Month: March 2014

Cannellini bean & lamb* soup: Enjoying soup before it gets too hot

It’s (Almost) Too Darn Hot: Since it has already hit 80 degrees a few times recently, I want to cook a few of the soups from Jerusalem before it’s so hot that I can’t bear the thought of soup. I have never cooked a soup with lamb and was looking forward to trying it. Unfortunately, the grocery store I went out of my way to go to, so sure they’d have good lamb stew meat, didn’t have any when I was there. That’s why there is an asterisk in the title of this post, because I had to use beef stew meat (the recipe says beef’s a fine substitute). There happened to be only one package of organic beef stew meat, and even though it was only .75 lbs, and the recipe calls for a pound, I had to go with it because the non-organic stuff came from Harris Ranch, a horrifying factory farm in Central California that I recently had the misfortune of driving past.

Start One Day In Advance: I had planned on making this soup for dinner a couple of weeks back until I read through the recipe and realized it was too late for that because the cannellini beans need to be soaked overnight. At that point, I didn’t have any cannellinis on hand and added them to my grocery list, assuming I could get a bag from my local grocery store. I suppose I’ve never purchased cannellini beans before and I didn’t realize they are not as readily available as most other types of beans. They do not carry them at my nearby grocery store so I had to get them from the same store I went out of my way to go to for the meat.

soaking beans

Simple Preparation: At this point I have cooked around twenty of the recipes from Jerusalem. Most require quite a few ingredients, many are rather time-consuming, all are delicious. This soup is one of the simpler recipes, less labor intensive than others and easy to prepare. Since it doesn’t entail the amount of chopping that so many other Jerusalem recipes do, this one is a great candidate for doubling. I wish I had doubled it because it came out super tasty.

chopped celery & onions(Note to Self) Celery Root and Celery Are Different: It wasn’t until I got home from the grocery store, unpacking the ingredients and re-reading the recipe that I noticed it called for celery root rather than celery. Learning something new every day, I now know that they’re not the same thing (d’oh!) but I decided to just use the celery because I’m not sure where to purchase celery root and it seemed silly to go hunting around at various stores for it when I know that plain old celery would still work in this soup. And it did!  The base of the soup is sauteed onion, celery, 20 cloves of whole garlic, and cumin. Super aromatic!garlic & cumin

simmering soupDelicate and Delicious: I don’t necessarily expect a soup containing lamb or beef stew meat to be delicate, but this one is, particularly when you squeeze a little lemon in it as the cookbook advises. It’s a recipe inspired by the soups prepared by the Yemeni Jews of Jerusalem, famous for their ability to elicit maximum flavor from a little bit of meat and a lot of aromatic ingredients. Although I used about 25% less meat than the recipe called for, I did not wish it had more meat and thought it was lovely as is. I did use a bit more salt than it called for but that’s pretty standard for me. The chefs and authors of Jerusalem also recommend serving it with good bread and zhoug, a spicy Yemeni condiment that they compare to an Italian gremolata. I prepared zhoug to serve with this soup and will post separately about it. It was an excellent complement to the soup, particularly when eaten off of a little of the bread after soaking it in the soup. You can find the full recipe for the soup here.

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Preserving lemons: Part 1

Martha Knows Best: Years ago, I saw Rosie O’Donnell telling a story about her visit to see Martha Stewart in prison in an interview. She explained how she asked Martha what she missed most in prison, fully expecting her to say things like her friends or her daughter. Instead, the first thing Martha said was “Lemon.” I totally get where she is coming from. I’m not saying that if I found myself in prison that I would miss lemon more than loved ones, pets, or unfettered internet access. However, I totally understand Martha’s devotion to lemons as I use them to cook with and mix drinks regularly. Just the cheery sight of lemons makes me happy. Lemons might even be be blamed for some of my minor dental issues thanks to my habit of dipping sliced lemons in sugar and then sucking on them as a child.

lemons on plateAlright, DIY It Is: Going through Jerusalem: A Cookbook to pick out the next few recipes I want to try, I noticed that quite a few of them call for preserved lemon. The cookbook includes a recipe for preserved lemons but, never the most patient or a great long-term planner, I just didn’t want to wait a whole month (at least) for the lemons to be ready. After getting annoyed with how some of the recipes I want to try soon call for preserved lemon, I finally decided to get my act together and try my hand at preserving them myself rather than buying some.

I noticed that the recipe calls for unwaxed lemons. The local stores have plenty of lemons but I’m not sure I can purchase any that are unwaxed. Maybe I can but I’m just too lazy to go searching for them. I briefly considered a scheme that involved collecting lemons from the trees in peoples’ yards throughout my neighborhood but I’m from Texas and trespassing can result in having a shotgun pulled on you so I quickly abandoned that half-baked plan. So I thought I would turn to Twitter and ask both authors of the cookbook, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, whether the recipe would still turn out ok if I didn’t use unwaxed lemons:

Screen shot 2014-03-06 at 1.54.10 PMTweet Dork: Aside from the fact that I am the kind of person who’s dorky enough to get super excited about one of my favorite food gods responding to my tweet, I was relieved that I could go ahead and just use the waxed lemons that are much easier to find. I am a believer in buying mostly organic produce, budget allowing, and luckily Trader Joe’s sells bags of 4-5 organic lemons (pretty big ones, too) for $1.49 each.

Preserving Process: After sterilizing some quart-size mason jars, I followed the rest of the simple recipe: cut the lemons lengthwise in a deep cross from top to bottom, stopping about 2 cm from the base, packed the insides of the lemons with 1 tablespoon of coarse sea salt, crammed them into the jars and stored them in a cool, dark place (my linen closet). I am doing a double recipe, 12 lemons total, which means if they don’t turn out well it will be double the failure! (Even though I sterilized the jars I am still mildly concerned that some bacteria managed to find its way into the jar that will ultimately result in a very sad, disappointing afternoon about a month from now).

stuffed lemon

Waiting Game: Now I just have to wait patiently for about a week, at which point I will open the jars, pull out the lemons, squeeze as much juice as possible out (but save the juice), then place them back in the jars and add some rosemary sprigs, a large red chili, the lemon juice, and some olive oil. At the earliest, they will be ready about a month from now.  I am pretty stoked about them and will write another post about them once they’re ready.

jarred lemons

Related: Preserved lemons: Part 2