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Pickle a Peel

March 30, 1995|By CHARLES PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As lemons stand in brine, tiny bits of white matter are extracted from the peel and float around in the liquid as a loose, cloudy mass. The peel also loses some of its color and a dark translucence slowly spreads outward from the cuts. If the pickling liquid is lemon juice or vinegar, the liquid becomes thick and syrupy as the acidity reacts with pectin extracted from the peel.

Gradually the albedo, the white part of the peel, softens and loses much of its bitterness. Above all, the zest, or yellow part of the peel, develops a rich, intoxicating aroma.

Paula Wolfert emphasizes that cleanliness is important throughout the process. If the jar or your hands or the spoons you use are dirty, she says, bacteria may give the pickles an off-aroma that she compares to furniture polish.

From time to time, harmless fungi may contrive to grow in the chemically forbidding environment of the pickling brine. In a Moroccan restaurant in San Francisco, I once spied a white lump the size of an egg floating on the surface of a jar of pickled lemons. When I drew the chef's attention to it, he just laughed and scooped it out; happens all the time, he said. Likewise, if filmy white strands appear on the fruit, just wash them off before using it.

The lemons will continue to soften and eventually become too salty to use. Cooks tend to start a new batch of lemons before this point, or to add new lemons as they use up the pickled ones. It's not necessary to keep the pickle jar in the refrigerator, but once the lemons are pickled, refrigeration will slow down further softening.

Some Moroccans add spices such as cinnamon, cumin and clove to the pickling liquid. In India, naturally, people add lots of spices, because the pickles are likely to be served with other highly spiced food.

To turn ordinary pickled lemons into an Indian lemon pickle ( nimbu achar ), put in some sliced ginger and a bay leaf when you start the pickle, plus, if you want, other spices such as peppercorns (one for each lemon), cloves (one for every two lemons) and a little cumin, cardamom and asafoetida. When it's ready, add cayenne pepper to taste. Add plenty--Indian pickles are supposed to be strong.

LEMON-WALNUT BOREK

1/2 pound feta cheese

2 eggs

1/2 to 1 pickled lemon, chopped

1/4 cup minced parsley or cilantro

1/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

1/4 cup butter

1 (17 1/4-ounce) package frozen puff pastry dough

Cornstarch

You can use any kind of dough for boreks--bread dough, filo dough, puff pastry dough, even just flour and water with some butter worked in. We used frozen puff pastry for these, and it worked spectacularly; they were oddly like fresh, lemony cheese puffs, with little chewy bits of walnut in them. Because the dough puffs up as it cooks, you have to make sure to seal the pastry with a bit of beaten egg or the boreks will open up. They'll still taste good if you don't, but they'll look sloppy.

Crumble feta into mixing bowl or food processor. Add 1 egg, lemon and parsley. Mix or process until smooth. Stir in walnuts.

Melt butter in skillet. Keep warm.

Divide puff pastry dough into 4 parts. Dust work surface with cornstarch. Roll out 1 dough portion as thin as possible. Cut into rounds with biscuit cutter. Brush each round with melted butter. Place 1 teaspoon feta filling on each round. Beat remaining 1 egg and brush edges around filling. Fold over to make half-moon shape. Crimp edges to seal. As boreks are made, place on greased baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Brush boreks with melted butter. Bake at 400 degrees until crisp and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

Makes about 40 boreks, 10 to 20 servings.

Each serving contains about:

377 calories; 471 mg sodium; 75 mg cholesterol; 26 grams fat; 30 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams protein; 3.70 grams fiber.

PSEUDO-MOROCCAN RELISH

1 pound sweet red peppers

1 to 1 1/2 pickled lemons, or 2 pickled limes

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1 clove garlic

Salt, pepper

This relish, inspired by one of the pepper-and-tomato salads in Paula Wolfert's "Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco," goes well with fish, chicken or shish kebab. It could be enriched with a little olive oil.

Roast peppers in oven or over flame until softened and charred. Place in plastic food bag. Cover with towel 1/2 hour. Strip off loosened peel. Cut peppers open, remove stem and seeds. Dice peppers and place in bowl.

Seed and dice lemon. Add to peppers. Add vinegar, sugar and oregano. Squeeze in garlic and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes 1 1/4 cups.

Each 1/4-cup serving contains about:

35 calories; 62 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 10 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.39 gram fiber.

ANCIENT PERSIAN CANAPE (Bazmaward)

1 large onion

1 pound boneless lamb, cut into 1-inch chunks

Salt, pepper

1 to 1 1/2 pickled lemons

1 cup fresh mint leaves

1 sheet lavash bread or large flour tortilla

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Rose water, optional

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