I’ve been on an ingredient creation kick lately. A lot of it has been following other people’s recipes with pretty minor variations so I haven’t much felt like it was worth posting here (I’ll put a few links in the comments to some of the better stuff), but I pieced together a pretty good spice mix that warranted writing down. It’s a lemon/garlic/pepper mix with a few other things put in to support the main flavors, plus a thing or two I’ve picked up over the years to help with some issues that may or may not be commonly known.
If you don’t have a microplane, they’re insanely useful so go get one because that’s pretty much the only way to get the garlic down to the size you’ll want it at for this. If you have to go get one or just haven’t used one before, be aware that they’re surprisingly sharp so be careful you don’t start grating bits of finger skin into the spice mix. They’re sharp enough that it’ll just feel like you’re brushing against it but if you look, you might have started grating your fingertips. It’s not gonna be a big wound, or even that painful at any point, but unless you like eating finger skin, be careful with this tool.
For the lemon zest, you want to make sure you don’t go all the way down to the white part of the rind, because the white part is more bitter than pleasantly sour. Going down to the white in a few spots is fine, just make sure you don’t do it too much. The best way to do it is to grate a section while keeping the lemon moving around, then checking to see if you missed any spots. Don’t grate for any more than 5-6 back-and-forth motions on any one spot or you’ll go too far down. The inside of the lemons are still totally good to use even after zesting and it’s a lot easier to zest them whole, so zest whole lemons and then use the juice/pulp for something else later.
To make the whole thing go by faster, I dry the garlic and lemon zest at the same time and just try to keep them as separate as possible because the lemon zest is usually ready before the garlic. If you do accidentally combine any of it, a funny thing might happen (it might not if they mix later in the drying process) that your first instinct would be to freak out about, but don’t. Garlic and lemon juice react when heated and turn the garlic a weird shade of green. It’s nothing to worry about and it won’t affect the taste or quality, but it does look kinda cool.
The other specialty tool you’ll need for this is a spice grinder. I don’t mean a coffee grinder that you washed out real well, I mean another coffee grinder that you use exclusively for spices. It’s not the worst thing in the world if you have a little bit of coffee remnants in a spice mix, it might even add to it; but some spices really like to stick to the inside of the grinder and you don’t want that contaminating the taste of your coffee. Grinders aren’t that expensive and they don’t take up a huge amount of space so if you plan on either buying whole spices to grind (they’re usually fresher and, obviously, taste better) or drying stuff to turn into spices, a dedicated grinder is the way to go.
EDIT: I just thought of this and haven’t had a chance to try it yet, maybe wax paper is a better way to dry the lemon and garlic than aluminum foil. I had a bit of an issue with sticking, although since I was moving everything around every 20 minutes or so it was pretty minimal. Maybe with wax paper none of it would stick, although I wonder how that might affect the things being dried, if at all. Any suggestions from people with experience here could help.
2 tablespoons lemon zest (how many lemons this takes will depend on how big your lemons are)
1 tablespoon garlic, microplaned
1/2 tablespoon peppercorns
1/2 tablespoon salt (I used coarse sea salt, use whatever you have on hand)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon of dry rice (to prevent caking, so when everything is mixed, try to use a dispenser that won’t easily let the rice grains through with the spices)
Pre-heat your toaster oven to right around 200 degrees Fahrenheit, or the low bake setting if your toaster won’t do specific temperatures. Microplane about 5 normal sized (or 3 large, however many it takes to have about a tablespoon full after it’s all grated) cloves of garlic and zest 3 large (maybe 4-5 small/medium) lemons. Spread it all out on a foil-lined toaster oven baking sheet as thinly and evenly as possible, making sure to keep the lemon zest and garlic separate. Set the timer for 20 minutes, and when the 20 minutes is over, gather them together (while still keeping them each separate) and re-spread them. If you know your oven has particular spots that are hotter or colder, rotate the pan accordingly. The other thing to keep in mind is that, since a toaster oven is so much smaller than a regular oven, it loses heat much faster. Luckily, since you’re not really trying to cook the stuff, it won’t take long to re-heat once the door is closed again. Just to make sure, though, whenever I take the pan out and put it back in, when I start the timer going again I bump up the heat until I can hear it turn back on and then when it turns back off about 5-10 seconds later I set it back to 200 to keep it from getting too hot. Repeat until they’re both dried enough that you can handle them with your fingers and not have anything stick or still feel moist. At the end, the garlic will still be a tiny bit tacky straight out of the oven but you’ll still be able to squeeze it between your fingers with a little pressure and still have it come right off. The lemon zest will get to a point where you can crumble it with your fingers and still not have any stick to you. I was done with step around the 90 minute mark, but exact time will vary depending on your oven, how humid it is where you are, and probably a bunch of other factors I haven’t thought of. When one of them is done drying, take it out so you can use the extra room to spread the other out a bit more. Towards the end, reduce the cook time to ten minutes between checks. Don’t worry about it burning as the Maillard reaction doesn’t happen until 350 degrees, but you don’t want this taking any longer than it has to, either.
When the garlic and lemon zest are both dried, pour them into the spice grinder along with the peppercorns, sugar and salt, and pulse until it’s all finely ground and homogeneously mixed together. Using a funnel, pour the mix into the dispenser vessel of your choice. Then add the rice, and shake the whole thing to evenly distribute the rice grains.