Spicy gifts keep on giving

December 16, 2008|By LYNNE ROSSETTO KASPER

Dear Lynne: My brother deserves good spices. He is a serious cook and he finally has his own kitchen after years of roommates. As an artist, money's an issue for him, and my budget isn't huge. That said, where should I look for great-quality spices for his gifts this year? - A big "thank you" from Big Sister in Wichita

Dear Big Sister: Talk about a gift that keeps on giving. He'll get months of pleasure out of this. Two sources I have used and like are (the Aleppo chile is outstanding) and (the cumin has an appealing lemony quality).

Each one deals in high-grade spices and does frequent small-batch grinding for especially fresh flavors. And you can buy small quantities, which is excellent because ground spices stay in prime, fragrant shape for about three months - that is, if they are properly stored away from light and heat.


Now if you want to get your brother a small spice grinder (essentially a coffee grinder), you could give him whole spices, which hold well up to a year. For the flavor-obsessed, freshly ground is heaven.

Dear Lynne: I fell in love with the preserved lemons I think are used in Morocco, but they are really spendy. They are so good in so many things. Do you have a recipe? - Mark in Milwaukee

Dear Mark: Preserved lemons are used in North Africa (although I use them in many other cuisines) and are great gifts for cooks who enjoy the unusual. These lemons preserved in salt and lemon juice taste like nothing else. They turn sour and salty, but something else happens in the process that gives them a come-hither quality and the ability to lift a dish into a new realm. Try little pieces in greens salads, or tucked into baked sweet potatoes, cooked with greens, or added to a stew or soup. Use the lemons wherever you need a tart, spicy accent. Braising a half lemon with lamb, garlic and carrots is delicious, as try lemon with chicken.

For the recipe, I particularly like my producer Sally Swift's version for its spicing.

Sally's preserved lemons
with North African spices

4-6 weeks preserving time

1 pound of organic lemons, about 4 or 5, thoroughly washed
1/3 to 1/2 cup sea salt or kosher salt
1 stick of cinnamon
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 bay leaves
3 dried red chiles
Juice of additional 4-5 lemons, or to cover

Make a large cross in the top of each lemon, and continue to cut down about 2/3 of the way through the lemon, leaving the stem end intact.

Open each lemon slightly and stuff generous amounts of salt into and between the cut edges. Be generous. They should be heavily packed with salt.

In a large sterilized jar with a lid, pack in the lemons with the remaining salt and the spices. Be sure to tightly wedge the lemons together so that they don't float around the jar. Cover them with the lemon juice, and seal with a lid.

Let them rest for 4-6 weeks at room temperature out of direct light. Give them a good shake every once in a while to remind them you are waiting.

To use, remove the remains of the pulp and rinse the rind. Slice into long graceful strips, or chop into a small dice.

Cook's note: You can cut the preserving time by a couple of weeks with no problem. The lemons keep up to a year in the refrigerator. Since you are eating the peel, please use organic lemons.

o For gifts, tuck this recipe into the bag:

Roasted chicken breasts with preserved lemon

1/2 to 3/4 of a whole preserved lemon, lightly rinsed (do not rinse if using Sally's lemons)
1/3 cup good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lightly packed cup fresh coriander branches
2 large garlic cloves
1 generous teaspoon whole cumin seeds (use only if not using Sally's lemons)
6 large bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, or bone-in thighs (3 to 4 pounds; organic if possible)
Freshly ground black pepper

Turn the oven to 450 degrees. In a food processor, finely chop together the lemon (start with 1/2), olive oil, coriander, garlic and cumin. Taste for saltiness, adding the rest of the lemon if you'd like.

Cover a large, shallow roasting pan (a half-sheet pan is ideal) with a sheet of heavy-duty foil. Arrange the chicken breasts on the pan, and spread them with the lemon mixture. Grind a generous amount of pepper over the chicken, and put the pan in the oven. Turn the heat down to 325 degrees.

Roast the chicken for 45 minutes, basting it with its pan juices. When the chicken reaches 170 degrees on an instant reading thermometer, it is done. If you'd like, brown the chicken under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Pile the chicken on a platter and serve it hot or warm. A bundle of fresh coriander is a nice finish on the plate.

Serves 6 to 8.

Cook's notes: Chicken can be done 2 days ahead and reheats well. Leftovers make excellent salads.

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