those preserved lemons
A few weeks ago, I smashed some lemons and salt into a jar and thus began my preserved lemon journey. They're ready—and the first way I used them was in a chickpea-cauliflower-bulgur situation, inspired by Sam Sifton's little no-recipe ditty in his NYT newsletter:
Just massage a few lamb shoulder chops with salt and pepper, some ground cumin and coriander, cinnamon, red-pepper flakes. (You could use curry powder instead. Or a harissa paste. Something warm in its spiciness, nothing bright or acidic.) Then fry them in a big pot slicked with oil and, when they’re crisp at the edges and still quite pink inside, fish them out and put them on a cutting board to rest.
While the lamb’s cooking, chop up a handful or two of mixed cocktail nuts, some raisins or prunes or dried currants or cranberries. Add those to the lamb fat in the big pot with a couple of cups of couscous. Stir that all around over medium heat for a few seconds, and then add two cups of chicken stock. Let it all come to the barest of simmers, then give the pot a final stir, put on the lid, turn off the heat and let it just sit, the hot broth filling out the couscous, the fat and the spices and the fruit giving it flavor.
I don't eat lamb, and cauliflower doesn't, uh, give off much fat of its own, so I lost out on that gamey, savory lamb fat. But olive oil did the trick, as it always does. I used apricots instead of the suggested raisins/prunes/etc.
The first night we ate this, I hadn't added the preserved lemon—we just ate it with little lemon squeezies alongside. But the leftovers felt flat, and that's when I cracked open my jar and added a few slivers of lemon (flesh and rind both) to the pan as the bulgur and cauliflower reheated. It was so good; it was just what I needed.
Last night, I was revisiting Canal House Cooks Every Day, which I always find moving and inspiring and hungry-making. (Something about having it all separated by month, with the day's weather noted next to the recipe. It's perfect.) They add slivers of preserved lemon to their lemon meringue tart, which—*kisses fingers.* We're about to leave for Taipei and Tokyo—10 days away!!!—but as soon as I'm back in my kitchen, that's what I'm making. And what good April food.
Pilaf-y Bulgur with Chickpeas, Pine Nuts, Spiced Cauliflower, and Preserved Lemon
4ish good-sized servings
1 large cauliflower
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground coriander, divided
Fat pinch red chile flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Handful pine nuts or other nuts (almonds or walnuts would both be A+)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Handful dried apricots, roughly chopped (or raisins)
1 1/2 cups bulgur
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 small preserved lemon, rind and pulp, very finely chopped
Handful cilantro and/or mint and/or parsley leaves and tender stems, roughly chopped
Plain Greek yogurt or lebne to serve
Preheat the oven to 425° F. Cut the cauliflower into florets and toss thoroughly with the cinnamon; cumin seeds; 1/2 teaspoon coriander; chile flakes, salt, and pepper to taste; and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Arrange as many pieces of cauliflower as you can cut-side down—this is fussy, yes, but helps you get a really nice "sear" on that side. Roast 20 or so minutes, until the cauliflower is browned and tender. Set aside.
Meanwhile, make the bulgur: In a medium saucepan or skillet, stir together the pine nuts, coriander, and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. When the pine nuts begin to turn golden, add the chickpeas, apricots, bulgur, and a pinch of salt. Stir together and cook about 3 minutes, stirring regularly, until the bulgur begins to smell toasty. Add the water and increase the heat to high. When the water is at a steady simmer, give it all a stir, cover the pan, and turn the heat as low as it will go. Cook until all of the water is absorbed and the bulgur is tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
Stir the preserved lemon and the chopped cilantro into the bulgur. At this point, you can either combine the cauliflower and the bulgur or keep them separate. Whatever you do, serve with a big dollop of cool yogurt alongside.