Citrus Preserves

The making of citrus preserves is a rite amongst the Tunisian ladies.  At work, various names pop up as the ‘divas of marmalade’ and when I get gifted a sample, from time to time, I am intrigued that they do vary in style and reflect the taste of the cook or likely several generations of cooks in that family.

There are two basic formulas for marmalade:

  1. Cook equal parts citrus to sugar until it thickens.
  2. Cook equal parts water and sugar with ½ as much fruit until thickened.

Method number one will produce a fruitier jam-like marmalade and number two will give you more jelly, which is beautiful.

We only eat a piece of toast with jam on occasion so I wanted to basically jar citrus puree that I can use for a lot of preparations in the months to come.  I used about 4kgs of sliced citrus to 2 kgs of sugar and cooked it down until thick.

Where the art comes in here, is in the selection of the citrus.  I do apologize to my friends who can’t get anything but basic grapefruit, oranges, and lemons at your local grocery store, but try to appreciate the diversity of some of these varieties that exist.  My friend, Fatima, gave me the insider combination for getting a range and depth of flavor.  Through some comical inquiry, I was able to round up all six of these at my market yesterday.

Beginning at the top, right, there is pink grapefruit, bergamot orange, blood orange, navel orange, bitter orange and finally, there is a strange-looking lemon that she only knew the Arabic name for: trong.  You can combine these in any proportion you want.  I wanted to emphasize the bitters in these preserves so I went easy on the navel and blood oranges and pumped up all of the others.  Bergamot is going to add a bit of mystery, contributing an Earl Gray tea essence, which is also a bitter.

Here are the final gems.  You can see that they contain a lot of fruit which will work well for a number of uses such as the following:

  • Puree one jar of preserves with 3-4 roasted green chilies for a salsa or marinade for braised or grilled meats, thinning as desired with chicken or vegetable stock.
  • Puree one jar to use in citrus cakes, muffins, or pies.
  • Use as a topping for panna cotta or shortbread cookies
  • Add to a chickpea soup or chile
  • Thin and then use to glaze a garlic-roasted chicken
  • Serve as a chutney alongside a roasted tomato/ricotta/roasted onion tart


Mediterranean-Style Cracked Olives

          A few weeks ago, I began a project of home-curing olives.  Step 1 was to crack each one with a meat mallet and then soak them in water, drained daily, until they reached a palatable level of bitterness.  Part of the art of olive making, I discovered, is finding the perfect stage at which to stop the water bath.  I tasted an olive on day 8 and spat it into the sink.  Too bitter, still.  Then I tasted one on day 10 and uh oh, it tasted a little watery to me, a little washed out which I read can happen.  I quickly drained them at that moment and decided to go ahead with the brine to see what would happen.  For approximately 2 kgs. of fresh olives, I used the following formula for the brine:

1 liter of cool water
1/3  cup rock sea salt (or Kosher salt)
1/4  cup white wine vinegar
            Make a solution of these ingredients and pour over olives that have been packed into sterilized containers.  It is at this point that you can also add herbs and other seasonings.  I added whole garlic cloves, cuttings of fresh rosemary, and pink peppercorns.  If lemons were ready yet, I would have added a few bits of those.  The olives can be kept, covered, in the refrigerator, for around six months.  
I think I’m OK with the washed out issue.  Once they were out of water and into a brine, the flavor came back up and they taste really good to me.  I’m sure the flavor will continue to develop complexity the longer they marinate in the brine.  Next time, I might simply slice each olive rather than smash them.  Most of the olives are in tact, but some of them have broken pieces that make my jars look a little bit cloudy.  For a first attempt, I’m happy and I also know how these olives were handled and stored so I have confidence in their sanitation.

Home Cured Olives, Part I

          So you know we actually live in Tunisia where I have heard it is against the law to cut down an olive tree.  I wasn’t planning to anyway, but it definitely indicates an attachment and commitment to the tree.  Of course, we can buy a large variety of commercially-cured olives here, year-around, but I have wondered what would be involved in curing them myself.  You can buy fresh olives this time of year for as little as 1 dinar (about 70 cents) for 1 kg.  so aside from the waste involved in a failed attempt, it’s not an expensive exploration.  I bought 2 kgs. of these beautes yesterday at the market.

Since this process technically falls under the heading of preserving food, I got some good advice so I don’t end up growing  something undesirable, like bacteria.  I figured the University of California, Department of Agriculture and Resources would have this researched.  They have a 26 page e-booklet called Olives:  Safe Methods for Home Pickling.
I wanted to get the very long process started and think more about the brine in a few days so I chose the method for Mediterranean Cracked Olives.  One begins by cracking the olives, but not the pits, with a mallet or rolling pin and submerging them in a water bath, changing the water twice daily,  for at least 10 days or until enough of the bitterness has been removed.

This was a nifty suggestion for keeping the olives submerged.  It is simply a Ziploc bag filled with water.

You can already see the oil floating to the top.  I’ll let you know what I’ve got in 10 days.

Raf Raf Tomato Sauce

          After about a week of daily rain and nearly hurricane force winds, everything calmed this weekend and for our Monday off of work for the Aid holiday it was like a summer day (in a place like the Northwest where it’s pleasantly hot in the summer).
We took a driving trip into the countryside to the northern coastal towns of Raf Raf and Ghar El Melh.  The farms were like manicured gardens:  intensely planted and the soil was rich and nurtured.

These towns are sleepy little fishing villages with a big history as posts of the pirates during the Ottoman occupation of the 17th century.

It was really quiet today, just some fishermen painting their boats and lots and lots of nice looking young men walking around and doing foolish stunts on motorbikes.  I think the young men in this country need more to do.   Maybe a lot of people are afraid that is true.
When I saw this roadside farmer’s stand I yelled STOP!  Look at this marketing idea, putting all of the produce into small buckets and displaying them on multi-leveled, multi-colored baskets.  You actually buy the produce by the bucket.  We bought two buckets of tomatoes, one of onions, one of peppers, and one of limes.

Upon returning home, we immediately rolled up our sleeves and began processing tomatoes.  The blog, Saving the Season, was very helpful in giving me a little sequence for getting them safely into jars.  We simply par boiled them in batches, chilled them on ice (until the ice ran out), peeled and chopped them, smashed and cooked them, and then put them into sterilized jars.  I sort of thought they would fill more jars than this, but then this is 1 1/4 gallons of processed tomatoes and that is a lot.

The final step is a 45 minute water bath and then the reward of every home canner:  the pop, pop, pop of the lids assuring her that the contents will be safe from botulism until she chooses to eat those tomatoes.

Rethink Candied Yams!

            Why is it so challenging sometimes to just try a completely new recipe?  I consider myself to be an adventurous eater, but then I’m sometimes surprised at the recipes I just don’t try.  What is the worst that can happen?  I did try this, though, and I was rewarded.  I’ve been a little off cauliflower since I moved from Kathmandu where I think I ate cauliflower every single day for five years.  Yet I tried this and loved it.  We had it with crispy, caramelized roast chicken and baked potatoes with bacon, chives, and crème fraiche.  The salty, peppery, slightly sweet, nutty combination was a great companion to the meal.  I think it could work the same for a roast turkey.  Consider it.

Roasted Cauliflower with Date Syrup
from Bon Appetit, October 2011, pg. 24
1 head of cauliflower (about 2 lbs.) cored and broken into flowerets
2 Tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup tahini
2 Tbsp. (or more) date syrup, maple syrup, or honey
2 tsp. (or more) lemon juice
Sea salt
Preheat oven to 400 to 500 degrees.  Place cauliflower, olive oil, and salt and pepper in a plastic storage bag and shake to coat.  Roast, until browned and tender, about 30 minutes.
Transfer to a mixing bowl.  Drizzle with tahini, syrup or honey, and lemon juice.  Adjust seasoning with the addition of salt and pepper.  Turn out to a serving plate and drizzle with more olive oil and lemon juice, if desired.