or even raw – as a light side dish.

Shave the asparagus with a plain old vegetable peeler.  For a light salad, toss the uncooked curls together with a lemon juice-based vinaigrette.  If  you decide to cook them instead in the garlic-infused oil, note that the thin ribbons will soften up in no time, so pull them from the heat before they lose their crisp edge.

When simmered or steamed, sweet fresh peas will practically beg you not to overpower them.  Often a pat of butter and sprinkling of salt will do.  Mint or tarragon, if you like either herb, will complement the peas’ delicate sugar.  A little salty, smoky bacon – just a little – will do the same, especially if the bacon has been smoked over applewood.

If you get tired of these salty-sweet or sweet-sweet combinations of pea and seasoning, try a little lemon for tart-sweet.  Peas also love to be paired with lemon.  I find grated lemon zest highlights the clean snappy bite of a barely cooked pea, a different but equally lovely aspect of the vegetable.

I had no idea what to do with the Cider Hill peas beyond shelling them when I reached into the fridge for the bag.  Peas in hand, I started to swing the door shut but something caught my eye.  An unfamiliar lid, a jar buried among too many condiments on a door shelf.  I stopped the door and reached for the jar.  The preserved Meyer lemons I put up back in April, used once and left to marinate, still as richly colored as egg yolks and intensely citrusy.

With the discovery, the peas’ destiny became clear.

Israeli Couscous with Peas and Preserved Lemon

Unlikely to win any recipe contests for being complicated or innovative, this couscous dish is instead everything a good summer recipe should be: flavorful, flavorful, and – oh, yes – flavorful.

The freshness of the local peas is key.

In support role, citrus aids and abets, propelling the dish from simple to simply delicious. The long soak the lemons have taken in their salted juice and olive oil bath has rendered salty, slippery, unctuous rinds.

I pulled three wedges from the jar, removed the lemon flesh, rinsed the peel well, and chopped it into thin slivers.  Three wedges will be all you’ll need.

If you didn’t preserve lemon back when I first wrote about the process, and you’d like to eat the couscous sooner than the seven days’ wait you’ll need to preserve lemons now, then try adding the grated fresh zest of one lemon at the end of the cooking process, right before serving.

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous
  • 3 cups chicken stock, low sodium when possible
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups shelled fresh peas (the amount is up to you; I use 1 1/2 cups)
  • 3 wedges preserved lemon rind, cut into long thin strips
  • salt (if necessary) and pepper to taste
  • chopped chive for garnish

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large saute pan that comes fitted with a lid .  Add the chopped shallot and stir, sauteeing until the shallot softens.  Add the couscous and stir to coat with the olive oil.  Toast for a couple of minutes until the pearls are barely golden.  Add the stock to the pan and bring the mixture up to a steady simmer.  Add the peas, stir, then cover the pan, leaving a the lid cracked open a bit.  Reduce heat if necessary to maintain a low simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.  Simmer for 5 minutes.

Cut long thin strips of preserved lemon peel crosswise, cutting each strip into three smaller lengths.

After 5 minutes, the couscous will have absorbed all the stock.

Stir the lemon peel (or fresh zest if you are substituting) into the pan.  Turn the couscous into a serving dish.

Garnish with chopped chives, and eat immediately.

©2011  Jane A. Ward