Unlock one of the secrets of Moroccan and Middle Eastern cuisine and discover how preserved lemons transform a dish into something indescribably exquisite!
If you’re a fan of Moroccan and Middle Eastern cooking you’ve probably had the experience of thumbing through recipes, drooling all the while, earmarking the ones you particularly like, only to then scan through the ingredients and see the words: “Preserved Lemons”. Your heart sinks for a moment as you realize you’re sorely lacking this crucial ingredient (and simultaneously wondering, what the heck is a “preserved lemon” anyway??) And so with disappointment you un-earmark that page and move on to the next recipe.
DON’T let that scenario stop you again!
Preserved lemons are so easy and quick to make, last practically forever, and will enhance your dishes like nothing you’ve ever tasted. If you’re willing to take a few minutes of your time to make these preserved lemons, you’ll be able to reap your lemony harvest throughout the rest of the year.
Okay, so first things first. What are preserved lemons? They’re lemons that have been pickled in salt and their own juices and left to sit for a month before using.
Now that we’ve defined it, the second question is: Why should I give a hoot about preserved lemons? What’s the big deal anyway? I can make Moroccan and Middle Eastern food without them, thank you very much!
Yeah, that’s like saying I can enjoy Oreo cookies without the filling. THINK ABOUT IT.
Preserved lemons will transform your dish from something good into something amazing. Think about how much you love things flavored with lemon. Preserved lemons are lemons on steroids. They add an intense, concentrated lemon flavor to the dish without all the sour tartness. The preserving process tempers the tartness while accentuating the lemon flavor. Mildly tart but intensely lemony. See, I told you. Don’t think twice next time about leaving out this touch of heaven.
Preserved lemons are used throughout Morocco, the Middle East and in certain areas of India to add flavor to a variety of dishes – everything from meats to salads, stews and sauces. And really, your imagination is the limit to how they can be used and enjoyed. Here are a few more ideas:
Salad Dressings. Blend some preserved lemon into it and that dressing will love you forever. Fish. Seafood and lemons are soul mates. Now think about relationship seafood and preserved lemons can form. Till never do us part. Whip up a lovely marinade for your fish with some finely diced or blended preserved lemon or add it to your sauce to drizzle over your fish. Healthy Grain Dishes and Salads. Think nutty roasted barley or quinoa tossed with vegetables and tiny bits of preserved lemon with a tasty vinaigrette. Or how about a preserved lemon risotto or pilaf? Now you’re talking. Pasta. Buttery pasta tossed with a creamy preserved lemon sauce? Commmme to mama! Dips. Try adding some preserved lemon to your hummus next time. Or to your baba ganoush. Salsas. Next time you make your famous mango/pineapple/however-you-make-it salsa, add some diced preserved lemon to it. Life never was so good.
And here are a couple of Daring Gourmet dishes that use preserved lemons (many more to come):
So what are you waiting for? Let’s get started!
Say it with me: Hamad m’rakhad. Okay, let’s just use the English translation: Preserved lemons.
Meyer lemons are the lemon of choice in Morocco and are especially ideal for preserving because they’re sweeter/less tart than regular lemons to begin with and have such a wonderful flavor and aroma. If you can’t find Meyer lemons you can use regular lemons such as Eureka or Lisbon.
It’s generally recommended that you keep them refrigerated. Of course, traditionally there would have been no refrigeration, but you know how it is nowadays. We’ve become germ-conscious to the extreme. But sometimes it really is better to just play it safe. In the fridge the preserved lemons will keep up to 6 months – at least. Meaning they’ll last much longer, but again, that’s the general recommendation for us Western Worlders.
To get started, select some ripe Meyer lemons, if you can find them. Again, Meyer lemons are the kind most commonly used in Morocco and have the best flavor. If you can’t find any, use Eureka or Lisbon lemons. Organic is ideal if you can find them since it’s the lemon rinds you’ll be eating. If you can’t find organic, let the lemons soak in a vinegar-water solution for a few minutes to clean the outer peels, then rinse.
Trim the nubs off both ends of each lemon.
Slice the lemons into quarters, leaving the ends attached. So slice down just a little over 3/4 of the way.
Put a teaspoon of salt in the bottom of a pint-sized jar. Put another teaspoon of salt into the quartered lemon.
Stuff the lemon into the jar, open end down, and push hard to squish it and release its juices.
Put a teaspoon of salt over the top of the lemon.
Repeat the process, putting a teaspoon of salt inside the second lemon, and then squish it down hard on top of the first lemon.
You got it – add another teaspoon of salt on top of the second lemon, and repeat the process for the third and final lemon. Add a teaspoon of salt on the very top. The jar should be halfway full of lemon juice from having compressed the lemons. If needed, squeeze some extra lemon juice into the jar to bring it to the halfway point. And don’t waste that lemon – cut it up and stuff it into the jar. Now pour some water that’s been boiled and cooled (sterile) into the jar to fill it up the rest of the way. Repeat this process for however many jars you wish to make.
After you add the water, screw on the lid and let the jar sit at room temperature for 3 days, giving it a shake and turn it upside-down/right-side up a few times a day. After 3 days place the jar in the refrigerator and let it sit for at least 3 weeks before using. Keep the jar in the refrigerator. Whatever dish you use them in, discard the pulp (it’s the peel that is used) and thoroughly wash the peel to remove excess salt.
That’s it! Your preserved lemons are ready!
*taste bud choir breaks out into a stirring rendition of the “Hallelujah Chorus”*
- 3 Meyer lemons (or Eureka, Lisbon, etc, organic recommended) per pint-sized jar
- 5-6 teaspoons salt
- An extra lemon for juicing
- Water that has been boiled and cooled (sterile)
- You can make however many preserved lemons you like, but roughly 3 will fit per pint-sized jar.
- Thoroughly clean the lemons. Organic is recommended. If you can't find organic, let the lemons sit in some vinegar water for a few minutes, then rinse.
- Trim the nubs off both ends of each lemon. Quarter each lemon, slicing them down just over ¾ of the way to leave the slices attached at the end.
- Put one teaspoon of salt into the cavity of each lemon.
- Place one teaspoon salt into the bottom of the jar. Put a lemon in the jar, cut-side down, pressing firmly to squish out the lemon juice. Put a teaspoon of salt on top of the lemon. Firmly press the second lemon down on top of the first lemon. Repeat with the third lemon, pressing down firmly. Add a teaspoon of salt on top of the lemon.
- The jar should be halfway full with lemon juice. If needed, squeeze some additional lemon juice into the jar to bring it to the halfway point. Don't waste that lemon; slice it and stuff the slices into the jar. Pour the boiled/cooled water into the jar to fill it to the top.
- Screw the lid on and let it sit at room temperature for 3 days, shaking it and rotating the jar upside-down/right-side up a few times per day. After 3 days transfer the jars to the refrigerator and let them sit for at least 3 weeks before using. Store in the fridge, will keep for at least 6 months (see Note).
* Whatever dish you use them in, discard the pulp (it's the peel that is used) and thoroughly wash the peel to remove excess salt.