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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Advice rolls in for lemon peel

 •  Local-style lemon peel begins with pickling

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

When Ben Hay asked for how-tos and hints on creating old-fashioned pickled lemon and lemon peel, I was sure readers would come through.

But interestingly, the first group of responses — mostly from online Mainland readers — were for Moroccan-style preserved lemons rather than the Chinese-style pickled lemons familiar to Islanders.

Jan Bossetto of Hayward, Calif., sent one she found in an old Frugal Gourmet cookbook; others sent online links.

The recipes are similar but not the same:

• Moroccan-style preserved lemons (mssiyar) are made from thin-skinned lemons packed into jars with coarse salt and water and also sometimes lemon juice and spices, such as bay leaf and cinnamon stick. The lemons are left whole but with slits cut top to bottom and salt stuffed into the fruit. The jar of lemons is kept at room temperature for a week or so, then topped with olive oil and refrigerated. They're ready in about three weeks. Preserved lemons are key to authentic flavor in the Moroccan meat stews called tagines, and often paired with fish.

• Chinese-style pickled lemon are made from thin-skinned lemons, left whole, and pickled with salt only, using various techniques. The lemons are ready after six months. We used to just suck on them as kids. Gil Ke'koa, who grew up in Kaimuki, uses pickled lemon to flavor steamed fish along with a shot of whiskey. The lemon peel can be further processed with li hing powder, five-spice or brown sugar for snacking or soothing sore throats.

About lemon peel, readers had plenty of advice.

Maebelle M. Librando, aka Aunty Maebelle, a former Mauian who lives in San Fernando Valley, Calif., and does a cooking segment on www.alohajoe.com, adds about 1/2 cup li hing powder to the jar of lemons and salt, then lets the lemons sit for at least six months, flattens the lemons and dries the peel in a dehydrator. They're not as hard as the store-bought kind, she said, but just as good.

Claire Carveiro of Lawa'i, Kaua'i, adds a lot of brown sugar and 2-3 teaspoons of Chinese five-spice to finished pickled lemons and then leaves the lemons in a dark cupboard, using them whenever she needs them.

Barney Lau, a former Islander living in southern California, wrote with detailed instructions. He said the best "lemons" to use are actually round green limes that turn yellow when mature. And he said it's important to first lomi the lemons with salt and dry them on racks for a few days before packing them in jars, to neutralize the oils in the lemon skin.

Sharon Lee of San Francisco says her auntie in Honolulu uses thin-skinned white-flower lemons (in Chinese, phonetically, bahk faah ling moong), but she doesn't know the scientific name. She asks if anyone has used Meyer lemons for pickling.

Tammy Pascua of Pa'auilo on the Big Island wrote about the delicious lemon peel —oven-baked with brown sugar — made by her auntie, "Cres" Poligratis of Kawaihae.