One of the first meals I made from an exciting new cookbook was a simple stir-fry, but I would never have done it without the nudge that the book gave me. Another dish I made, Chinese brined eggs, was surprisingly easy; they simply sat in a salty bath with a few other ingredients for a couple of weeks, but in that time they transformed into something complex and introduced me to something new.
The stir-fry and brined eggs are from The Miracle of Salt: Recipes and Techniques to Preserve, Ferment, and Transform Your Food, a magnificent single-ingredient trip around the world. Readers may wonder where it will go—perhaps taking deep dives in pink Himalayan, or visiting with the sauniers of France as they skim for fleur de sel. While salt types and experts like that are present, this book focuses on how to use salt and techniques to create more delicious food. In other words, it’s a cookbook, and we’re in the capable hands of veteran cookbook author and travel writer Naomi Duguid, whose Burma: Rivers of Flavor cookbook is among my favorites. She uses Salt’s recipes to deepen our knowledge of an ingredient used by almost everyone. This is a feat, as globetrotting cookbooks can feel like they poach little bits of information from here and there, creating a whole that’s less than the sum of its parts. (Full disclosure: I’ve met Duguid, talked shop, and shucked oysters with her several years ago at a food-writer industry event.)
Right when I received the book, I got a few things rolling, as they required time to mature. Along with those eggs, I made preserved lemons, mostly just to try a North African twist that Duguid likes where, instead of quartering the citrus lengthwise and leaving the base intact, she slices them, salts each side, and stacks the slices in a jar just wide enough to fit the lemony pinwheels. This is great if you just want to use a bit (or a lot) of preserved lemon in a dish, as opposed to the commitment of the more-common quartering technique.
I also used gobs of fenugreek, mustard, fennel, and nigella seeds to make a vat of green mango pickle, which sat next the lemons and Acadian salted scallions (literally just salt, scallions, and time) for a month, each one getting tastier every day.
With those underway, I made a salad of quick cucumber pickles, the cukes sliced and salted then spending the night in the fridge before being coated with a dressing of mirin, soy, and sesame oil. Nothing groundbreaking, but make enough of it and, as Duguid notes, it keeps in the fridge for a week. I made miso vinaigrette to put on a weeknight salad, put together her Thai-style grilled beef because I love any excuse to use fish sauce as a marinade, and rounded out the week with her spaghetti alla puttanesca because I love dinner.
I quick-salted egg yolks, parking four of the orbs in divots in a square Tupperware full of salt, then added more crystals to cover them completely. After a week, they emerged like apricot-colored gummy discs, before air-drying in cheesecloth the fridge for another week, which readied them to be grated like Parmesan onto cooked veggies or add lingering depth to pasta.