Are you a lemon lover? If so, you’ll want to make haste to get on this, right here. My latest culinary obsessions is preserved lemons. Have you heard of them? If not, you are missing out, for sure! The preserving process brings out all the lemony goodness, while softening the tartness and altogether eliminating the bitterness of the peel, so much that the peel is what is most often used in recipes. The result is a delightful condiment that works beautifully both in sweet and savory dishes. I really think they could be used in any dish with lemons. Don’t be a sourpuss!! Come join me in my preserved lemon habit!
Preserved lemons are indigenous to North African cuisines, and especially those of Morocco. Long before the days of refrigeration, folks stored lemons away for later by curing them with salt. Although Moroccan recipes usually call for preserved lemons in soups, salads, and tagines (a kind of stew cooked in a clay pot, which is also called a tagine), I’ve also been experimenting with them in cakes and other sweet applications, with seriously addictive results.
There are quite a few websites that explain how to preserve lemons. Most prefer Meyers Lemons, but you can use regular lemons, too. You also have a choice of making them using sterilized jars as you would for canning, or using the quick, non-canning method, as I did. The sterilized method insures that the lemons don’t get contaminated with any bacteria, but I find that I use the lemons so quickly that I am comfortable using the non-sterilized method. (Here’s one of the websites I consulted: https://toriavey.com/how-to/how-to-make-preserved-lemons/)
Here’s what I did:
First, wash a pint jar and its lid in hot, soapy water. Dry the jar and lid, and set aside.
Wash four or five lemons thoroughly. Trim the knobby ends from 3 lemons, then quarter them. (Most recipes suggest that you cut an X shape into it but not all the way through, so that the last half-inch or so remains intact. The second time I made the lemons, I decided to just quarter them, since I could smoosh them more easily into the jar and extract the juice. More lemons fit in when they’re quartered, as well. But do whichever way makes sense to you.)
Add a half tablespoon of salt to the bottom of the jar (I used Locavore’s beautiful Bolivian Rose), then begin packing the lemons in as tightly as you can. I put 2-3 quarter-slices in, then smashed them down with a pestle to squeeze some of the juice out. I then sprinkled another teaspoon or so of salt over each layer of lemons, and repeated the process until the jar was full.
When the jar is full of lemons, you want to add more lemon juice so that all the lemons are covered. This will prevent bacteria from getting onto the top-most lemons. I added juice from another lemon and a half.
If you like, you may also add some seasonings to the lemons, as is done in Safi, Morocco. Traditionally, peppercorns, cloves, and cinnamon might be added. I broke with tradition a bit and added a few green cardamom pods, plus a more traditional cinnamon stick.
Top the lemons with another half tablespoon of salt, then seal up the jar.
Store in a dark place for about a week, being sure to shake the jar a few times a day to disperse the salt and juices. Then move the jar to the refrigerator, shaking every once in a while, for about 30 days. When the lemon peels are translucent, they are ready to use.
To use the lemons, rinse thoroughly in water to remove the salt. Separate the peel from the lemon pulp. Most recipes call for the peel only, which can be eaten as is (i.e., without cooking). The pulp can be added to your dish, or reserved for another use, such as a salad dressing (make sure you remove the seeds!).
Here are the recipes I’ve made (several times!) with my lemons:
Lemon Pistachio Israeli Couscous: A delicious, summery couscous dish!
Preserved Lemon-Ginger Pound Cake: This cake was FABULOUS, even when I dropped it on the floor as I was transferring it to a serving plate. And yes, I ate it, anyway!