Friday, July 29, 2011

Two Preserved Lime Dishes

I'm on a roll with preserved lemons and limes. As I mentioned in the post describing the process, I had never preserved limes before, so I really had no idea how they would taste, or how I would use them. As with the lemons, I knew I would need to find organic limes for this project, in order to avoid the nasty pesticides and preservative chemicals that are splattered all over (and embedded in) the skins of conventional citrus fruits. I also knew the flavor of preserved limes would be quite different from lemons, but I hadn't anticipated the dramatic loss of green color, nor the difference in texture that resulted. My preserved limes have a much firmer rind than their lemon compadres, and the flesh is much chewier.

The flavor of the limes is actually more interesting than that of the lemons, with a slightly more pronounced pith-bitterness which, oddly enough, is not unpleasant. The brine immediately made me think of a "Preserved Lime Dirty Martini" possibility, which I shall have to explore at my next opportunity. My other impulses all leaned in a "green" direction, so the first ideas that came to mind were a preserved lime-bespeckled tabouli, and something with avocado. 
Here's how it went:

Quinoa Tabouli with Preserved Lime

As anyone who understands tabouli will tell you, the main ingredient is not the grain, but the green. It is a salad, after all, and the mistake most often made is to overwhelm it with bulghur. This may be from a lack of exposure to the real thing, or perhaps a bit of laziness, since there is a lot of picking over, washing, and chopping involved when you do it right. A genuine tabouli should have mere flecks of light tan color peeking out of a massive verdant jungle. 

I've taken to substituting quinoa for the traditional bulghur, both because it supplies a whole protein, and because it's gluten-free. I figure I can still call it a tabouli as long as it's mostly herbs. Maybe my Lebanese friends would disagree.

I made this tabouli with about one part fresh mint to two parts fresh parsley, and one bunch of scallions, with a straight-ahead dressing of garlic, lemon juice, EVOO, salt, and pepper. The only twist to this one (besides the quinoa, which by now is standard for me) was the addition of diced preserved lime. The difference in flavor was subtle, but every now and then a tiny burst would come through as I bit down on a piece of the lime. I might get bolder with it next time, and double the amount to see if it makes a difference without taking over the basic qualities of the tabouli. We'll see.

Avocado Relish with Preserved Lime

I first envisioned this as just a chunky guacamole with some pieces of preserved lime added to it. But as often happens, I began to think of a few adjustments that would make this a uniquely new dish in its own right. I decided to steer away from a dip and more toward a condiment that could be used with a wider range of dishes and cuisines. So I made a few fundamental changes:

For starters, I cut the avocado into smallish dice, rather than mashing it, which in itself changed the overall character of the dish--automatically removing it from the dip category. The clean cut edges were softened considerably during the tossing process because the avocados were quite ripe, but I think this worked to my benefit. I used finely sliced scallions instead of chopped onion, and finely diced habanero chile in place of serranos. I left out the tomato, used only a small amount of lime juice, and added a splash of EVOO. The cilantro stayed, and preserved lime made its starkly unorthodox entrance. 

All of these minor changes added up to a major shift in both overall flavor and functionality. Not only did this take a fairly impressive leap out of Mexican cuisine, but it became a condiment that I could see finding a home anywhere--not as a natural-born citizen, of course, but a welcome immigrant. I could see it showing up as a guest at a North African table right away, and then sliding easily into a forward-thinking Japanese, Thai, Persian, and even Indian menu.

Now, getting back to that "preserved lime dirty martini" idea...


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