“Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.”― Meister Eckhart
Ever since I watched Kitty Morse stuff lemons and salt into a jar…
…while she cheerily chatted about life in the Kasbah to the Culinary Historians of San Diego, I’ve been fascinated with Moroccan cuisine.
Studying cookbooks like Kitty’s Mint Tea and Minarets and Fatema Hal’s Authentic Recipes from Morocco, I tried various dishes, getting a sense of characteristic flavors: preserved lemons, harissa (hot chili pepper paste), caraway seeds, pine nuts, mint, tomatoes, coriander seeds, cumin, dried apricots, cinnamon, chilies, olives, ginger. Many of these ingredients I knew from other cuisines, like Mexican or Indian or Greek, but these were new combinations.
My Take on Moroccan Meatballs
Then, when I was planning a holiday party, I made up my own recipe: Moroccan Meatballs. I used ground turkey instead of lamb for a lighter (but definitely not traditional) base, and included a tangy tomato sauce.
The recipe makes lots of meatballs, which freeze well and then reheat well in the tomato sauce in a slow cooker, keeping them warm and easy.
Recently I updated my recipe, mainly because the ground turkey I bought came in a different sized pack, so I had to adjust the other ingredients. I also wanted to make it a little spicier, with a new dash of cayenne.
How to Make Preserved Lemons
Although you can buy preserved lemons from some specialty shops (but I can’t remember where I saw them…) or from Amazon (but they are heavy so shipping is expensive and the glass jar makes it risky). The best is making your own preserved lemons, but it does mean you have to think ahead about a month, or always keep a supply on hand.
Some recipes you’ll find also include adding other seasonings like bay leaf or coriander seeds, but I prefer the simplicity of the traditional, using just the basics:
- Five or six organic lemons (either Meyers lemons or Eurekas), some more for juicing, if needed
- At least 1/4 cup sea salt or Kosher salt (without the chemicals of common table salt)
You’ll need a wide-mouthed pint jar and a sharp knife.
- Rinse and dry the lemons. Slit them in quarters down to 1/2 inch, without breaking them entirely apart, picking out any seeds that come out easily.
- Put a tablespoon of salt in the bottom of the jar. Sprinkle salt liberally within each lemon, then squeeze the quarters together, and place it in the jar.
- As you add each lemon, push it down into the jar, squeezing the juice from the one beneath, sprinkling on more salt to draw out the juice. You’ll be surprised how many lemons will find in the jar as they give up their juice, and you keep pressing them down beneath the level of the juice.
- It’s very important that the lemons are completely covered with juice to prevent the growth of mold. If needed, add more freshly squeezed lemon juice when the jar is nearly packed, within an inch or so from the top.
- Cover and set the jar in a warm place for a couple of days, maybe on your kitchen counter, so that you can shake and turn them over to distribute the salt and juice every day or so. Label the date you put them up, maybe also with the date a month later when you can start using them.
- When you want to use one, use a spoon or tongs to take it from the jar sanitarily. Give it a quick rinse under cold water to remove excess salt. You can remove the seeds and inside pulp, if you like — it’s the skins you use as the flavoring, sliced or chopped.
The lemons are good for several months on the counter or in your fridge. Just make sure that the liquid fully covers the lemons.