Salt-Cured Lemons, Tomatoes & Strawberries
Curing fruits and vegetables with salt is an idea I picked up from ‘Salt Block Cooking: 70 Recipes for Grilling, Chilling, Searing, and Serving on Himalayan Salt Blocks.’ The book includes several recipes on how to do this, so I decided to test a couple of them.
Technique is very important when working with these salt blocks. If you tend to make things up as you go along, you may end up with some very overly salty results.
Please note that salt curing requires 2 salt blocks because you position the food item to be cured between them. The weight of the top block applies pressure, which helps force the excess water content out while infusing the food with salt. I did not invest in 2 slabs because I wasn’t sure how much I would end up using them. I used some smaller 6 x 6” Himalayan salt block serving “plates” on top, instead.
3 whole organic lemons, cut into equally sized slices
6 medium Campari tomatoes, cut in half
2 T. olive oil
12 whole fresh strawberries, cleaned, with hulls on
Special Equipment: 2 large rectangular Himalayan salt blocks
To begin, place a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet and set a large Himalayan salt block on top.
For lemons, remove seeds from slices and place across the surface of the salt block and cover with the second block. It will take around 48 hours or a little longer for lemon to cure. You want the rind to be soft and chewy.
The cured slices by themselves are VERY briny. However, when you chop them into small pieces and add them – rinds and all - to salads or pasta dishes, they are absolutely, completely wonderful.
I plan to have preserved lemons on hand as much as possible in the future.
As an added bonus, the juice forced out of the lemons during the curing process will pull some of the salt from the block as it trickles down to the baking sheet below. When it dries, you will have a wonderful citrusy salt you can use on fish, chicken or anywhere else you want to add a little bit more lemony flavor.
For the tomatoes, I chose the Campari variety because they are larger than cherry tomatoes and have a naturally sweet taste due to their high sugar content. If you can’t find them, use whatever type you have available.
Cut the tomatoes in half and brush the cut side with olive oil. Place cut side down on bottom salt block and cover with the other one. The recipe in the book is to create sun-dried tomatoes, but I didn’t want to make those. Instead I wanted to do a quick cure to see how they would be in pasta dishes or salads. I left them on for about 3 hours.
The results were decent. They tasted great when I tossed them with some warm pasta and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. (The preserved lemon stole the show in that dish, too).
For the tomatoes, I’m not sure the effort was worth it. I didn’t follow the recipe in the book, so I can’t call it a failure. It was just an experiment I probably won’t repeat again. I will follow the actual recipe for sun-dried tomatoes next time instead.
For the Salt-Cured Candied Strawberries, I followed the recipe, but the directions were a bit confusing. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to slice the strawberries first or leave them whole. Whether they should be dipped in sugar before or after the process wasn’t clear, either.
So I tried them a couple different ways. On one side of the block, I added whole strawberries. In the middle, I added strawberries that were cut in half with cut side down. On the remaining side, the strawberries were cut into slices. I did not add sugar to any of them first. I adjusted the curing time for each trial to allow the most time for the whole, uncut strawberries (3 hours) and a much shorter amount of time (1 hour) for the slices.
I was able to use different thicknesses in one trial because I was using the smaller plates, one large slab on top would have required doing this experiment one trial at a time.
The results? The whole strawberries were the hands-down winner. The slices were way too salty even with a shorter exposure time. The ones cut in half were fine, but not as good as the whole.
I used the whole cured berries by dipping them in white sugar and using as a garnish for a light summer salad.