A Very Moreish Moroccan Salad

As might be expected, I have been researching Arabic, Persian, North African, Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish, Eastern Mediterranean, Indian, Tibetan and Nepalese foods, in my quest for the colors, aromas and flavors of the Silk Road. As I experiment in my kitchen, cooking and tasting, with an eye toward making dinner and lunch specials for Restaurant Salaam which beguile the senses, I have found my imagination to be fired by the scent of myriad spices fruits and condiments, some familiar and some entirely new.

Olives, for example, are an old friend. I apparently, from the day when I could first chew, took to olives as if I had grown up playing under the gnarled branches of ancient olive groves. But for the longest time, the only olives I knew were the standard pimento stuffed cocktail olives common to all of the US, or the very bland, somewhat tinny-tasting and characterless black olives of California.

It wasn’t until I started eating and cooking Greek foods that I discovered the beauty of the deep violet-black Kalamatas–rich, fruity, with a dank bitterness layered over an intense salty-sweet taste that made me break out in a lustful sweat from my first bite. Until I tasted my first Kalamata, I only had Paula Wolfert’s word that a diversity of olives existed in the world, each variety delightful in its own way.

Paula Wolfert is the cookbook author who introduced me to the true cooking of both the Western and Eastern Mediterranean regions when I was in high school and early college. I devoured her recipes, reading them over and over, until, when I finally could get ingredients and cook them, I pretty much knew them by heart and didn’t have to consult the cookbook. Her descriptions of the dishes were so eloquent and accurately written that I knew exactly what each dish was supposed to taste like, such that I always knew if I was right on the money with my cooking, or heading towards disaster. I may have now and then headed toward the “Cliffs of Despair” with one or two of Wolfert’s recipes, but thanks to her clear writing, I never went over–I always was pulled back from the edge by her firm authorial voice, and I always managed to cook myself out of any corner thanks to her guidance.

Anyway, now that I am thoroughly introduced to olives, I cannot help but try as many of them as I can get my hands on, and tend to have several different sorts of them in my refrigerator at any given moment. One of the easiest ways to get me interested in a new dish is to tell me that there are olives and garlic in it. Then, I cannot help but take notice.

I am also fond of lemons, but I am sad to say that until I started on my journey of discovery along the path of the cuisines of the Silk Road, I had not felt the need to really encounter preserved lemons.

They are a common enough ingredient in Moroccan cuisine–so common in fact, that most people make them up in large jars at home. Plenty of bloggers have written about making preserved lemons–the only ingredients are lemons, salt, lemon juice, a jar and time. They are simple, really.

But, I had avoided them–for whatever reason–I am not sure why. It makes no real sense, honestly–I had a jar of two of them I had bought at World Market years ago and had carried about from kitchen to kitchen for years. But I never opened them.

Until I decided to make this salad, inspired by the writings of Claudia Roden, another best-beloved cookbook author.

I had found the recipe that sparked this one in her newest cookbook, Arabesque, which highlights the foods of Turkey, Morocco and Lebanon. It was for a dish of spinach sauteed with olive oil, garlic, olives and preserved lemon rind, which is then served cold.

But since Zak doesn’t care for cooked spinach in most cases, I got the idea to use fresh raw spinach, and then chop together the olives, garlic and lemon rind, then dress the whole carefully with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. I finished it off with dots of very fresh, very tangy local goat cheese, and a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts.

It was not exactly what Roden was writing about, mind you, and was not authentic in the least, but the flavors were blossoming with fragrance and power–it was a salad that made you want more with every bite. That is why I call it Moreish–the combination of flavors from the preserved lemons, olives and garlic is just classic, but the addition of the goat cheese sends it way over the top. And serving this delectable combination over velvety raw spinach is a great contrast in color, flavor and texture, as the spinach retains its both soft and crisp nature, while the chopped up preserved lemon, olives and goat cheese are all differing degrees of softness.

It was just damned good, is what it was.

So, now I need to make myself a jar of preserved lemons. I made a big jar of them for work today, but I need some at home, too, because I sense that they are going to become great friends of mine in the kitchen, alongside my faithful, companionable olives.

Moreish Moroccan Salad with Olives, Preserved Lemon and Goat Cheese


2 preserved lemons, rinds removed, flesh set aside for another purpose or discarded
1/2 cup good black olives–Moroccan oil cured are best, but Kalamatas or other high quality black olives will do–rinsed if necessary
1 small clove fresh garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint leaves
1/8 cup fresh soft, tangy goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 pound fresh baby spinach, washed and dried
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil–choose a very fruity or peppery one
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup freshly toasted pine nuts–toast in a dry skillet over medium heat, shaking nuts until they brown evenly and become fragrant


Chop the preserved lemon rinds and olives together roughly until pieces are about the size of your pinky fingernail or half that size. Mince the garlic clove together with the mint leaves, and toss with the lemon rinds and olives. Allow to sit at room temperature for about an hour to allow flavors to mingle.

Lay the spinach leaves together in a serving bowl, and scatter the preserved lemon rind and olive mixture over them. Drop the pieces of goat cheese evenly over the top, and drizzle with the olive oil and lemon juice.

Sprinkle with the pine nuts, then, just before serving, toss gently with salad spoons to evenly distribute the lemon olive mixture, along with the olive oil and lemon juice.

Serves four.


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  1. I am shocked you’ve never made preserved lemons. You are so experiemental. And you CAN things, which is way harder than making preserved lemons.

    I went through a phase where I made these a lot. Then a phase where I made Indian pickles a lot (including lemon pickle, which is a bit similar). I’m in a bit of a hiatus, but it is winter, and citrus is cheap here now, so maybe I’ll start another jar. This seems like a very good way to use them. I like them in tagines and baked chicken recipes. And like you, I’ve loved olives since I was Kat’s age. I have a serious salt tooth though.

    Comment by Diane — November 16, 2007 #

  2. I ADORE preserved lemons — I love fresh lemon and the brininess of olives, and preserved lemons capture all of that. They are absolutely glorious with roast chicken.

    Comment by abby — November 16, 2007 #

  3. My DH didn’t like olives when I first met him, but I introduced him to the good kind – kalamata, nicoise – and he likes them now. I haven’t effected many changes in him (he was pretty set in his ways when we met), but I’m particularly proud of this one. Now he’s the one who wants to go to the olive bar and try new stuff!

    Comment by Kim — November 16, 2007 #

  4. That sounds fabulous. I always have a jar in the fridge – really is the easiest “canning” I’ve ever done. A question though – what can you do with the flesh from the lemons? All my recipes say discard it. It seems like a waste – any suggestions?

    Comment by Morgan — November 16, 2007 #

  5. I love preserved lemons and make them regularly. They keep for such a long time… and they happily add flavor to just about anything. I’ll be interested to see which method/recipe you use– there are so many out there.

    Morgan, do you mean the pulp? I have a lot of recipes that call for both the rind and the pulp…

    Comment by Ann — November 17, 2007 #

  6. Flesh, pulp, goopy stuff that’s not the rind – yup, that’s the stuff I mean! Most of the recipes I have say to discard it.

    Comment by Morgan — November 21, 2007 #

  7. Morgan, I have a fish tagine recipe that calls for putting a little of the pulp on each piece of fish before topping with a pirce of the rind. And I often put some of the pulp on fish when I prepare it en papillote.

    Comment by Ann — November 24, 2007 #

  8. My grandmother used to call things “moreish”: “This cake is moreish; why don’t you get me some more?”. It took me a while to realize that she wasn’t saying that it tasted as if the Moors of Morocco had made it but that she just wanted some more. Anyhow, I haven’t heard that phrase in years and had to comment on it.

    I love Wolfert’s Moroccan cookbooks. I kind of wish someone would revise them for today’s kitchen, though. However, I can imagine how these long-cook dishes evolved from women or servants who got bored and started cooking earlier in the day than necessary. I especially love the tagines that stew in their own oils at the end. Yum. Wolfert is definitely a writer that makes you read every one of her recipes as if they were a good story.

    I made some of her preserved lemons. You’re not missing much with them. I put them in a dish once that called for them and really wasn’t very impressed. The dish wasn’t “moreish” at all.

    Comment by Amy (philosofialogos on LJ) — November 25, 2007 #

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