Culinary Adventures + Preserved Lemons

You know that saying “When life gives you lemons…” ?

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Months ago, I had a super amazing dinner with Jonathan (my boyfriend),  at a Moroccan restaurant here in the city.  The appetizer we ordered was something similar to a spanakopita, pretty heavily spiced and containing tiny pieces of preserved lemon. It was divine. So amazing, so tasty, just so good.

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The meal reminded me of a Moroccan themed dinner party I was a part of year(s?) ago. One of the recipes a friend of mine was creating for the meal, involved preserved lemons. She had looked up ways to make them, finding that ultimately there was just not enough time. Preserved lemons need to age, to preserve. The longer they are left, the better – with a minimum of two months before cracking the seal for the first time.  We ended up finding a deli style counter in a Mediterranean shop that sold preserved lemons like a typical North American grocer would sell sliced sandwich meat.

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Calgary is home to a plethora of different cultural areas, many many different ethnic grocery stores – resulting in a basic unlimited supply of knowledge surrounding food. The folks working behind the check out counter of the little mom ‘n’ pop shops are so helpful, so willing to give you absolutely every bit of information – whether that be on a specific dish from their country, or about their own personal journey. It’s amazing. If there are small ethnic grocers near you, I strongly urge you to go! The wealth of knowledge is incredible, the people are heart warming – and equally heart warmed by someone of a different culture wanting to learn from them. It’s a beautiful way to spend an afternoon.

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Preserved Lemons
two 500mL jars worth

5-7 Lemons
1 Cup High Quality Salt
1 Cup Warm Water
1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
2 Cinnamon Sticks
3-4 Star Anise
8 Peppercorns
Sterilized 500mL Glass Jars

Scrub the lemons, you want them nice and clean because you’ll be eating the rind. Slice the lemon into quarters, keeping the fruit in tact – not cutting the full way to the bottom.  The lemon should still be whole, just sliced open into four parts. Fill the middle of the lemon with salt, then pack it into the bottom of one of the jars. Continue with the rest of the lemons. Add four peppercorns, one cinnamon stick, and at least one star anise to each jar. You should have enough to make two jars, depending on your lemons you may have extra. Using the lemon juice first, add half to each jar, then add in the water, topping up the jar to be filled to the shoulder. Add in another few tablespoons of salt, and seal. Leave in a dark, room temperature place for a minimum of two months. Tip each jar upside down and give it a bit of a whirl every few days to ensure the salt dissolves.

*Preserved lemons are great in a pilaf, mixed into quinoa with veggies (especially good with spinach), couscous – and well, basically any grain dish. They pair well with roasted potatoes, once roasted dress with fresh pepper, oregano and thinly sliced preserved lemon.  Goat cheeses, olive spreads, oh man just use your imagination! So many uses! But keep in mind, they are salty!*

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Lemon Macaroons… the perfect blend of sweet and tart!

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Yum.   Really….  seriously… yum!

I have made macaroons a grand total of twice.. ever.  Once cooked, and I didn’t like them at all – and these ones.  Which are divine. An exceptional blend of exotic coconut, tart lemon and raw honey.  They are just perfect, especially for the summer season.

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Coconut is so super healthy, especially for those following a vegan diet as vegans can often be lacking medium-chain fatty acids. Coconut is antiviral and can be particularly helpful countering viral flare ups in those with a lowered or compromised immune system. Coconut is antimicrobial, antifungal, and boasts a high antioxidant content, all around just a fantastic tropical nut.  I recently purchased a jar of raw coconut butter, as well as my typical raw coconut oil…  the smell of that butter, oh my…  it’s so rich and beautiful.   I feel so lucky that my store shelves are every week becoming more and more stocked with amazing raw finds like that.  The awareness that is reaching people all over, encircling anyone who is willing to listen – it’s perfect.  Being able to choose between raw, unrefined, natural foods.. and processed foods.  Having the literature readily available whether in print, or online about what heavily processed foods do to the body, and having science to back it up.. it’s so helpful.  I think that the combination of dollar voting for organic, whole, raw, ethical, local etc… and the abundant information available virtually everywhere is an amazing start to a nourishment shift. A food shift.  A life, humanity, planetary shift.  I love it!

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Lemon Macaroons

1 Cup Raw Almond Meal
1 Cup Raw Dried Coconut Flakes (plus a bit extra for rolling)
4 Tbsp Raw Coconut Butter
2 Tbsp Raw Coconut Oil
1 Lemon
2-4 Tbsp Raw Honey

As with lots of raw treats, assembling these macaroons is incredibly simple. If your almonds are whole, blitz them in a food processor until they are finely ground. Zest and juice the lemon. In a large bowl mix the almond meal, lemon zest, coconut flakes, coconut butter and coconut oil. The mixture will be a bit crumbly – then add the lemon juice. The addition of the lemon juice will obviously moisten your mixture, then begin adding the honey 1 tablespoon at a time. I’d suggest tasting after 2 tablespoons of honey, depending on whether you are wanting a sweet or more of a tart treat.  Once it’s to your desired sweetness, form into small bite sized balls and roll in a touch more dried coconut flakes. Sit them on some wax paper in the fridge to firm up.  Store them in the fridge if they are not going to be used right away.

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Superpower Mint & Cacao Ice Cream

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I went to the farmers market a couple of days ago and walked out with such an abundance of fresh herbs… it was astounding. So delightful! My car smelled like heaven. Tiny bubbles of essential oils bursting off my lemon basil, Thai basil, apple mint, peppermint, cilantro and parsley.  Pure heaven. Something about the smell of basil…   I absolutely love it.  Basil and mint are definitely two of my favorites, and I buy them very frequently.

I had so much mint left over after infusing my water, making tea, glorifying salads…  you name it. The next logical venture was ice cream.  I won an ice cream maker at work some time ago and used it regularly for a while, after veering more towards an extremely limited animal product lifestyle I feel like I haven’t put that baby to use in ages!  With such a hot start to the weekend I was totally craving something icy and smooth…

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It had to be an ultra healthy ice cream…  but I really didn’t want it to be a banana base. I felt that banana would be a bit over powering, and I really wanted the beauty of the mint to shine. I also was bent on it being green, I considered macerating the mint leaves but opted for spirulina powder instead. It’s faster, greener, and with the added superpower nutrients.. the addition was a complete a no-brainer! Honey is always my first choice for sweetener, followed closely by maple syrup. I understand that honey is an animal product.. and strict vegans don’t eat it. Also I understand that maple syrup is not technically raw, stevia or agave are fine substitutes! This recipe is very straight forward, it does not require an ice cream maker…. although I did use mine because it was a lot easier than waiting for my tasty treat to freeze and I wanted to have some straight away!  Yum…  coconut, cacao, raw honey, and spirulina…  Could make Superfood Sundaes!

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Superpower Mint & Cacao Ice Cream

2 or 3 Cups of Young Coconut Meat*
1.5 Cups of Fresh Coconut Water*
Handful of Torn Mint Leaves
2 Tbsp Spirulina Powder
1/2 Cup Raw Cacao Nibs
3 Tbsp Raw Honey
(or agave, stevia, or whatever other sweetener you enjoy)

* If you cannot find young coconut meat & water or do not want to crack open your own young coconut…you could use 2 cans of coconut milk!

Blitz the young coconut meat, coconut water and honey in a blender until smooth and frothy. Transfer to a large chilled bowl. Add the mint, rubbing each leaf slightly before adding it into the bowl. This helps the oils release and will quickly infuse the coconut mixture with a minty taste and aroma, once the mint is finished add in the spirulina and stir well. Place the bowl in the fridge and allow it to get nice and cold, adding the cacao nibs right before you pour the mixture into the ice cream maker/freezer safe container. If using an ice cream maker, watch it after about 7 minutes because of the high water content it will start to freeze up in the middle while the outsides are still only slush.  Whether using an ice cream maker or not, I recommend freezing in a container such as a loaf pan, this will enable you to get a full rolling scoop once it’s frozen!

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Pockets of bliss

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One of my favorite things in the whole food world…  is a dumpling.  A couple of years ago, my roommate and I would crave them.. all. of. the. time.  Seriously. We would debate going to get some sort of Asian takeout, really just to satisfy the craving for one dish. Recently my love for these little stuffed pockets of delight has gotten a bit out of hand, I have been debating making a batch and keeping them for random days of craving for quite some time.      Between volunteering my weekends away and spending time with people I cherish  – I just haven’t found the gap in my schedule…  until this weekend.

Step one:  Master a simple sauce that would simply enhance the flavor of the filling.  This is key, my perfect sauce is smooth and warm, with some spice and some tang.  I find sesame oil to be perfect in the sense of smooth and warm…  toasted sesame is almost buttery at times, so the oil is right on point.  As for the spice and tang, some chili and a little rice vinegar are what brings it all together.

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Chili Oil

1/3 Cup Sesame Oil
1/4 Cup Grapeseed Oil
2-3 Tbsp Dried Chili (Use fresh if available and in season)

Super simple… get ready…  Heat the oils in a pan over fairly high heat, add the chili. No need to stir or swirl or anything, just let them sizzle for a couple seconds and then remove from the heat. Let the oil cool in the pan and transfer to an airtight container – best kept in the fridge for freshness.

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Step Two:  If possible, the best way to get maximum flavor is to grind whatever spices you care to use – fresh.  Whole spices are always so much better, the essential oils are released when ground and then begin to dissipate very quickly! Lucky for me…  I recently found an antique grinder that is basically my new best friend. I have a number of mills and grinders…. but this one…  well its older. So, of course I am naturally drawn to it.

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So whole spices.. I used cumin seeds, coriander and Szechuan peppercorns.  Szechuan peppercorns are one of my very favorite spices, they are fruity, citrusy, with a little bit of a punch. Absolutely a delight on the palate!

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Pop the spices in the grinder…   spin spin spin…  and the powder is collected in the bottom. Beautiful and aromatic.  The spices I chose are fairly simple, nothing too complex, nothing too hot. Remember, the chili oil is meant to enhance the filling so you don’t need a whole lot of heat inside the dumpling!

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Step Three:  The filling! Most places have a pork and a vegetarian. Typically cabbage, carrot..  sometimes rice noodles even. I wanted to get a boost of protein in mine, without the meat…  So I opted for something a little different. The bulk of the filling is made from kale, mushrooms and tempeh.  Soy is not something I ever go for, but tempeh is a bit different. Traditionally, an Indonesian form of protein tempeh is made by splitting and fermenting the soybeans.  The protein content is super easily assimilated within the body, and is about 50% more than a hamburger.  The important part about tempeh is the fermentation, that fermentation allows for enzymes within the tempeh and therefore aided digestion once consumed.  Why not make it easier on our bellies, eh?

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Step four:  Wrappers.  There are so many different types that you can buy in stores, and it is also super easy to make your own.   I bought mine, because I happened across a pack that is both vegan and gluten free.  Hooray for rice flour!  I think ultimately the easiest thing you can do when picking which type of wrapper to use….  is go with one that’s round. I have used round, square, and made my own – and the biggest factor for me personally is shape. The square are just that much harder to fold.

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Step five: Finding out how much filling to put on each wrapper….  this is trial and error. There are so many factors when the filling and the wrapper finally come together.  You can’t have a wet filling.. your wrapper will disintegrate. I find that it is best to use two wrapper skins, one is too thin and easily tears while three is way too thick. One teaspoon in a round wrapper maybe perfect, but for squares I would suggest slightly less than a teaspoon (at least until you’ve got the hang of folding them)

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Steamed Vegan Dumplings

1.5 Cups of Kale – torn
1 Large Portabello Mushroom
1/2 Cup Shiitake Mushrooms
2 Squares of Unflavored Tempeh
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Fennel
3 Green Onions
5-6 Cloves of Garlic
Knuckle Size Knob of Ginger
Ground Coriander, Cumin & Szechuan Pepper
1 Tbsp Grapeseed Oil
1/2 Cup Water
2 Tbsp Tamari
1 Tsp Rice Vinegar
1 Tsp Raw Sugar
Package of Vegan Wrappers

First get everything prepped… Chop the mushrooms, tempeh, fennel, garlic and green onion. In a large pan or wok gently toast the spices until aromatic, transfer them to a grinder and spin away until a fine powder is produced (If using preground spices, toast the powder very quickly, then add the grapeseed oil). Transfer back to the wok and add in the oil. Grate the knob of ginger into the wok and toss in 2/3 of the garlic. Turn the heat down closer to medium and add in the mushrooms with 1/4 cup of water. Cover and allow the mushrooms to steam.  Once they have started to soften, add the kale and the tempeh along with extra water if you need it, return the lid and continue to steam. Once the mushrooms are soft and the kale wilted, add the fennel and turn the heat off. You want the intensity of the fennel to diminish slightly, while leaving it with a bit of crunch. While it continues to steam a few more seconds, mix the tamari, rice vinegar, remaining garlic, and green onions together in a bowl, add the sugar last.  Once the wok mixture is cool, transfer it to a food processor.  If you want your filling to resemble a pork type dumpling, whirl it around in the food processor until it begins to form a paste. I personally wanted some texture, so I only sent it spinning for a couple of rounds. While in the food processor, add the tamari mixture. If you find the filling to be too crumbly, add some water but only 1/2 teaspoon at a time.  Once you have your desired consistency… it’s time to wrap!  On a flat, clean and dry surface, double up two skins for thickness and lay out 3 or 4 wrapper squares at a time. Experiment with how much filling to use if you’d like, but I suggest starting as I said earlier… with just slightly less than a teaspoon.  Place the filling in the middle of the square and then fold up the south corner to north, forming a triangle. Gently wet your finger tips and begin folding pleats in the wrapper up one side, to the point, and down the other. If you find your wrapper pops open in spots, just seal it together with a bit more water.  Place your dumplings on some wax paper and continue folding until all the filling has been used.

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Now, I prefer to steam my dumplings…  so line a bamboo steamer with a couple pieces of lettuce or some more wax paper..  being sure that steam will be able to come through the slats, don’t just cover the entire base. Place over a boiling pot and allow to steam until the dough is gleaming and has darkened.

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To serve, mix about 2 parts chili oil to 1 part rice vinegar and that’s it! Ready to be enjoyed!

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