The heaviest, most awkwardly wrapped and cautiously placed gift under my Christmas tree this year was a bowl full of homegrown Meyer lemons. While here in New York we're fully ensconced in cellared vegetable season (turnips! beets! potatoes!) my family in California is kicking off citrus season, so I was lucky to have some beautiful Meyers brought straight from Los Angeles.
We blew through a few of them right away — squirted into cocktails and squeezed over ricotta pancakes — but to clear out the rest, I needed a quick solution, ideally one that would keep well and get me through the rough patches of an east coast winter.
My first thought was to juice them into an ice cube tray and deal with it later, but then what about the flesh? Freeze it, too? You can do better than that, I told myself. That's when I thought of my friend Amy, her love of chutney and her belief that a person needs a properly stocked condiment collection. Mine has been low lately; it would be wise to start off 2012 with a remedy. Lemon chutney.
This is a classic clear-the-cupboards recipe. I used dried cherries because they were sitting there in the cabinet, staring me straight in the face, but you can use raisins or currants instead. As written, it's spicy, so decrease or leave out the chile flakes if you want a mild chutney. Obviously you don't need to use Meyer lemons, but if you haven't worked with them before and you see them at the market, give them a try. Meyers are sweeter than regular lemons since they have mandarin oranges as distant relatives. Even holding one in your hand feels different; like a sunshine egg, heavy, sweet, smooth.
As for how to use it, this chutney would be great smeared on a sandwich, stirred into some hot pasta, or spooned on top of scrambled eggs. Its uses are endless. The night I made the chutney, Amy happened to stop by. We sat at my counter and ate it slathered on crackers with crème fraîche, her eyes crossing in ecstatic approval.
Meyer Lemon Cherry Chutney
makes about 3/4 cup
4 small lemons (about 8 ounces/220 grams) 1 teaspoon coarse salt 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 1 shallot, minced (about 1/3 cup) 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander pinch cloves 1/3 cup lightly packed brown sugar (1/4 cup if using Meyer lemons) 1/4 cup red wine vinegar 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 1/4 cup dried unsweetened sour (also labeled "tart") cherries or raisins, roughly chopped
Zest the lemons, avoiding the pith (white part). Cut away the pith and discard as if to prepare a lemon for segments (following steps 1-3 of the suprême method.) Pick out any seeds. Roughly chop the flesh. Transfer the zest and the flesh to a glass or ceramic bowl and combine with the salt. Set aside for at least an hour.
In a small sauce pan, heat the oil over medium low heat and add the shallot and chile flakes and sauté until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the ginger, coriander, and cloves and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the salted lemon mixture and cook for another minute. Pour in the sugar, vinegar and lemon juice. Bring the mixture to a boil then immediately lower the heat so that the mixture is barely simmering. Stir and cook gently for about 30-40 minutes, stirring in the cherries after about 20 minutes. The mixture is done when it has thickened almost to the consistency of jam.
Let the mixture cool, then spoon into a sterile 6-ounce jar to keep in the refrigerator for up to a month, or serve within 3 days. Chutney can also be canned following proper canning techniques.