Elizabeth Baer is a teacher who loves to spend time in the kitchen. She also posts recipes and musings about food on her blog, culinursa.com/blog and can be reached at culinursa@gmail.com.

Pasta salad with preserved lemon dressing

Pasta salad with preserved lemon dressing.

There is an ancient Greek saying which advises, “You cannot step in the same river twice.” This idea suggests that even if you were to step in a river, step out, and step right back in again, it would not be the same water touching your foot, nor would you be the exact same person as you were a moment earlier.

The philosopher Heraclitus was known for being somewhat obscure, and his work only survives in fragments, but, from this quote and others, it is quite clear that one of his principles was that everything changes and, in fact, is in a constant state of flux. Sometimes I even think about this with regard to my recipes.

I am pretty sure that I have never made the following dish the same way twice. While essentially a pasta salad, it takes its cues from the flavors of a Moroccan tagine with preserved lemon, dried fruit, nuts, and aromatic spices. As a room temperature or cool dish, it’s great in the summer, and easy for picnics because it can be made ahead of time.

I like to use a small pasta shape in this recipe, such as orzo or ditalini, but it also would work with any number of other shapes. I do know it is possible to make your own preserved lemons — and, frankly, I should do so, though I tend to take the easy way and buy them. If you can’t source preserved lemon, you can use a regular lemon and amp up the flavor by including lemon zest in addition to the juice. Because I love colorful things, pistachios and dried cranberries make for a pretty dish. But sometimes I make do with the golden raisins that are a staple in our house. When in season, I might include cut up figs or cherries, and if I want to make the dish more substantial, I’ll add a can of chickpeas. I’ve even tossed in handfuls of spinach or chard to wilt in the warm pasta.

Try to be adventurous in the kitchen, remembering that you can’t step in the same river twice, and make this recipe your own!


Serves 6-8


1/2 cup unsalted pistachios or other nuts

8 ounces orzo or other small pasta such as ditalini

1 preserved lemon (preferred) or 1 lemon, zest and juice

1/2 cup dried fruit, such as golden raisins or cranberries; or 1/4 cup dried fruit and 1/4 cut up fresh fruit, such as figs or cherries

1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or other spice, such as smoked paprika

1/8 teaspoon ground sumac (optional)

1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

Salt to taste

Other optional additions:

One 14-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

5 ounces baby spinach or other greens such chard, chopped if necessary


In a small dry sauté pan, toast nuts over medium heat, shaking the pan almost constantly. Nuts can burn suddenly, so do not walk away even briefly. It is also possible to toast the nuts on a tray in a toaster oven, but still, you need to watch them closely. Rub to remove any loose skin as needed, and if large, chop roughly.

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions.

While the pasta is cooking, take a preserved lemon and cut it in half. Scrap the pulp into a small strainer over a large bowl, reserving the skin, and press to extract all the juice possible. Discard the pulp. Cut the preserved lemon rind into matchsticks and add to the bowl. If using a fresh lemon, with a fine grater, zest the skin into the bowl, taking care not to include the white pith, then squeeze the lemon juice through a strainer to catch and seeds. Add the fruit (dried and/or fresh, cut into small pieces if necessary), parsley, spices, and pepper to the bowl. You can also add any optional ingredients at this time.

Drain the pasta and, while warm, add to the bowl along with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Mix well to cool the pasta and combine the ingredients. Try not to add additional oil at this point, but if it seems very dry add another tablespoon. Allow to cool at least to room temperature and taste for salt. Some preserved lemons are saltier than others so it is not possible to be certain how much will be needed. If not serving right away, cover and refrigerate.

Before serving, add the nuts, taste again for salt, add more olive oil if needed, and mix to combine.

Elizabeth Baer is a teacher who loves to spend time in the kitchen. She also posts recipes and musings about food on her blog, culinursa.com/blog and can be reached at culinursa@gmail.com.