Easy Livin’

Summertime – and as the divine Ella sang – the livin’ is easy. How easy? Pretty darn easy. In summer, Mother Nature – bless her heart – does all the hard work for you. It’s not like the dead of winter when you’re facing another cabbage, is it?

MELON MEDLEY

Take our friend the cantaloupe. Was there ever anything better? Perfectly ripe and dripping with sweet goodness (I blush!). You don’t really need to do much/anything with it, do you? It helps if you slice it, but after that you’re on easy street. I love the classic combination of melon and prosciutto – thin, wafer slices of prosciutto draped over a hefty wedge of melon.

Of course, never content to leave something totally unadorned, I drizzle a bit of chile oil on top.

Chile Oil

1 ½ cups vegetable oil
½ cup Los Chileros Chile Pequin, Crushed

To make the chile oil, heat the oil in a saucepan until it is hot but not simmering. While the oil is warming, place the chile flakes in a clean glass jar (an old jam jar will do). When the oil is hot, remove it from the heat and pour into the jar with the chile flakes. The flakes will sizzle slightly. If the oil is too hot, pour in some room temperature oil to reduce the temperature.

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If possible, make the chile oil the day before (or even earlier). This allows the oil to cool down and for it to take on more of the chile flavor. The oil will keep very happily in your refrigerator indefinitely as long as the chile flakes are completely covered in oil.

Purists may raise their hands in horror but too bad. It’s my melon and I’ll eat it any way I want. Plus, you’ve got to trust me on this – it tastes pretty darn good. You’ve got the sweetness of the melon, the salt of the prosciutto and the zing-a-ling-ling of the chile oil.

Life may get better than this but I doubt it.

The Waiting is Over

I know. You’ve been worried, haven’t you? Up late at night – pacing the floor. Distracted at work – unable to concentrate. Well, let me put you out of misery – the preserved lemons I made a few weeks ago are fine. Whew! What a relief, you say.

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No, let me rephrase that. They’re better than fine – they’re tasty. What? You say you don’t remember them? Cue shock/horror. Well let me refresh your memory. I whipped up a batch of preserved lemons – lemons stored in a briny mixture of salt and lemon juice with an extra kick of spices and chile. You can find the original recipe here.

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Well, they’ve been hanging out (as you do when you’re preserving) but they’re ready now. There are loads of things you can do with them — they’re great chopped up and served with grilled or poached chicken or fish and non-stop fabulous with fresh vegetables or grainy salads.

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That’s what I’m going to do with some from this batch. I’ve used bulgur wheat but you could use a can of beans or some pasta or coucous. Go crazy. The key is, you’re going to scoop out the pulp and use the skin of the lemon only. And a little goes a long way. Go easy on the seasoning too because these lemons have been bathing in salt, lemon juice and chile so they mean business. For an extra kick, I added a couple of tablespoons of the brining liquid.

The result? It’s good. Darn good. So stop your pacing and get cooking


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Chile Preserved Lemon & Bulgur Wheat Salad

4 side portions

1 cup bulgur wheat
2 cups water
1-2 Tbsp olive oil.
2 Tbsp of the liquid from the jar of preserved lemons
1 ½ – 2 Tbsp chopped preserved lemon – skin only
¼ cup chopped apricots
¼ cup flaked almonds, toasted
Chile pequin flakes, to taste
Chopped chives or parsley, optional

Place the bulgur wheat in a heat-proof bowl. Boil water and pour about 2 cups over the bulgur wheat. Place a plate over the top of the bowl and let the wheat steep for about 15 minutes. If you’re using fine bulgur (I used coarse for this recipe) it will take less time.

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Remove the plate, test a few kernels – it should be tender but still chewy. Drain thoroughly. Toss with the rest of the ingredients and add some chile pequin flakes to taste. Can be served warm or at room temperature.

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