Spring is springing and all I can think about is Greens. Our northside of the hill, in lower Mid-Maine, is still pretty scarce on the green front but signs are coming. I love wild greens, garden greens, all especially as bitter greens. But it’s still also pretty cool, and though I will certainly pair a salad with anything these days, I want warm greens right now. We are more likely to make Summer salads a main dish (my favorites are golden beet with tender slices of pork and toasted hazelnuts or pumpkin seeds with a vinaigrette on a fluffy bed of greens, maybe some bleu or goat cheese) and Winter greens into stews but Spring calls for full-on baked dishes of creamy greens over polenta or just barely sauteed greens with plenty of garlic, sometimes warm salads with bacon and medium-boiled eggs.
Returning to the savvy dreamy Arabic-inspired dishes of Paula Wolfert, I am reminded of this green spice-filled dip with preserved lemons. In Winter lemons go on sale so I pick up a good bag or two (not Meyers), and preserve them though I have found them at Whole Foods on the deli olive shelves sometimes (they aren’t as good, if you ask me, but they will work in a pinch. You can ‘quick’ preserve lemons, too, by boiling cut wedges for just a few minutes in super salty water, letting them sit for at least 20 min in the salty water to cool, but again, not as good). Preserved Lemons are stunning cooked in Moroccan Chicken With Olives (ridiculously addictive), they are amazing chopped small in my Roasted Squash Fall Salad, and are even bright little points in garlic hummus. They bring a zing to any dish they are used in. I’ve just envisioned sliding slivers up under Roast Chicken skin before baking, with thyme and garlic…now I know what I’m trying this weekend.
But right now, this greens dip sounds like a warm Spring wish – healthy greens sauteed with garlic and spices, whipped to creaminess and served with preserved lemons and salty Moroccan olives scooped up with toasted pita or yummy bread. Delish.
(this will make one ‘batch’, which should cover most needs for 3-4 dishes, unless you are us and like to use them often or copiously, I generally double this recipe just to make sure I have them on hand)
Best to use a widemouth pint jar or a half liter widemouth squat clip jar with good rubber seal
3-4 Lemons (more if they are small)
Natural Sea Salt – fine ground (at least a cup)
Organic Lemon Juice (I like Santa Cruz) (at least a cup)
Soften lemons by rolling firmly on the counter (but not too hard, you don’t want to break the skin) a couple of times. Cut lemons from one end but not all the way through in half and then half again, making four long wedges still attached at one end (no biggie if you cut through by mistake, you will want some loose wedges, too). Open like a flower and salt each side of each wedge liberally. Put some salt (maybe tsp or 2) in the bottom of the jar. Jam the lemons into the jar to release juices, adding a liberal shake of salt after each lemon. Fill spaces with loose wedges but try and keep pieces as big as possible (if you can fit more lemons, feel free to do so). If not enough lemon juice squishes out to cover lemons, add enough bottled lemon juice to do so, topping with another good shake of salt. Cover and let sit on the shelf for at least a month, shaking occasionally (but make sure lemons are generally covered with liquid). The liquid can be used many times – once you get a good batch going, when you use some, just throw more wedged lemons in.
To use: Remove a lemon carefully (at this point the skin will be very soft and rip easily), scoop out the lemon flesh into a bowl or measuring cup (do not throw away yet, you might want this for dressing, or added umami in a dish such as Chicken w/ Olives or even swirled into hummus – remove seeds and thick pulp, but if you have no further use, chuck it) – in most dishes it will be the lemon peel you are eating/using. Be sure to scrape away any tough webbing on the inside of the peel, discard. Rinse cured lemon peel under water gently and cut into thin strips.
Moroccan Warm Green Dip
Any kind of mixed leafy mild greens can be used here but adding a little wild(ness) makes this dish exciting- mallow leaves are traditional though anyone from purslane/miner’s lettuce/chard/beet greens/spinach/young dandelion or baby kale can be used – I like to use young violet or primrose leaf or lambsquarters, as well. This is best if it sits in the fridge for an hour before serving.
1 pound (6 cups) of mixed leafy greens, stem and chop coarsely if large
4oz (1 cup) stemmed flat-leaf parsley, chopped
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1oz (1/2 cup) cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 tsp salt, more to taste
3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil, plus more for finishing
1/4 tsp sweet paprika
pinch of hot red pepper
1/4 tsp ground cumin, more to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon (1 Tbsp), more to taste
1/4 preserved lemon, rinsed and cut into slivers, more to taste
12 Moroccan oil-cured olives (these are the shriveled black oily/salty puckery bad boys that Josh loves, I can eat one or two, but they are good here as they are ‘cleaned’) – halve, pit and soak in several batches of water to remove salt
Wash and drain the greens and parsley until water runs clear. Steam the greens, parsley, and garlic until tender, about 15 minutes. Cool the greens then squeeze out as much moisture as possible and chop finely. Peel garlic and place in a mortar with cilantro and 1/4 tsp salt, crush to a paste.
Heat 3 Tbsp olive oil in a 10″ skillet, add the garlic paste and the chopped greens – cook over Medium-Low heat until all the liquid has evaporated, turning the mixture often to avoid burning, about 10 minutes. Blend in the paprika, hot pepper, cumin, and lemon juice. Cool slightly, then add to small food processor (or use hand/electric beaters) enough oil to make the texture similar to whipped potatoes. Cover and refrigerate for at least and hour.
Correct the seasoning with more salt, cumin, and lemon juice if necessary; whip once more to lighten the mixture. Shape the greens into a ‘smooth hemisphere’ (Wolfert’s words – ha!) and decorate with slivered lemon peel and black olives.
Serve with crusty bread, flatbreads, or toasted pita wedges. Enjoy!