Kicking Up The Pantry With Preserved Lemons

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Lemons + salt = sunshiney day.

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Preserved lemons are a relatively new addition to my pantry since my friend’s mother, Josiane, coached me through making my first batch last year. Josiane is Moroccan, and assured me they were easy to make, and essential to have on hand. How right she was! Once they were in my fridge, they made their way into a range of tasty recipes from dressings to salads to soups to marinades, just as Josi predicted. Their taste is kinda lemony, duh, but also SO much more. The salt brings out the umph in the lemon, while in some ways minimizing the acidity. One medium-sized jar lasted almost a full year, even though I did not shy away from putting the pungent slivered rinds into everything. And when I ran out, we were smack in the middle of wintery citrus season, and it seemed like a great time to put up another batch. The “recipe” doesn’t have any amounts, and Josi said that it’s really just salt and lemons; you’ll need a clean glass jar and sharp knife as well. Using organic lemons here is super-important since the only part you do eat is the rind, and non-organic lemons are sprayed with tons of waxes and sealants. Not tasty.

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First, wash the lemons. I mean, they are organic, but you don’t know who has touched them, right? Next, cut the lemons into connected-quarters, meaning don’t cut all the way through to the other side. It should look like a 4-petaled flower/lemon. Then, stuff about 1 tablespoon of salt into each lemon, doing your best to get it into each slice, and place the salted lemon in a clean jar. When you transfer the lemons to the jar, some of the salt will fall out and into the jar – it’s all good. Keep doing this with all the lemons, tamping down with a wooden spoon or your fingers. I use a muddler, which really gets the lemons crunched in there well. If you need to, you can cut some lemons in half (still with the extra quarter-slice), salt them, then squeeze them into the awkward corners of the jar to get the jar stuffed to capacity. The point is to fill every nook of available space with lemons, and get the lemons to release some of their juices so they are totally covered. If that doesn’t happen when the jar is filled with lemons, top it off with some freshly squeezed lemon juice.

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Once the lemons are all cozy in the jar and the level of juice is above the lemons, close the jar and leave it in a cool place for about 7-10 days. For the first few days, open the jar and re-tamp down on the lemons; you’ll see the lemons will let off a lot of juice over the first week, so it’s a good idea to put the jar over a plate in case the juice erupts, which happened to me! After a week or so, place the jar in the refrigerator, and wait another 2-3 weeks before you use them. You’ll know when the time is right – the lemon rinds become a bit translucent-seeming (I say seeming because they’re still completely opaque, they just seem translucent), and you’ll be able to cut through the rind with a fork.

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To use, take a quarter out of the jar, and remove the pulp, which will be easy-peasy, it just peels right off. Since 99% of the dishes that call for preserved lemon use only the rind, in general, I discard to pulp, rinse the rind, and julienne into strips or dice finely. (One fish tagine I made used both the rind and the pulp – what a lemony treat that was!) Where to use these umphy sunshine strips of preserved goodness? A great rule of thumb is to throw some in to any dish that you use lemon juice in, like salads, stews and dressings. I used preserved lemons in my chopped Israeli salads all last year, and it really freshened up the whole dish. I used some yesterday in an eggplant tomato stew and it imparted a lightness to the otherwise heavy meal.

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I posed the question on our Facebook page: “What pantry staple do you keep on hand to kick up your dishes?” and I got great responses: anchovies, peanut butter, sesame oil, picked garlic, dulse flakes, and cumin.  Stay tuned for more in this series, and learn how to create some of these pantry staples, as well as fun, tasty ways to use them.

Tempeh Part II: Making Tempeh with Barry

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This is Barry. He makes tasty, organic tempeh together with his business partner, Gordon. Although the website for Barry’s Tempeh is “growninbrooklyn.com”, the tempeh is actually made in Queens at The E-Space, a communal industrial kitchen in Long Island City. (You can read more about other exciting things going on at the Queens E-space kitchen here and here.) Barry, Gordon and their assistant Bessie, make tempeh every few weeks at the E-Space for a long afternoon/evening and I was fortunate to tag along with them for one shift last month. Barry is an interesting dude, and I loved talking with him and the rest of the Tempeh Team throughout the night. The process – soak beans, grind beans, cook beans, drain beans, mix in culture, bag tempeh, label tempeh – was repeated with each of the 3 versions of the commercial tempeh they sell in stores and markets around the city,  as well with a couple of experimental flavors that Barry was working with. All of Barry’s Tempeh flavors are vegan, two are gluten-free (soy/oat/barley has gluten), and the white bean/brown rice is both gluten- and soy-free, so there is something for everyone. Most importantly, all of their tempeh is delicious and made with the upmost respect for the ingredients.

And now, making tempeh: You start with beans.

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Lots and lots and lots of beans that have been soaked overnight. Barry’s Tempeh uses both soy beans and white beans.

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The beans are drained.

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They they are ground with a huge meat grinder.

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These are white beans.

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The beans are then cooked in the biggest braiser you’ve ever seen. While the beans are cooked, the foam is skimmed off the top. I’ve mentioned before how much I love the zen of skimming, so I was thrilled to contribute to the tempeh-making process by skimming. And skimming and skimming. Once the beans cook for about 20-40 minutes (soy beans take longer to cook than white beans), the cooked beans are drained and placed into custom-made mesh bags which make it easier to squeeze out all the excess cooking water.

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Meanwhile, oats, barley and brown rice are roasted. I wish this blog had smell-o-vision; the delicious roasting smell permeated the whole kitchen, even taking over the cookies being made in another part of the kitchen.

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No, this is not a bag of ashes, it’s the starter culture. The culture is added to each batch of drained beans and mixed in with a large stand mixer. Large is an understatement. Humongous is an understatement. Here is Gordon mixing up a batch. Gordon is not a small guy, it’s that the mixer is HUGE.

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Once the tempeh is mixed with the starter, it is weighed out and stuffed into perforated zip-lock bags (1 lb each). Once the bags are filled and labeled, they are placed on metal grates and eventually loaded into bread-proofer (I think that’s what it’s called) where the tempeh culture really does it’s thing on it’s overnight slumber. Barry likes to stay overnight and keep his eye on the tempeh. According to Gordon, Barry eats the tempeh the next day for breakfast. THAT’S quality control! For a recipe idea of what to do with Barry’s Tempeh, see Part I. For locations where you can buy Barry’s Tempeh, click here. And here is a great video highlighting Barry and the tempeh-making process by Liza de Guia at Food. Curated.

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Barry was nice enough to give me my own little dose of starter so I can experiment with tempeh-making at home. My CSA’s bean share from Cayuga Pure Organics will be starting soon, so I’ll wait until I have enough beans to make a few pounds of tempeh, since Barry said that it’s really not worth it to do in small batches, and hey, you never know… maybe there will be a Part III of this tempeh series?!

Wild Lunch: Foraging in Queens

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A few weeks ago on a Friday afternoon, I was tuned in to my local NPR station listening to Leonard Lopate while doing some Passover baking. Leonard Lopate, who hosts a daily interview show from 12-2 each weekday on WNYC,  has been dedicating Friday’s shows to all things food for 10 weeks. On this particular afternoon, he was interviewing Tama Matsuoka Wong, a NYC-based ex-lawyer and professional forager (only in New York!), who discussed seasonal foraging options. (Hear to the segment here). I listened intently to her descriptions of the different weeds and plants in season right now and  mourned the fact that I didn’t have a lawn since she said everyone has wild garlic (also called field onions or field garlic) growing in their yard. I enjoyed listening to the segment, but assumed it wasn’t something I could put into practice.

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Two Fridays later, just 20 minutes before that week’s Food Friday show, I was driving to Fairway Market in Douglaston, Queens, when I noticed something resembling what Tama described on the side of the road. Could it be?! Could there be wild garlic growing on the side of Douglaston Parkway?! I pulled over, jumped out of the car, grabbed a stick, and started digging around the bright green shoots, and low and behold, it WAS onions! Dirty, muddy, onions! It was a super chilly and rainy day, so I threw the muddy heap of onions on the floor of the back seat, and continued on my way to Fairway. (But first I posted on instagram, obvs!) When I got home, I sifted through the pile of petite alliums, cleaned them up, and marveled: how could I have not known that these were all around me?! Then I took even more pictures of them (how cute are they?!) and whipped up a simple pesto with the garlic, arugula, pine nuts and olive oil which I threw over some roasted vegetables. It was so fresh, and bright, that I decided I must go out again on a non-rainy day.

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A few Sundays ago was a day of plentiful sunshine, and with Matthew off at a Knicks game, I decided it was time for me to go back out to the wilderness of Queens and see what I could find. I researched seasonal weeds on Tama’s website Meadows and More, and saw that in addition to field onions, garlic mustard is pretty ubiquitous in this area. According to that site and a bit of internet sleuthing, I learned that garlic mustard is a tender green which tastes like a mix between (you guessed it!) garlic and mustard – two of my favorite things. I geared up with a bucket, latex gloves, scissors and a borrowed spade from my building’s handyman, and set out.  I initially headed back to the area adjacent to Douglaston Parkway where I first made the sighting of the roadside wild garlic, then ventured on foot from there. I immediately spotted lots of wild garlic and what a quick Google search confirmed was garlic mustard, but there was also a ton of trash ranging from beer cans, plastic bags, cigarette boxes and straws. In some cases, the resilient shoots of the garlic grew right up and literally through plastic bags. While this was an impressive botanical feat, I was looking forward to foraging in more of a non-littered environment, so I headed into Alley Pond Park.

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Alley Pond Park is the second largest park in Queens, encompassing more than 600 acres of freshwater and saltwater wetlands, tidal flats, meadows, and forests. I actually haven’t spent much time in this park, since Queens’ biggest park, Flushing-Meadows/Carona Park is so close to me, so I was excited to trek into unfamiliar territory. I took a hiking path into the park and walked for about a half mile when I started seeing wild garlic and garlic mustard on the forest floor. So, to get this out of the way, it seems as though foraging in NYC parks is technically not allowed according to ordinance §1-04 (Prohibited Uses) of the NYC Parks Rules and Regulations, which states:

No person shall deface, write upon, sever, mutilate, kill or remove from the ground any plants, flowers, shrubs or other vegetation under the jurisdiction of the Department without permission of the Commissioner.

So, since I didn’t contact the commissioner, I guess I technically did – GASP – break the law?! I treaded lightly, did no damage to any other plants, and took only what I knew I would consume, but still, I couldn’t believe what I was doing was technically illegal since I know of a number of foraging tours in NYC parks around the city. Nonetheless, I guess I won’t be going into parks in the future – hey friends and family with lawns, I’m coming for you!

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And now, what to do with such a beautiful, fresh, spring (illicit) bounty? Fried rice seemed like a great way to feature both the garlic mustard and the wild garlic without overpowering either. I chopped the garlic and sautéed the bulb-end in olive oil for a few minutes before adding some cooked brown rice, a handful of roasted peanuts and a whisked egg. After a moment of stirring, but when the egg was still somewhat runny, I added the garlic mustard, then some of the chopped tops of the wild garlic, and garnished with a dash of tamari and sesame oil.

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This is the first illegal meal I’ve made, and I gotta say, I kinda liked it. Kinda is an understatement, I loved it! I loved the taste for sure, but more so the act of going out into the wild, getting my hands dirty, and connecting with the land. I wrote last week about how the spring season can often be a hectic time of wild emotions and frustrations, and I felt (literally) grounded by feeling the cool earth in my hands. I am inspired by the feasibility of harvesting fresh vegetables for a meal so close to home. If you live in a house, go outside and see if these delicious weeds are growing in your backyard! Then cook them! Then eat them! Below are some other websites and resources for foraging.

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Tama Matsuoka Wong: Lawyer turned weed-eater and forager. She (and Leonard Lopate who invited her to his show) was my original inspiration to park my car and pull up that first bunch of wild garlic in the rain. Thank you.

Wildman Steve Brill: This NY-Based naturalist runs foraging tours of local parks. He has a new app that helps identify plants for your own foraging expeditions!

Foraging Blogs:

GardenFork: Cooking, DIY, Gardening, Green Videos & Podcasts

First Ways: Urban Foraging and Other Adventures

Fat of The Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager

The 3 Foragers

5-Element Kitchen: Chopping into Spring

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In the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) 5-element system, spring corresponds to the Wood element. If you think of Wood as bamboo, and not an oak tree, it’s a bit easier to see how wood’s correspondences make sense: the wood element exhibits characteristics of upward movement and flexibility, birth and new growth and it’s color is bright green. Those little buds at the tips of branches these days, or all the tulip and daffodil bulbs shooting upwards out of the chilly soil — that’s the wood element busting onto the scene. TCM posits that changes exhibited outside of us in nature manifest within us as well, so in spring we are also budding with new growth, soaring upwards out of the retreating which happened in the cold winter months. If all goes well, we burst forth in spring, ready to take on the new projects which we conceptualized over the winter. But, in reality, it can be a little too much, too fast. Think about spring cleaning: you know how your apartment gets messier before it gets cleaner again because you took out everything from your closets at the same time? That’s what’s happening within your body. Everything – your ideas, your plans, your thoughts – all jump out at once, which can wreak havoc on the smooth flow of your emotions and body. Especially when things get cut short – think of the buds that come out, but then a frost rolls in. Spring is often associated with frustration, as wood energy appreciates follow-though and seeing tasks to completion. But have no fear, there’s a productive solution: don’t get frusterated – get chopping!

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According to TCM, metal balances the wood element. Literally, metal chops wood. So turning to your kitchen knife is a great way to hone wood’s intensity, while satisfying wood’s determination. Side note: It’s also a great time to make sure your knives are sharpened. I like to get my knives sharpened twice a year (useful fact: they often offer knife sharpening at shoe cobblers), and I use the metal and wood seasons (fall and spring) as reminders.

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What to chop? In general, anything, but specifically in this case, I was inspired to make this salad after picking up some burdock root at a local Asian market last week. You can’t miss this thing – with it’s light brown skin and 3-foot skinny length. It definitely sticks out of the vegetable crowd. Herbal traditions throughout the world have used the whole burdock plant, from the root to the leaves to the seeds, to treat conditions ranging from rashes to sore throats to weakness to dandruff. One of my favorite herbalism books originally published in 1938 states, “It is impossible to exaggerate the usefulness of every part of this plant, both as a food and medicine.” So while this salad can definitely be made with just carrots and celery if you don’t have access to burdock root, it’s definitely worth seeking out, since using it will increase the therapeutic aspect of the dish as well as impart a wonderful earthy flavor. Burdock should be peeled well before using. I tend to break the long roots into more manageable lengths, peel with a carrot peeler, then cut into the ultimate length of my julienne, about 3-inches. Burdock root tends to oxidize quickly after peeling, so as soon as you remove the skin, place directly into a bowl with cold water plus a dash of either lemon juice or white vinegar to prevent the browning.

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Now onto the wood-restraining knife skills: To julienne, take each 3-inch piece of peeled root, and slice a bit off one side, then roll so the cut side is sturdy on the cutting board. Then, continue slicing into strips, then lay the strips into stacks of two or just cut them into long matchsticks. The chopping really allows my mind to fucus on the task at hand…Ahhhhh, so satisfying!

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Continue to julienne the carrots the same as the burdock, and slice the celery thinly on the bias. I had chives in the fridge, so I added them, too. Any fresh herb would be nice in this dish, as the freshness of the herb corresponds to the vibrancy of spring.

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The chopped vegetables were tossed with a simple dressing made with sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, tamari and a dash of lemon juice; then the mixture marinated for about an hour. I sautéed the whole thing in olive oil over medium heat until the vegetables darkened and softened substantially. It’s important to keep a bit of the crunch of the vegetables, so don’t cook that long. When pulled off, I drizzled with a bit more sesame oil and garnished with a hefty dose of black sesame seeds. Let me tell you, not only did chopping up this dish really focus me and help calm my frustrated wood energy, but eating it really satisfied! It’s a win/win!

What would you do if you were hungry?

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What would you do if you were hungry? For many of us, myself included, the answer is pretty straightforward – we would get something to eat. Well, first would have to figure out the details, like what we felt like eating, whether to splurge on going out or ordering in, or if we could muster the energy to prepare something at home.  But for 48.8 million food insecure Americans, the hard part is figuring out where that meal will come from, and if they qualify, how they can stretch the $4 per day allotted from government benefits into a substantial satisfying meal.

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Sustainable Pantry, together with over 200 food bloggers, is dedicating today’s post to raising awareness about hunger in America, and asking you to step up and help make a difference (more on that in a bit).

It’s hard to imagine what hunger in America in 2013 looks like.  I know I have images ingrained in my memory from the 1980s famine in Ethiopia, and of starving, weak children with fragile, thin limbs and distended abdomens, but that’s a famine in Africa, that’s not America.  How can there be 49 million hungry people in America and yet we’re the most overweight country in the world? How can 85% of families that are food insecure have at least one working adult? Why has the price of fresh produce increased by 40% during the same 30-year timeframe that the price of processed food decreased by 40%? The unfortunate reality is that although there is enough food, healthy, fresh food is not accessible to the vast majority of hungry Americans due to a tenuous web of food policy, farm subsidies, special interest groups, lobbying, and political power dynamics.

 

About a year ago as part of the Food Bank NY’s Food Stamp Challenge, Matthew and I subsisted on the $31/person weekly food budget allotted to participants of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; also called food stamps) in New York City. We slowly walked through the aisles of the grocery stores adding up our pennies, we clipped coupons, we bought items on sale, and we put together a well-rounded $62 worth of groceries which included fresh vegetables, fruit, nuts, grain, beans, tofu, even Dr. Praeger’s veggie burgers. Then, I spent hours planning and preparing well-balanced meals, packing all our food for the each day out of the house, and making sure we didn’t snack when we came across food at our offices. It was totally Sustainable Pantry, but I totally missed the point of the exercise.

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Without even realizing it, I was coming to this challenge from a place of privilege that most SNAP participants could not afford. I am privileged to have the time to slow-cook a lentil stew. I am privileged to own a slow-cooker. I am privileged to have a well-stocked refrigerator, and I am privileged to have the know-how to whip up tasty meals from dried beans and grains. Even though there were times we were hungry throughout the week, and it was definitely a challenge to work with such a paltry budget, the fact that after the week was over we would go back our relatively lavishly stocked pantry and privilege, made it impossible to feel the plight of the actual participants of the SNAP programs. We could never approximate what a food stamp recipient actually goes through, without  the safety net of privilege, and a host of other challenges, such as waiting in line in a government office for hours, or forcing yourself to fall asleep to escape the unbearable hunger pangs.

These issues are all brought to the forefront in a poignant new film A Place at the Table, a documentary that profiles the struggles of three out of the 48.8 million Americans currently food insecure.

Barbie Izquierdo, a single mother of two lives in a food dessert in North Philadelphia. Barbie takes 2 busses and travels an hour each way to reach a well-stocked grocery store to buy her children fresh food. Barbie does not have the time to cook meals from scratch, even if she did have access to fresh ingredients.

Rosie, the Colorado 5th grader whose family depends on their church’s food pantry to sustain them, finds herself unable to concentrate in school, instead she finds herself daydreaming of her teacher becoming a banana and her fellow students, apples. Rosie’s mother doesn’t qualify for food assistance since she makes $120 every two weeks. That is too much income.

Tremonica, the Mississippi 2nd grader whose mother cannot afford healthy food, is obese yet she doesn’t eat breakfast because there isn’t enough food.

SNAP benefits are part of the solution for the 48.8 million Americans—including 16.2 million children—that struggle with access to nutritious food.  

  • An average of 40.3 million Americans used SNAP each month during 2010. (source)
  • Children under 18 account for 47 percent of all food stamp recipients. Eight percent are seniors. (source)
  • Forty-one percent of beneficiaries lived in households with partially- or fully-employed workers. (source)
  • The average length of time a new participant stays on the [SNAP] program is 8 to 10 months. (source)
  • SNAP benefits don’t last most participants the whole month. 90% of SNAP benefits are redeemed by the third week of the month. (source)
  • SNAP administrative expenses are small. Federal administrative expenditures for SNAP equal less than 4.5% of overall federal SNAP costs. (source)

Despite how many people rely on this program, SNAP benefits are in jeopardy. Congress is currently working to reauthorize the Farm Bill, the legislation that provides funding for the SNAP program. Drastic cuts to SNAP are on the table. If Congress cuts funding for this program, it will impact millions of children and families, leaving them more vulnerable to hunger and starvation.

CLICK HERE to send a letter to your congressperson urging them NOT TO CUT the budget to federal food assistance programs. Make your voice heard!  Cuts to these programs are short-sighted and will only lead to more children and families going hungry this year. 

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So after watching this film, and as part of the Food Bloggers against Hunger initiative, I decided to revisit the food stamp challenge, following parameters that more accurately reflect the situation of hungry Americans.  Throughout the movie, the families were opening up cans and heating up food, not firing up their slow-cooker. When Rosie’s family received donations of food from the pantry, it was mostly shelf-stable and processed. Barbie spoke specifically of having to give her children a Hot Pocket for dinner. Someone else mentioned eating a meal bought at a gas station. I went to my local convenience store which does not stock fresh produce, and bought $3.88 worth of “groceries”, which is about the equivalent of what a SNAP recipient receives for ONE DAY of food. As you can see above, it got me a can of beans, a can of mixed vegetables, and a packet of ramen. I opened the cans, rinsed the contents, and sautéed the vegetables and beans together. I softened the ramen noodles in boiling water, drained them, then added them in. The meal was seasoned with the “Oriental Flavor” packet.

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The meal was not nutritious. One serving contained about 90% of the recommended daily allowance for sodium (the flavor packet was pretty much straight MSG).  The dish was gummy without the crunch of fresh vegetables, and although it was satisfying, I blew the daily budget on this meal that only provided 2 servings of dinner. But unlike the millions of  hungry Americans, this was just an experiment, and tomorrow, I can go back to eating my fresh vegetables, taking my luxurious time to prepare healthy, local and sustainable meals. Please take a minute to help ensure that the 48.8 million Americans who rely on these programs will continue to receive the help they need.

Tell Congress: Federal nutrition programs are crucial for hungry children

Watch the movie, A Place at the Table, either in theaters or download from iTunes or Amazon.

Other Resources:

  • No Kid Hungry: Share our Strength: The No Kid Hungry campaign connects kids in need with nutritious food and teaches their families how to cook healthy, affordable meals. The campaign also engages the public to make ending childhood hunger a national priority.
  • New York Coalition Against Hunger: The New York City Coalition Against Hunger is the voice for the more than 1,100 nonprofit soup kitchens and food pantries in New York City and the 1.5 million low-income New Yorkers who live in homes that can’t afford enough food.
  • Witnesses to Hunger: Started in Philadelphia in 2008, Witnesses to Hunger is a research and advocacy project partnering with the real experts on hunger—mothers and caregivers of young children who have experienced hunger and poverty.
  • A Place at the Table: Information about the documentary by Participant Media and Take Part 
  • Read other bloggers’ posts about hunger awareness here.