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  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

An Aha Moment



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.”

Recipe Links: 

Half-Mashed Lemon Potatoes 

Recipe for Preserved Lemons 


Loving Lemons

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

From Budapest with Love

Food is the gift of choice for family members past the age of thirty at our house.  A gooey cake and ice cream take a back seat to a meal that celebrates our ethnic heritage.  For our son’s recent birthday dinner, I prepared one of his grandfather’s favorite dishes, Székely goulash (gulyás in Hungarian).  My father had loved the rich food of his Hungarian childhood, and this devotion continues to nurture the memory of successive generations. 

Like my father’s family who had immigrated from Russia in the 19th century, Székely goulash is a recent import from Transylvania.  Unlike the traditional gulyás prepared by ‘cowboys’ who herd cattle on Hungary’s southern plains, this modern stew is better suited to a family setting.  In place of the original mix of tough cuts of beef, wild onions, caraway and paprika simmered slowly in a cauldron over a fire, Székely goulash is made with pork, garlic, sauerkraut and sour cream. 


 The attraction of this updated version of goulash is the speed with which it delivers essential flavors of Hungarian cuisine.  Onions are softened in a heavy skillet with garlic then pushed to the sides of the pan. Pork tenderloin nuggets are browned in the center then covered with a little flour and lots of sweet Szeged Paprika (sold in a red tin at my local Jewel) and caraway seeds.  It takes less than 15 minutes for the lean pork to cook through after a meat stock is added.  Stir in sour cream, and Voila! (or whatever they say in Hungarian) 

Boiled potatoes or egg noodles are the traditional starches that accompany this stew, but I prefer to serve a slice of steamed yeast dumpling.  The dough is easy to assemble and doubles in size in an hour.  I nestle the risen dough in the steamer basket of my pasta pot over simmering water and steam it for about 20 minutes.  The loaf rises impressively and slices easily fresh out of the pan. The yeast dumpling acts like a bread sponge and soaks up the rich juices of the Székley goulash.  Their combined flavors stimulates a wealth of childhood memories of an ephemeral past.



Link to recipe

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

Potatoes in the Spotlight

January’s frigid temperatures and grey skies don’t get me down.  I chase the winter blues by searching culinary discoveries to share with my students.  My ingredient of choice this past month was none other than the homely potato.  It’s so easy to become complacent about the potato, as in “you want fries with that?”   It was time the potato took its turn as a culinary star.
When it comes to vegetable make-overs, I troll through cookbooks I’ve collected over the years rather than rather than try my luck with random Google searches on the internet.  In truth, I was on the lookout for a treasured 20 year-old paperback devoted entirely to potato recipes.  Its author, Joël Robuchon, is said to have won his first Michelin star in the 80‘s at his Paris restaurant, Jamin, with a simple potato puree.  I felt I would be in good hands.
The book’s recipes for Potato Tart and Potato Soufflé suits my purposes perfectly.  Each dish makes a spectacular entrance, drawing ‘oohs’ and ‘aaahs’ of appreciation at the table.  I wondered, could a humble potato deliver the anticipated pleasure relying simply on eggs, butter, flour and milk?  Then I remembered Chef Robuchon’s famous Potato Puree contains just four ingredients: potatoes, cream, butter and salt.  It was worth a try.
Before starting to cook, I translated the recipe directions and metric measurements into their English equivalents.  Although the directions were helpful, they were, by necessity, concise.  The book’s authors assume the reader has a grasp of basic French culinary skills.  That’s where I come in.  These recipes made them great recipes to teach.
On a recent Saturday morning fifteen students joined me in the well-appointed kitchen of  Chicago’s Alliance Française kitchen.  We prepared both the potato tart and the potato soufflé with ease.  The speed with which our results were consumed confirmed my conviction that the potato can definitely take its place in the spotlight.  Links to the recipes follow.
Potato Tart 
Potato Souffle
Recipes adapted from Le Meilleur et le plus simple de la pomme de terre. by Joël Robuchon and Dr. Patrick P. Sabatier, Editions Robert Laffont, S.A. 1994