AS AN AVID home cook, I’m always on the lookout for new items that can liven up a meal. You could say I’m an enthusiastic collector of pantry products beyond the traditional staples. I seek out small-batch condiments and add-ons — spices, pastes, chutneys, sauces, preserves, and spreads — because they can take weeknight dinners to new levels in surprising ways. And if you prepare food for other people nightly, you know as well as I do that a few secret weapons are needed if you want to make the regulars around your table, who are expecting your usual flavor arsenal, sit up and take note. My kitchen is host to a revolving cast of these products, but one is especially dear to my fridge and my heart: New York Shuk’s Preserved Lemon Paste.
New York Shuk was started by husband and wife Ron and Leetal Arazi, who wanted to keep their culinary traditions alive by bringing Middle Eastern flavors into the American kitchen. Ron, a chef, grew up in Israel in a Jewish Moroccan-Lebanese family. Leetal, a descendent of Middle Eastern cooks, is a food entrepreneur. After moving to New York almost a decade ago, she began dreaming of introducing more Brooklynites, and the wider world, to the flavors she loves. The company she and Ron created has done just that. In addition to selling their products, they also teach cooking classes and host pop-up dinners.
In Hebrew, shuk means “market,” and New York Shuk’s line of spices is a good approximation of what one might find browsing a Middle Eastern spice stall. Their jarred condiments include a top-notch harissa paste, as well as matbucha, a Maghrebi tomato and pepper dish that’s served as an appetizer or mezze dish. A second matbucha made with mint and olives is also available, and it makes a fantastic base for shakshuka. But New York Shuk might be best known for their Preserved Lemon Paste, which is wildly delicious, especially considering it has only three ingredients: lemons, lemon juice, and sea salt.
The Preserved Lemon Paste is like sunshine in a jar — if the sun was feeling a little crazy that day, perhaps dangling askew and singing a song. Because somehow, the taste of preserved lemons is so much more than just lemony. It’s tangy and bright, yes, but also deeper. It’s zesty and bracing, but briny, almost like it could have come from the ocean. I absolutely loathe the word “funk” but must admit it is the right descriptor here. There is a funk to the flavor of this paste that is incredibly interesting to the palate. It's salty and strong, satisfying as a pickle. Lemons are typically preserved whole, so the peel, too, is a part of this smooth, blended, almost gelatinous creation (its texture is not unlike lemon curd), and it lends a pleasingly delicate bitter note to the finish.
One reason I love this ingredient is its versatility. In the last week alone, I’ve mixed it through Greek yogurt with some garlic for a five-minute dip; added it to leek, turnip, and rice soup, where it contributed a subtle zing (good thing, too, because my kids weren’t thrilled with the soup before that addition); and slathered it on crusty sourdough toast, adding a little mustard, arugula, and a slice of turkey for a satisfying drive-by lunch while working from home.
But I can imagine many more uses for it too: I plan to spoon it through a bowl of lentils for a little spark of acid, mix it in with herby pasta dishes, and drop a dollop on feta cheese and crackers to turn that beloved snack into a true salt bomb. In a cocktail, it might act like a shrub. I have the desire to try it with lox and cream cheese on a bagel. And I’ll bet it’s divine on a piece of roasted fish. The list I’ve generated in my head is nearly endless, and New York Shuk has many of their own suggestions. But one of the best things about this Preserved Lemon Paste is that it feels like a treat to this lover of all things fermented, briny, salty, or pickled. Its flavor is so dense that all on its own it’s an indulgence. In place of ice cream, I have found myself stopping in the kitchen for a small savory spoonful late at night.
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Nina Renata Aron Writer
Nina Renata Aron is a senior editor of Departures based in Oakland, California. She is the author of "Good Morning, Destroyer of Men's Souls." Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, the New Republic, Elle, Eater, and Jezebel.
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