Makes 5 lemons
Paula introduced Americans to Moroccan preserved lemons with her first book, Couscous, in 1973. They became one of her signatures, appearing in the pantry sections of several later books. The optional spice mixture comes from the coastal town of Safi. With or without spices, use the lemons in her Moroccan recipes, in cocktails, in cheese sandwiches, and even on pizza.
- 9 or 10 lemons, preferably organic
- About 1/3 cup (60 g) kosher salt (see notes)
Optional Spice Mixture
- 1 (3-inch | 7.5-cm) cinnamon stick
- 3 cloves
- 5 or 6 coriander seeds
- 3 or 4 black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
*NOTES: For the kosher salt, look for a brand with no additives, such as Diamond Crystal.
As Paula wrote in Couscous, “Sometimes you will see a sort of lacy, white substance clinging to preserved lemons in their jar; it is perfectly harmless, but should be rinsed off for aesthetic reasons just before the lemons are used.”
Scrub 5 of the lemons well, then soften them by rolling them back and forth on a firm work surface. Quarter each softened lemon from the blossom end to within 1/4 inch (6 mm) of the stem end. Spread the salt in a wide, shallow bowl. Sprinkle 1 to 2 teaspoons of the salt on the exposed flesh of the lemons, then reshape the fruits. Halve and squeeze the remaining 4 or 5 lemons to total 1/2 cup (120 ml) juice. If using the spice mixture, have all the ingredients ready in a small bowl.
Place 1 tablespoon of the salt at the bottom of a large widemouthed glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Pack the 5 prepared lemons into the jar, adding more salt and the spice mixture, if using, between the lemons. Firmly push down on the lemons so they release their juices. (A cocktail muddler is an ideal tool for this.) Top with the 1/2 cup (120 ml) fresh lemon juice. The lemons should be completely submerged, with about 1/2-inch (1.25-cm) headspace between the liquid and the inside of the lid. Add more lemon juice if needed to cover. Screw on the lid.
Let the lemons ripen in a warm place for 30 days, turning the jar upside down every few days to distribute the salt and juice. If necessary, add more lemon juice to keep the lemons covered. Transfer to the refrigerator.
To use the lemons, remove them from their brine as needed, using a wooden spoon or tongs to extract them. Rinse them under running cool water to remove the excess salt. Usually only the rind is used, though Paula sometimes also uses the pulp. Cut as directed in individual recipes.
The gripping narrative traces the arc of Wolfert's career, from her Brooklyn childhood to her adventures in the farthest corners of the Mediterranean: from nights spent with Beat Generation icons like Allen Ginsberg, to working with the great James Beard; from living in Morocco at a time when it really was like a fourteenth century culture, to bringing international food to America's kitchens through magazines and cookbooks.
Anecdotes and adventuresome stories come from Paula's extensive personal archive, interviews with Paula herself, and dozens of interviews with food writers and chefs whom she influenced and influenced her-including Alice Waters,Thomas Keller, Diana Kennedy, André Daguin, and Jacques Pepin.
Wolfert's recipes are like no other: each is a new discovery, yielding incredible flavors, using unusual techniques and ingredients, often with an incredible backstory. And the recipes are organized into menus inspired by Wolfert's life and travels--such as James Beard's Easy Entertaining menu; a Moroccan Party; and a Slow and Easy Feast.
Unforgettable also addresses Wolfert's acknowledgement of the challenges of living with Alzheimer's, a disease that often means she cannot remember the things she did yesterday, but can still recall in detail what she has cooked over the years. Not accepting defeat easily, Wolfert created a new brain-centric diet, emphasizing healthy meats and fresh vegetables, and her recipes are included here.
Unforgettable is a delight for those who know and love Paula Wolfert's recipes, but will be a delicious discovery for those who love food, but have not yet heard of this influential cookbook writer and culinary legend.