SFC: The Deep Pickle, Part 4 (The Revenge! Wait, revenge is sweet…)

                When I was in culinary school, we learned a quick, one-day method for making “preserved lemons” during our African Cuisine class. The memory is hazy, but it involved cutting them in half, putting them in a hot skillet with saltwater (I think) and in the oven for a bit before shoving into a jar. Or something like that. Suffice it to say, it was an interesting thing to do, though the results were less than impressive (not bad, just… not noteworthy).

                My particular intrigue in this particular Moroccan culinary item was peaked again after seeing the full preparation method utilized on TV (no, this one wasn’t Alton, it was someone else… who I’m too ashamed to say). This being soon after I practiced full mason-jar-pickling, and the actual method of it being quite simple, I thought it’d be fun to attempt (and give myself another great pantry ingredient).

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Preserved Lemons

8 (ish) Lemons (ideally small)

Coarse Kosher or Sea Salt

Juice of 4 Lemons

½ cup EV Olive Oil

Bay Leaves, Cloves, Other Whole Spices (Optional)

                Starting with our equipment, we sterilize our Mason Jar as with the usual boiling method. You’ll want to grab the biggest Jar/s you can find (maybe decorated from a recent holiday), though the size of the jar is nowhere near as important to ensuring it has a very wide Mouth (you’ll see why later).

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                Cut the lemons in Deep Crosswise slices, almost cutting them in quarters but stopping right at the bud. Basically you want to keep them as whole as possible, while opening the insides up for “stuffing” (which makes me wonder if there are other cutting designs that can be tried out, like scooping V-slices).

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                Take your Salt and press a liberal sprinkle right into the flesh; like a Tablespoon or two at least. The proposed method for using this, and definitely great if you can do it, is to do this over a large pile (medium bowl, filled) of the salt and just do it by hand. Super easy, don’t have to wash hands or worry about salt going everywhere, but it becomes a big waste for all the salt you DON’T get in (as it’s now polluted with dripping citrus juice), so it has to be thrown or used immediately in some salt-heavy dish. So for those who are a bit conscious in how much they use, I sprinkled directly from the box, over a bowl so I can collect and immediately use the leftover salt.

                From here we can start stacking in the sterilized jars…

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                … is what I’d like to say, if I had a wide-mouth jar. If I did, we could just push the lemons in whole. However, some of us don’t have jars large enough, or lemons that are just too damn big, so we have to improvise, which as far as I can tell shouldn’t have affected the quality of my lemons at all (or if it did, VERY very small). I just cut mine in half, crosswise or lengthwise, and then a similar cross-cut as before to better stuff. Personally I think I prefer the length-wise cut better for getting and stuffing into the jar, though I’m not sure if there’s any curing advantage.

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                Either way, stuff the lemons deep into the glass, sprinkling some more salt every now and then between (at least if you’re not sure you stuffed enough salt inside) citruses. Go right to underneath the rim, and do NOT be afraid to squish and shove things down tight; we want that sort of environement. Probably while you’re doing this, or once done, you can choose to insert some bay leaves along the side of the glass, or a few other chosen spices between layers (or even in the lemon cuts beforehand) to flavor the preservation. I decided to keep mine simple and plain just to see what it’s like.

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                Fill with a 50-50 mix of water and some of the lemon juice, to the top, cover and leave on the counter for about two days. By this point the lemons would have softened a bit (you can sorta see it in the jar, just looky!) and you can shove one or maybe two extra ones back in. Re-fill with lemon juice as needed, and then top with Olive Oil to better form a lipid barrier (which I COMPLETELY forgot to do and am only just realizing! God I hope my results aren’t drastically different than what they should have been).

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                Re-cover and leave in a room temperature location, doesn’t need to be fridged or put in the snow, for at LEAST 3 weeks, a little over a month ideal (at least for me).

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                By the end you’ll have a soft, malleably pungent chunk of citrus that can be placed in any soup, stew, sauce, marinade, salad, or whichever kind of food one desires. Following a few simple rules, and supposing the flavor fits, of course. Firstly, despite its deliciousness, one should not be eating this “raw,” as-is; just a bit TOO much for that. If you want it in a very minimalistic, “pure” or fresh connotation as opposed to manipulated flavors, should still Blanch for at least 5 minutes (great to blend in salad dressings, or julienne fine afterwards for a garnish).

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                Secondly, when using, one can most likely get rid of or reduce the amount of salt used in the dish. And Lastly, you’re only using this for the Skin. When applying for cooking, you want to peel the flesh out (which is accomplished really easily and cleanly, as can see by the pic) and toss it, as it is supposedly unusable… at least that’s what I’ve heard, I also ran across a stew recipe that used some of it. Sooooo… best left to your own judgment in the situation I think?

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                As for what we can make with it here, could easily stick with a classic Moroccon Lamb (or other meat) Tagine, like I made one night… and will probably wrap in a tortilla for work tomorrow. Or we could use it to substitute and enhance the lemon aspect of another recipe, sayyyy… something Shrimp based….

Preserved Lemon Shrimp Scampi (after adjustments)

1/3 Cup Olive Oil

½ Head of Garlic (5-6 large Cloves)

1 Small Onion

½ Preserved Lemon Peel

1-3 Tb (depending) Fresh Herbs, chopped

Ground Black Pepper

1 Package, 24-32 Large Shrimp

                I saw a fun recipe for Shrimp Scampi that I thought would be great to put in a Taco, though I had to adjust it a bit (can you believe they only used 4 small cloves of garlic and TWO whole onions? I mean seriously), then re-adjust from some… -cough- overestimations.

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                Start by heating up the olive oil to about a medium-low to medium level. While this is going, mince the onions and garlic to very small portions, almost a paste: using a grater works really well for this purpose.

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                Dice the Lemon peel small, almost to a mince, and transfer to the hot oil along with the onion and garlic. Cook for about 3-4 minutes, add your Herb of choice (Tarragon works really well, or Cilantro since we’re doing a Taco, but I only had Sage) and a pinch of Pepper, and keep cooking 1-2 minutes more. By the end, the veggies should have softened, released their rich aromatics, and not have any form of caramelization to them.

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                Let this cool a bit in the pan, and prepare your shrimp as needed.

                Peel, devein, disassemble, or do whatever your particular shrimp needs doing so as to leave it as desired for the preparation. Traditionally, this would be with only the tail on, but for this use all shells should come off; also, I like cutting them in half so as not to deal with the weird, large circular whole pieces. (Though a note on selection, I would have LOVED to use those really tiny, flavor-packed Rock Shrimp, and suggest them highly if you have the chance)

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                This does leave me with a lot of leftover shells though, which I hate to throw away, and you shouldn’t either. If you have them, I suggest sautéing in a pan, covering with water and boil/simmering for a few hours to make a Shrimp Stock, great for Sauces, Soups, or other uses (I used it for my liquid base when making a Rice Pilaf).

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                Mix shrimp and garlic mixture in bowl (yes, my garlic turned green… no I’m not sure why, but I assume it was due to an olive oil absorption) and let “marinate” for as long as desired. The original recipe only did it for 30 minutes… but again, seriously? I popped it in the fridge for the afternoon, whoooo Go Garlic!

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                There are probably a few ways one could cook this, with the most oft used and generally useful being to Broil at High, which only takes 5 minutes. I tried it, and it looked beautiful and turned out tasty, but I wasn’t fully satisfied for the final results. I’m sure it worked great for the original recipe, or maybe it was that my broiler wasn’t AS hot as “ideal,” but ultimately the garlic marinade never cooked around it ideally (harsh as it is to say, but I might have had too much garlic in there initially… thus the adjusted recipe). Next time, I’ll probably end up skewering them in bunches and grilling; always been my FAVORITE way of shrimp preparation anyways, no matter the use and flavors.

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                Once cooked as desired, it’s simply a matter of assembling your taco however you want. I did use the Flour Tortilla in this, I will defend that point; it’s basically a European based recipe, so I find it acceptable (plus there’s many a Caribbean seafood taco that uses flour over masa/corn). A little bit of the Shrimp Rice (also cooked with a bit of preserved lemon), some Salsa, Onion-Celery Slaw, and a fresh grating of Parm on top, and we have ourselves a tender, garlicky bundle of perfumed lemony goodness (and salsa, much salsa…).

I hope this post has helped to get you thinking about even more ways to “cure” and “pickle” the various produce we interact with on a day to day basis. Still I look forward to making even more things to fill this ever expanding “series” which I seem to be doing, and can’t wait to get onto the next delicious venture. But for now thanks for reading, enjoy your sour little condiment, and good luck preserving in the rest of the cold winter months.

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Those Lost, 2013

                Another year has come and gone, filled with many exciting adventures, relationships, new discoveries, and for this blog of course Food Trucks. But with many new ventures rolling onto the street, we have inevitably lost quite a few along the way. A made a small memento post about a few of these missing businesses shortly after starting this blog, and I think it’s only fair to Update and Continue this list in the years to come.

                So please join me in a moment of silent respect and remembrance as I take a brief look back into those no longer with us, starting with our more recent losses.

 

Barrio Taco Truck

Link to Review

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                Though my disdain for their prices was heavily known, I was very surprised to see this highly popular truck no longer roaming Downtown. Truly they did offer the best quality and technically executed Tacos from any of our trucks, and I’m sad to see them go.

Aussie’s Kebabs

Link to Review

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                 A real shame, as they pedaled out one of the most unique and idealistic Street Food item that I’ve found in my travels. A traditional “kebab,” not the one you’re thinking of, made by slicing of gyro (or gyro-style) meat, wrapping it with veggies and sauce in a pita bread “tortilla,” and then pressing like a Panini. Maybe the size of their cart never truly stood out amongst the rest, but their food and idea reached high to a potential which I sorely miss.

Trinh Food Truck

Link to Review

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               Serving up very simple and traditional Bahn Mi’s, they were the only truck one could find Boba Tea, which was an odd but very effective highlight for me. I’m not that surprised to see them go, but I don’t think it should have been an inevitable end for them. Hopefully they’ve found success in whatever catering/food career they’re at outside of the mobile.

Untamed Cart

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                A True Culinarian’s Delight, the small cart was operated by two professional chefs (I forget which kitchen it was out of) who served a small variety of easy-to-assemble but complex-to-prep sandwiches, along with some good quality chips. I was SO depressed when I found out they were gone, they had some really good food. My very first taste was a homemade Porketta (if you don’t know what that it, look it up and watch your mouth salivate and get excited) sandwich, probably one of my favorite food items I’ve had from a Truck so far (which makes me think, I should do a list of my favorites…). What makes me even sadder is knowing many that now no longer have a chance to try their food.

Taqueria La Hacienda

Link to Review  

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               Serving out of a large, long yellow Truck with an up-front ice tray filled to the brim full of Mexican sodas, Hacienda was the Downtown’s access to delicious traditional tacos, which we are sorely in more need of (we have other trucks that do that, but they seem to stay away from the Downtown Cities). Technically I am still unsure as to whether they are truly off the street, but there has been no word on Twitter for over a year and it seems the website is down. Possibly they are just keeping the Truck down in the Latin district of Minneapolis, near the Mercado Central, but either way I will miss you Hacienda.

Yummi

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                A bahn mi-based cart. Previously discussed in 2013 Article.

Origins Coffee and Tea

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                A drink-only specialization cart for the morning runner. Previously discussed in 2013 Article.

Magic Bus

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                A big Purple Bus shoveling out amazing Hot Dogs, which sadly moved their business to Colorado. Previously discussed in the 2013 Article.

Cook n Wheels

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                A food truck I hadn’t had a chance to visit (and know nothing about), has appeared to be off the streets for quite a long while. Previously discussed in the 2013 Article.

The Brothers Deli

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                A small cart serving awesome Deli Sandwiches and knish based out of their store. Previously discussed in the 2013 Article.

 

Honorable Absentees

                Sort of weird to have an “Honorable Mentions” type section in a post like this, however there are, without a doubt, some trucks that seem to have made a noticeable absence in the past summer/s yet have still left doubt as to whether or not they’re really gone, or are still operating out of a different kitchen (or some other thing). So I wanted to put these guys here, at least for now.

Awesome Eats

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                A big green catering truck that started serving tacos and then switched things up on people, AE moved into the NE Palace kitchens during the last winter and, as far as I can tell, have yet to move out of it. Though I haven’t seen any update post on their facebook since summer, so I’m not sure if they’re even still there.

Cruzn Café

Link to Review  

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              After seeming to come back on the scene with new menu additions a couple summers ago, and still having a fully operating and detailed website, I have yet to see Cruzn on the street since the first “Annual Food Truck Event” in downtown, nor any updates to their Twitter. My guess and hope is that they’re keeping themselves to catering, as it would disappoint me to see them completely done with such a fun Business.

Smack Shack

Link to Review  

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               With their recent new, very Big Restaurant, Smack Shack basically backed away from the streets in the summer of 2013. Whether they’ll be returning or not is anyone’s guess at this point.

The Cave Café

Link to Review  

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                 A big White “Truck” serving African cuisine, I haven’t heard much from cave since a twitter post exactly one year ago. Where they are is currently unclear, hopefully this will be remedied in the coming season.

 

                Already we miss all of you who visited and served our streets, and though your success may have been short lived I speak for us all when I say Thank You in your efforts and for including us in your journey. I wish all the people running these trucks good luck in their future, and perhaps chance that we may meet again in a revised future go-at-it.

                This is Andrew with Reviews on Wheels, wishing all my readers a Happy 2014 and all the Trucks, current, past, and upcoming, a great Year. I’ll be out to get you soon.

                Good Luck and Good Eating.

Cave Cafe

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cavecafeandcatering.com

https://twitter.com/TheCaveCafe

Main Location: St. Paul

            The joy of the wildly successful trend of mobile food trucks, is that it’s like having a totally different restaurant outside your door each day.” The very first thing written on Cave’s Menu page, it just so happens to be the exact thoughts that cross my mind whenever I think of them.

            An “Afro-Italiano” fusion Truck, Cave offers a selection of both plated and handheld dishes, including Wraps and Steak Sandwiches. Their main offerings centre around Rice dishes, such as Curries, including a certain dish known as “Tibsie.” This dish basically consists of vegetables and (sometimes) meat sautéed and mixed together with rice and seasonings; served with homemade Flatbread. Lamb is the most popular item, and will at times be offered in Special daily items along with Goat.

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            They also serve a few breakfast items, though the only one seeming even slightly African is something called “Foule:” fava bean and vegetable puree, topped with garlic and served with French bread. On that same topic of “non-African” items, they also serve a regular Hamburger.

            I don’t really quite understand why they claim to be an “Italian-fusion” either. The only things reminiscent being the fact that one has the option for pesto in wraps and sandwiches. Oh, plus the Chicken Salad has an “Italian dressing.” Salad flavours itself are really more on the Greek side of things.

            Very tempted to say a few sandwiches are less African-inspired as well, but they do use French Bread, a part of their Culture developed from French invasions and travels into the Continent.

Food: 6.5

            I imagine the steak sandwich, wraps, and curry are all very flavorful and tasty within their own right. I, myself, grabbed the Beef Tibsie. Though only had the chance to enjoy half of it cuz it was a “Food Truck Sample Day” and I was getting full.

           The ingredients were all nice separately, and the spiced tomato sauce had a little zing and richness to it. Overall the entire thing tasted like something your parents tried cooking up with leftover vegetables when you were a kid. It all felt random and somewhat muddled together, the only real appeal I found being that “Hmmm, I could probably reheat this easily at home.”

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           My favorite part, actually, was the slices of hot Flatbread they wrapped in foil and served alongside it. So soft, oily and flavorful, I could just eat those with butter and a spread all day; I wish they had given me more.

Holdability: 4.5

           Rice and Breakfast dishes are all served in a giant styrofoam box with plastic utensils and the bread, which is what one is encouraged to use for scooping. Very awkward to eat with on the go, especially since the flatbread is still so hot to handle, one really needs to find a table or bench for full enjoyment.

           They do have sandwiches and wraps, but served in a basket with chips, leading to more dependence on both hands (especially since Steak Sandwiches don’t have the best reputation for holding together easily).

Price: 6.5

           Range of $6-$9, with all Main Rice dishes staying on that higher end, Lamb and Goat specials getting into the double digits.

Speed: 5

          A noticeable wait to have them cook up any meats and vegetables, even when no one else is ordering.

The TOE: 5

          I love and admire the idea of bringing an African Truck to the streets. However, the menu they chose is really not suitable to a Food Truck at all; any items that ARE suitable on it aren’t African OR Italian. When you visit, it doesn’t feel like you’re going to a Truck; more like a Restaurant that you have to stand outside for… I guess that explains their quote.

          There are a lot of little things that I wish they would do to really change themselves into a better Beacon of their Culture. They could make smaller versions of the Tibsie and Curry (they do give you a lot), then shove them inside of a roll with toppings. All these regular sandwiches, wraps, and burgers need to go, replaced with ACTUAL Italian and African-styled fillings. Most of all, they need to make something with that PITA bread they make; it’s SO good, it should have a dish centered around itself. That’s not something I normally say; personally, I rarely even understand Truck dishes like tortillas-n-guac, pita chips-n-hummus. This, however, would work.

           They have a great start with flavors and Tradition, but adjustments need to be made if Street Food is really where they want to go.

                        Tally: 27.5/50

Final Thoughts

            Currently, Cave Café is mostly suited for those looking for a bigger sit-down lunch or something that they can reheat later for dinner. There are possibilities for those looking to walk around and eat, but the ones that seem really worth it and indicative of their “culinary focus” are limited.

            Steak Sandwich and Lamb Gyro Wrap should be one’s main goals for the “Street Food” category. If one still wants to visit and buy a Main dish, I would stick to the Curries; always a good, flavorful option to get for lunch. Also, look on their Specials, little stickers or writings on the side of the Truck of options they might have that day. If you see any Goat or Lamb dishes, inquire; they’re always a good fun option to try if you haven’t had it yet.

            For those still wanting to try Tibsie, Lamb is the only one that still intrigues me. Just know that this, along with any Lamb/Goat specials, are going to be in the low double digits of price. As such, not suited for those conscious of space in their wallet.