Few things are more exciting than the discovery of a new dish. It’s especially gratifying to find you can do it by simply opening the refrigerator and pulling out a jar. Wait! This is not an advertisement. I want to tell you about my recent culinary leap of faith.
It happened when I realized that mashed potatoes and preserved lemons are meant for each other. Now I want to spread the word. Am I making too much of this discovery? Not if you are a fan, as I am, of renowned gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin*: “The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity, than the discovery of a new star.”
It’s common knowledge that lemons confer a refreshing sour, brightness and fresh aroma to all manner of dishes, but less well-known is the intense, super-charged flavor of lemons after they have fermented in their briny juice. Preserved lemon is an easy to assemble, low-maintenance condiment. There’s also romantic appeal in the knowledge that preserving lemons is an ancient practice in countries along the route of the spice trade from Asia to North Africa.
Now for a confession. I have kept preserved lemon in my refrigerator for years without recognizing their full potential. After demonstrating the process in a Moroccan cooking class, I’d let a jar ripen at room temperature for a month and then put it in the refrigerator as I moved on to another cooking subject. I never stopped long enough to explore ways to integrate this amazing condiment into my daily cooking routine.
That pattern abruptly changed a few days ago after I read an email from a recent class member. She had gone home and repeated the process of blanching, quartering, salting and packing lemons in a jar with juice. She was now waiting impatiently for them to ripen and wanted ideas on how and when to use them.
With no response readily at hand, I went on to the next email, one from The New York Times containing a weekly list of recipe suggestions. And there it was, a recipe for Lemon Mashed Potatoes. As I said, it was serendipity.
The Times recipe was an elaborate rendition of mashed potatoes from a New York celebrity chef. The potatoes were dressed in a Meyer lemon and mustard vinaigrette with lemon zest, creme fraiche and three herbs. It seemed like too many ingredients for mashed potatoes. That’s when my aha moment kicked in.
I stripped the recipe of all ingredients except the potatoes and replaced them with diced preserved lemon peel, some of its juices, a little olive oil and a cilantro garnish. The Yukon gold potatoes were the perfect, neutral foil for the briny lemons. Not only were the flavors addictive, it made a exceptionally good side dish for the hanger steak I had prepared. Last evening I added brined lemon juice to braised kale. I’m on a roll. You’re welcome to join me.
* Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, an 18th century lawyer, politician and gastronome is best know for having written: “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”