Edible DIY: Lemon Salt with Fennel and Chili

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[Photograph: Lucy Baker]

Growing up, I thought there was only one kind of salt. It came in a navy blue canister with a picture of a girl carrying an umbrella and the slogan, "When it rains, it pours." The salt was very fine, like sugar or sand, and tasted sharp, metallic, and a bit tangy. I sprinkled it on soft-boiled eggs at breakfast, French fries at McDonald's, and—when my mother wasn't home to see—the mayonnaise-and-white-bread sandwiches my father and I loved to eat together.

It wasn't until my early twenties that I discovered a whole world of salts beyond Morton's. Coarse kosher salt was a revelation.

I began keeping it in a ramekin perched next to the stove, and never went back to table salt again. From there, I discovered sea salts like Maldon and fleur de sel, which elevated many of my favorite brownie and cookie recipes to new heights. Finally, I was exposed to gourmet salts when I ate at Eden, a five-star restaurant in Banff, Alberta, Canada. There was no salt on the table, and when I asked for it, the waiter returned with a wooden box filled with varieties like Himalayan pink rock salt, smoked salt, and black salt.

20110126-134114-lemon-salt-with-fennel-and-chili-2.jpgRecently, I tried making flavored salt. I wanted a salt mix that would be inexpensive to make, look pretty in a jar, and serve as a great all-purpose seasoning. After some searching, I found a recipe for lemon fennel chili salt. I adapted it slightly, crushing the fennel seeds to bring out their flavor, increasing the lemon zest, and using a combination of fancy fleur de sel and everyday coarse kosher salt to keep the overall cost in check.

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The flavor of this salt is a heady combination of bright citrus, mellow licorice, and serious heat. It would be perfect with chicken, pork, or beef. It would also be a great seasoning for roasted Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, or butternut squash. Or, use it to flavor your next batch of focaccia.

This recipe yields enough for two (four-ounce) jars. It doubles easily, so make as much as you need. It would make a great hostess gift or dinner party favor.

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