Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Probiotic Foods: Salted Lemons, & Miso

Disclaimer: The information contained in this blog is NOT intended to provide advice on the diagnosis, cure, treatment, or prevention of any disease. Please consult your doctor.

During our vacation in Vancouver, Kaylee unfortunately caught a case of the sniffles. While she quickly recovered after a couple of days, she subsequently gave it to me and my parents, and I got the brunt of it.

I'm a firm believer in the health benefits of probiotic foods. Foods like yogurt, pickles, and Japanese miso, contain millions of helpful bacteria through their fermentation process. It's this bacteria that help fight off the harmful ones, and have helped me speed up healing and recovery.

Back to our Canadian colds, I was far from home and my trusted jar of South River Miso paste in my refrigerator. Every time I start feeling a little under the weather, I stir up a spoonful of miso paste in hot water, for a quick, steaming, soothing, and warming broth. South River Miso specializes in making miso the traditional Japanese way, in small, handcrafted batches. Their miso is also unpasteurized, unlike the commercialized packets typically sold next to grocery store sushi. I did see some refrigerated miso in the Asian grocery stores in the Vancouver area, but unfortunately I can't read Japanese, and wasn't exactly sure if what I was buying was truly unpasteurized. That's when my mother reached into her fridge and pulled out an old spaghetti sauce jar, with some kind of brown, mushy paste at the bottom.

"How about some salted lemons?", she offered.

"Salted lemons?"

"Yes. Dad and I fermented this one three years ago. We've got two more jars that have been fermenting for the past year."

There it was. A whole jar full of lacto-fermented goodness! For those who have never tasted a salted lemon, it's actually much tastier than you might imagine. It's a staple ingredient in many Morroccan dishes, and my aunt makes Morroccan-style fish by laying some salted lemons on top before baking.

Mom mixed up a slice of the fermented lemon in a cup of hot water for me. It was very soothing to my scratchy throat. I drank a couple mugs of this for the next few days, and was feeling better in no time, and ready to enjoy my vacation again. I, of course, asked Mom for the recipe.

"Just sliced lemons, and salt. Let it all sit for about three months."

I couldn't wait to get home and try to make my own batch. Before getting started, I did do a little research to see what others had to say about creating this simple yet magical mixture. The Herbwife's Kitchen offered a little more on the traditional Morroccan way to pickle lemons. I combined a few hints and tricks, and this is what I came up with. I used my parents' method of slicing the lemons in rings, which made them more manageable and easier to use when they are done fermenting, but feel free to cut them the way that suits you the best. The amount of salt is not exact, but I found it worked out to about half a cup for every two lemons. You may find that you need a few more or a few less lemons, depending on their size, and the size of your jar. This is how I created mine:

1 clean, dry, sterilized glass jar with tight-fitting lid (I used one spaghetti sauce jar)
6 lemons (thoroughly washed and dried)
1.5 cups salt (pickling salt, kosher salt, or sea salt)
plastic wrap

Trim the ends off the lemons. Cut the lemons into slices of medium thickness. In a large mixing bowl, toss the slices with salt, coating each one on both sides.

Spoon a small amount of salt in the jar; enough to cover the bottom. Layer the salted lemon slices in the jar, covering each layer with more salt, all the way to the top of the jar. Leave a little air space.

To prevent corrosion of the metal lid, place a layer of plastic wrap over the top of the jar before sealing.

Set the jar in a dark, cool place for about a day. As the juices will start coming out of the lemons, give the jar a few shakes, during this first day.

The following day, shake the jar again, and then open it. Using a wooden spoon, push the lemon slices down, to fill any gaps, and to ensure that all the slices are submerged in lemon juice. If there is not enough liquid to cover all the slices, add more fresh lemon juice, but leave enough of a gap for some air space. DO NOT ADD WATER. Cover the jar once again with plastic wrap and the lid. Return the jar to a dark, cool place. After about a month, you will have fermented salted lemons :)
The fermented product can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a year, but in my parents' case, they had one that was three years old and still very much useable.

We can't wait to try some pickled lemon recipes next month :)

1 comment:

  1. *** UPDATE ***

    We've been having much success, turning out batch after batch of organic pickled lemons! They really are magical; helping us ward off colds, and even soothe the occasional case of indigestion.

    I now have anywhere from two to three jars going, in various stages of pickling. I found a very useful trick: when a jar is almost empty, save the remaining pickled lemons, including the salty sediment in the bottom. The next time you start a fresh jar, top off that jar with what's left in the bottom of one that has already been pickled. The result? Even faster pickling time, less "top-off" lemon juice needed, and nothing is wasted :)

    Speaking of "top-off" lemon juice, when starting a fresh jar, once you've juiced a few lemons, don't throw those away either! I chop those up, and mix them in with a half-empty jar that's already been pickled. Those juiced-out fresh lemons will pickle right along.

    Enjoy :)