I try to refrain from using words like ‘best’ and ‘favourite’ to describe recipes. But that’s exactly what happened here, and I’ve had to delete two entire paragraphs lest I sound like a used-car salesman. Not a good place to start.
Preserved lemons have been making an appearance in a lot of dishes in my kitchen lately. A notable one being hummus! Have you tried making hummus with preserved lemons instead of lemon juice? It’s a real game-changer. You get the tang of the lemon, but with a very desirable pickled intensity that elevates the flavour to a whole new level. It’s become my favourite way to eat hummus now. (I’ll probably save the refraining for another day).
Moving forward here on the blog, I plan to post more basic recipes. Recipes that you can rely on to throw together a meal with minimal effort: sauces, marinades and pickles that you can make ahead of time and refrigerate or freeze based on your usage and requirements. Things that will make your life easier when you’re strapped for time and don’t have the patience to cook.
For example, if you have a big batch of tomato sauce cooked in advance—in your fridge or freezer—you can make anything from a simple pasta dish, to curries, shakshuka, chili, stuffed banana peppers, a meat sauce and much much more, quite effortlessly. Hell, I even use it to make tomato chutney sometimes. Here’s the trick though: keep it basic. By that I mean, onions, garlic and puréed tomatoes cooked down and reduced. Nothing else. This combination works for most cuisines that use a tomato base. That way, if you plan to go down the Indian route, you can add the required spices/tempering, or if you go down the Italian route – oregano/basil/cheese/whatever else. It’s versatile and will save you the effort and monotony of having to make it from scratch every time.
Other examples of recipes that you can make ahead and store are Asian curry pastes – can be used in noodle broths, fried rice, curries and soups. Kimchi is another good one – can be used to make kimchi fried rice, soups and pancakes. I fully rely on these essentials to see me through the week.
When it comes to cooking everyday, another thing to think about is the difference between time and effort. Something like a slow-braised curry/stew might take anywhere between 45 minutes to 4 hours to cook. But if it only requires that you spend 15 minutes of your time prepping and sautéing, and the rest includes bunging things in a pot and letting it cook unattended for 4 hours, that’s low-effort cooking. 15 minutes of your effort and 4 hours of just letting it do its thing. The oven is especially useful for this kind of cooking. And also even more so when cooking for larger crowds.
On the other hand, something like a stir-fry might require you to dexterously chop a whole load of vegetables into thin strips and cook them one by one, carrots first, greens last, making sure they’re all cooked at the same time. It might still only take 30 minutes to come together, but that’s 30 minutes of your time and effort, hovering over the pan and stirring endlessly. (Of course I’m using 4 hours as an exaggerated outer limit here and also, no one is going to be home 4 hours before dinnertime to start cooking, but it’s just to reiterate the difference between time versus effort).
Back to the marinade – you can make it in advance and keep it refrigerated safely for a week. The preserved lemon acts as a preservative and prolongs its shelf-life in the fridge, but the yogurt will taste more sour the longer you keep it. These measurements worked great for my spice and heat levels, but you might have to tweak and adjust accordingly to suit your palate. Earlier last month, I used this marinade for chicken drumsticks, cubed paneer and pineapples and they worked brilliantly. You could either grill them in the oven, cook on a barbecue or pan-fry them.
PRESERVED LEMON MARINADE
- 2 preserved lemons seeds removed (about ¼ cup chopped)
- 1 ¼ cups thick yogurt
- ¼ cup oil
- 1 tsp chilli powder
- 1 tsp smoked paprika optional
- 1 ½ tsp coriander powder
- ¾ tsp cumin powder
- Salt to taste
- Place all the ingredients other than yogurt in a blender jar and blend until smooth.
- Add the blended spice mixture to the yogurt and mix through with a spoon (don’t blend). Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Can be used to marinate meats (chicken, fish, prawns) as well as paneer, tofu and pineapple. Marinate for a few hours or overnight for best results.