A while back the girls and I were watching an episode of Masterchef: The Professionals where the contenders had to create a posh meal from scraps: ends of vegetables, crab claws, fish bones, broccoli stems, rinds of cheese. My first thought was: hey, that looks like what’s in my fridge (minus the crab claws, I’m sorry to say). My second thought was that this was an exciting challenge and good for people to see. So much good, useable food gets thrown away for no discernible reason at all, and it drives me bonkers!
At work, where I cook with many and varied people on a weekly basis, it seems like I am constantly diving into the compost bucket to retrieve celery leaves and hearts (hearts!), large chunks of the ends of courgettes, and the white parts of spring onions (the visiting Brazilians use only the green part, apparently). Before you get concerned about e. coli or any food-borne illness, rest assured that we are a vegetarian college and the only things likely to be in the compost are vegetables – and way too much of each of them, as far as I’m concerned.
Whether this economy with food started as a practical, economic habit, or whether it’s the Capricorn in me, I can’t say, but I now truly get excited when I come up with new ways to use things that I might previously have thrown out. That might not sound like much of an endorsement for this recipe, but let me also assure you that I am very picky about my food (one of my mantras – besides “Don’t throw that out – we can use it” – is “Every bite should be the best bite”). So it follows that pickling lemon peel is not just another thrifty way to use something that would have been thrown out, it’s also really tasty and is actually a pretty darn good imitation of preserved lemon, but without having to spend the time (a week or more) to make it.
What’s so great about it? The flavour is salty and lemony, as you might expect, but there’s something more in there; the texture and the brininess are reminiscent of olives, but without the olivey-ness (which doesn’t matter to me but I suppose is a bonus for those poor misguided people who don’t like olives). I really like the way the bright tang cuts through the sulphur of brassicas, which means that I use them quite a lot with broccoli and purple sprouting broccoli, which is in season right now.
I chose to use cauliflower this time because I was the lucky recipient of some free cauliflower (I know, it just gets better and better!). Last weekend, Food In Community (FIC) borrowed our kitchen at work and left a couple of jars of kimchi and a crate of teeny tiny cauliflowers as a thank you. FIC are based in Totnes, and they work with local farms to put out-graded vegetables to good use. From them, I learned that many vegetables are deemed too small, too old, too “wonky*” to be sold, and so the farms reluctantly get rid of them, sometimes by feeding them to animals, sometimes by composting, and sometimes by leaving them in the fields and then ploughing them under to get ready for the next crop.
FIC gleans veg from cooperating farmers’ fields and also works with Riverford Organic Farm to categorise and distribute the unwanted vegetables to people who need them. Sometimes they have way too much food to deal with at one time, so they turn to preserving, which is how they ended up at the Schumacher kitchen. And how I ended up with some lovely-on-the-inside cauliflower. And how that ended up as a meal to please the biggest miser or gourmand – or both.
Roasted Cauliflower with Almonds and Quick Preserved Lemon
I will be perfectly honest and tell you up front that, when I made this dish at home, 3 out of 5 people gobbled up the cauliflower and the almonds but did not like the lemons. However, those 3 people were all under 14.
When I make the same thing at work, I get people asking me how to make the entire dish. But those people are all over 14. So I guess the moral is that preserved lemons should be preserved for people with more advanced tastebuds. Or you can make the normal amount, and then be happy to have the extra yourself, as The Author and I were able to do.
The lovely lemony slivers are perfect with brassicas, but you could use them for all sorts of dishes: tuna salad springs to mind, as does risotto (just a sprinkling on top of some fresh pea risotto sounds pretty good to me). Think of where you might use olives or lemons, and then experiment!
- 1 lemon
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup boiling water
- 700g cauliflower (about one head, or three out-graded ones!)
- 25g (1/4 C) slivered or sliced almonds
- olive oil
- additional salt & pepper to taste
To prepare the lemon, slice all the skin off in strips. You don’t have to be too fiddly at this point; it’s fine to have the pith and even part of the flesh on the skin. Reserve the peeled lemon for another use (a gin sour might be a good idea, for while you’re waiting for the cauliflower to roast…)
Cut the peel crosswise into thin slivers, and then put the slivers into a bowl and stir in the 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the boiling water. This is best if it sits for an hour or so.
Meanwhile, trim the cauliflower into largish bite-sized pieces and mix with olive oil, salt and pepper – this will be part of the dressing later, so don’t hold back too much on the oil or the seasoning. Tip the pieces onto a baking sheet or roasting tray that can comfortably hold them in one layer, and roast at 190C (375F) for 20-40 minutes, depending on your oven. You should probably stir them around every so often to make sure they are not browning too much on one side. They are done when they are still ever-so-slightly firm (not hard!) to bite into (poking them with a knife will give you some information, but it’s better to have a bite – that’s the true test).
While the cauliflower is cooking, lay the almonds in a single layer on another baking sheet, and toast in the oven for 3 – 4 minutes, or until lightly browned. Take them out of the oven and put them aside until the cauliflower is done. Go and finish your gin sour.
When the cauliflower is done to your liking, tip it into a bowl, add the toasted almonds, and then add the drained lemon peel. Toss gently, adjust seasoning if necessary, and serve with the satisfaction that being thrifty brings.
* In January, Asda – with the support of Jamie Oliver – started a trial of selling “wonky” veg to its customers at reduced prices. I don’t know how it has worked out so far, but any awareness about the issue has got to be good.