How To Make Preserved Lemons (A Moroccan/Middle Eastern Specialty)

preserved lemons recipe how to make Moroccan Middle Eastern cooking

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.

Preserved Lemons

And here are a couple of Daring Gourmet dishes that use preserved lemons (many more to come):

“Click” Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Olives:

Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Olives

“Click” Moroccan Chicken, Apricot and Almond Tagine:

Moroccan tagine recipe chicken butternut squash pumpkin chicken almonds raisins apricot authentic harissa

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.

Preserved Lemons prep 2

Trim the nubs off both ends of each lemon.

Preserved Lemons prep 3

Slice the lemons into quarters, leaving the ends attached.  So slice down just a little over 3/4 of the way.

Preserved Lemons prep 4

Put a teaspoon of salt in the bottom of a pint-sized jar.  Put another teaspoon of salt into the quartered lemon.

Preserved Lemons prep 5

Stuff the lemon into the jar, open end down, and push hard to squish it and release its juices.

Preserved Lemons prep 6

Put a teaspoon of salt over the top of the lemon.

Preserved Lemons prep 7

Repeat the process, putting a teaspoon of salt inside the second lemon, and then squish it down hard on top of the first lemon.

Preserved Lemons prep 9

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.

Preserved Lemon prep 10

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”*

Preserved Lemons 1 cropped lighter

How To Make Preserved Lemons (A Moroccan/Middle Eastern Specialty)
 
Prep time
Total time
 
:
Ingredients
  • 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)
Instructions
  1. You can make however many preserved lemons you like, but roughly 3 will fit per pint-sized jar.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Put one teaspoon of salt into the cavity of each lemon.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
Notes
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.

 

26 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    wrote on

    How do I store these, fridge or cupboard? and how long are they good for?

    • The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Store in the fridge and they keep for at least 6 months – for future reference, that info is in the recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  2. Irene

    wrote on

    In Hawaii, we do all the steps you instructed, then we put the jar on the roof and let the sun bake it. After several weeks, the skin turns brownish and is infused with salty goodness. The whole lemon can then be eaten and no refrigeration is required.

    • The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      That sounds marvelous, Irene, thanks for sharing!

  3. Mara

    wrote on

    Thanks so much for sharing this technique. :) My mind is racing with the possibilities.

    • The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      You’re welcome, Mara – you’ll love them!

  4. wrote on

    Hi Kimberly,
    I miss one of my favourite receipes of all time on your site. Sure it will come once: Osso Buco.
    Why am I writing this here as comment for preserved lemons? Well, one of the ingredients for osso buco is grated lemon skin. In the past I did it the classical way. But replacing it with fine chopped preserved lemons it will get an additional boost. If you decide to publish an osso buco receipe, do it with this, please. Great thing. The first jar is nearly empty and the second is waiting to get ready.

    • The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Hallo, Rolf! Yes, I will definitely be posting a recipe for Osso Buco in the future. Your idea of adding preserved lemon is brilliant, thank you! I’m also thrilled to hear you made these preserved lemons. They’re so easy to make and are simply wonderful. Thanks again for the tip!

  5. jesusan

    wrote on

    Kimberly, Thank you for referring to this recipe in your spiced chicken kabobs post. I was out of the country when you posted it, so would not otherwise have found this. I’ve really enjoyed Moroccan food, and got a cookbook back when we were in Casablanca. This will make it much easier to make some of those recipes. I love, love, love you for making Moroccan recipes more accessible this way. :-)!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Now, if only I could find Meyer lemons (probably highly unlikely in El Paso)…

    • The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      I’m thrilled that you appreciate Moroccan food so much, Susan! I’m completely in love with this preserved lemons. I even incorporated them into a Preserved Lemon Ginger Pound Cake – they make everything taste so wonderful. And they’re so versatile. You may not have seen another recipe I posted around the same time as these lemons: Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Olives (Djej Makalli). It is the quintessential Moroccan dish. If you like Moroccan food, this dish is a MUST. You’ll love it! Which cookbook did you pick up – have you tried many of the recipes and what do you think? I’ve had a hard time finding a really good Moroccan cookbook.

  6. Lori McClain

    wrote on

    Can Kosher or Himalayan salt be used instead of table salt?

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Absolutely, Lori! I’d use Kosher (cheaper).

  7. Anonymous

    wrote on

    My lemons are so juicy I don’t need to add the water. also I could get 6 to 8 lemons in a jar.. you want the jar stuffed right? this is my first time to do this so I hope I am doing this right :O)

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Stuff away! :) No right or wrong here, just make sure the lemons are covered in the juice. Enjoy the fruit of your labors in a few weeks!

  8. Heather

    wrote on

    Can you tell me if a specific kind of salt works best? Iodized? Sea salt? Thanks — looking forward to giving these as gifts for Christmas. :)

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Hi Heather, it won’t make a big difference either way, but if you have it, go with sea salt. The recipients of your guests will be very lucky to get these!

  9. Anonymous

    wrote on

    Can I use olive oil instead of lemon juice……?

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      No kind of oil is used in making preserved lemons – just lemon juice and, if necessary, a little sterile water to top it off.

  10. Yvonne

    wrote on

    Do the jars have to be sterilized before filling with lemons, etc.?

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Hi Yvonne, I don’t bother because the salt content is so high, but if it makes you the least bit worried not to, then you can boil the jars for 5 minutes to sterilize them.

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