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.

how to make homemade preserved lemons Moroccan Middle Eastern cooking

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.

how to make homemade preserved lemons Moroccan Middle Eastern cooking

Trim the nubs off both ends of each lemon.

how to make homemade preserved lemons Moroccan Middle Eastern cooking

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

how to make homemade preserved lemons Moroccan Middle Eastern cooking

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

how to make homemade preserved lemons Moroccan Middle Eastern cooking

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

how to make homemade preserved lemons Moroccan Middle Eastern cooking

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

how to make homemade preserved lemons Moroccan Middle Eastern cooking

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

how to make homemade preserved lemons Moroccan Middle Eastern cooking

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.

how to make homemade preserved lemons Moroccan Middle Eastern cooking

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”*

how to make homemade preserved lemons Moroccan Middle Eastern cooking

For other great homemade condiments, be sure to check out my Homemade Tahini Paste and Teriyaki Sauce (you’ll never use store-bought of either again!)

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 (see Note).
Notes
* In most countries preserved lemons are not stored in the refrigerator, they're simply kept in a cool, dark place. I've added the recommendation to store in the fridge based on USDA guidelines. Store them according to your own preference.
* 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.

Pin it for later!

how to make homemade preserved lemons Moroccan Middle Eastern cooking

62 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!

    • Anonymous

      wrote on

      Irene! Thanks for idea. What do u do with the lemons, the same as everyone else?

      • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

        wrote on

        Hello! The sky’s the limit, there are so many uses for them! Read through my post, I list several ideas and those are just a starting point.

  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.

  11. Gertrude

    wrote on

    The whole point of fermentation is to preserve food without using a fridge. It makes them last for YEARS outside the fridge. I was first attracted to preserved lemons because a friends of mine had used them in a cold pasta dish. Oh my! And so of course I had to figure out how to make them. A bonus for me is I don’t have to worry about not using all my lemons before they go mouldy or dry up and harden (I don’t have a fridge), but then I’m wondering if I can use those in a candied sort of way? I’ll have to look into it. Anyway, the flavour is the biggest bonus, so if you have a fridge or not, these are definitely worth making!

    You use an interesting process. The recipe I used was very basic. Salt on bottom, salt the insides and squish into the jar. No extra salt or spices, no extra water (first time seeing that, maybe that’s for the less juicy?) or juice, just shake or turn upside down once a day until preserved (~3weeks or longer). Maybe I’ll make another batch with spices for variety?

    For the person wondering about oil, the juice is just going to be there, but in some Moroccan recipes, the first few weeks of preserve is only the first step, then they add some oil and other spices and ferment some more before they’re considered ready.

    And since you are the daring gourmet, I dare you to not use a fridge for these. ;-)

    Have a great day!

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Hi Gertrude! I agree, these preserved lemons are wonderful. I’m not sure why you think I’m using extra spices in my method – it’s strictly lemons, juice, salt and a little distilled water if necessary. The purpose of adding some extra liquid is to ensure the lemons are always submersed for storage purposes. You can use extra lemon juice instead but it isn’t necessary because the preserved lemons will have more than enough lemon flavor as it is. The method I use doesn’t sound really any different than yours. It’s the method I’ve gathered from my travels and research and is an age old one, but I would imagine that, as with anything else, variations exist. But I’ve never seen or heard of adding oil – not in traditional Moroccan method anyway. Lemons are a berry/fruit and I wouldn’t preserve any other kind of fruit in oil either. As for storage method, I don’t personally store them in the fridge :) But then, I’m from Europe. Here in the U.S. that is the recommended method for safety purposes per the USDA, though I agree many of their recommendations are over the top.

  12. Jon Peterson

    wrote on

    How would you use preserved lemons in a cocktail?

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Hi Jon, I’m afraid that’s an area I know very little about.

  13. wrote on

    I just picked a whole bunch of Meyer lemons from our young tree. I’ve always wanted to make preserved lemons, and I always thought it sounded so easy to do. What kept me from making them is “how do I use them”? Thank you for all the great ideas! Yours is the first post that gave me some great ideas. I also like your method of partially quartering the lemons and then squishing them down. It makes total sense. This year, I want to make more Moroccan and Indian dishes, so this is a good place to start. Thank you SO much. I absolutely love your blog, because my Mutti was from Bavaria. I make a lot of her recipes, but you have some other German/Austrian recipes that I’ve bookmarked to make– in her memory.

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Thanks so much, Foodiewife, I’m absolutely thrilled that you’ve found my blog and appreciate the visit! I LOVE preserved lemons, they bring so much life and flavor to food – you’re going to love them! And so not fair that you have your own Meyer lemon tree!! ;) Don’t they smell the absolute best? I’m also happy to learn about your German connection. Bavarian is one of my most favorite areas in all the world. Nice to “meet” you! :) -Kimberly

  14. wrote on

    So appreciate you sharing this simple recipe. I have 2 Meyer lemon trees laden with ripe lemons and I’m constantly looking for ways to use them up and to save them for the months when there are no lemons on the tree. This is a great way to preserve some for the lean months. Thanks again!

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      It sure is, Joan, and that’s awesome that you have your own trees! You’ll really enjoy these preserved lemons. I’m constantly discovering news ways to use them that really adds magic to the dishes. Happy preserving!

  15. Anonymous

    wrote on

    Awesome recipe. Made these a few days ago and about to put them in the fridge for the three week resting period. Thanks for the easy to use recipe!

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      You’re welcome and thanks for the feedback!

  16. Michelle

    wrote on

    I’ve just completed the three days/three week process but now I don’t know how to actually use the Lemon Preserve properly. For example, I have a fantastic recipe for shrimp and grits that uses lemon preserves. Do I use the juice in the jar, chop the actual lemons…? Sorry for the extremely *silly* question!

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Not silly at all, Michelle! You only use the rind – so remove the interior part entirely – and be sure to thoroughly wash it to remove as much salt as possible. Depending on the recipe I’ll often add a teaspoon or so of the juice in the jar as well. Happy cooking!

      • wrote on

        So glad that I read through your reader’s posts on refrigeration. My first batch of preserved lemons have been sitting on the counter for a month, and THEN I saw the suggestion to refrigerate after 3 days! I thought “Oh no, I’ll have to throw these out even though they look and taste fine!”. Thanks so much for sharing that they can be stored without refrigeration!

        • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

          wrote on

          Hi Lemonlover, the recipe recommends to keep them stored in the fridge per USDA guidelines, but most countries simply keep them stored in a cool, dark place and that’s what they’ve been doing for centuries. Enjoy your lemons!

  17. Bubbles

    wrote on

    Great and easy procedure. I just made it! BTW, what can you do with the juice? Seems a waste to throw that lovely juice away.

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Thanks, Bubbles. I’ll often add a bit of the juice to whatever recipe I’m using the lemons in for an added boost of flavor, like a teaspoon or two. So no, don’t go throwing it away! :)

  18. Paul G

    wrote on

    Thanks for the post. I’m making these again, but like others, I had no idea what to do with them when done. I had seen recipes that called for them but couldn’t remember where I saw it. Just the fact that you explained that the skin was all you used plus some of the juice makes it a no brainer now
    .

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Wonderful, Paul! I love these lemons and yes, they really are incredibly versatile. I included several suggestions in my post for how to use them, but there are so many additional ways. Happy preserving!

  19. john

    wrote on

    Thanks for this post. I like the photos that went along with it so I knew I was doing it right, and mine look just the same. It did take longer than your stated 10 minutes, but I did 12 jars which was about 40 lemons. I have in the past just gave away all my lemons from my trees since I didn’t have anything to do with them; I hope that will change after I sample my work with one of your recipes.

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Hi John, I’m happy you’ve found a new use for your lemons! These will make such wonderful gifts for your friends – it isn’t every day that people receive a classy gift like preserved lemons! – and you’ll still have plenty left over for yourself. Please let us know what you think once you’ve had the chance to try them out in one of my recipes. There are several great ones here, but I highly recommend the Djej Makalli (you can omit the olives if you’re not a fan) and the Moroccan Tagine. Happy preserving!

  20. Paul Rust

    wrote on

    Making a dish tonight but can’t find preserved lemons in supermarkets or Indian store nearby. Any suggestions for you to substitute and still capture some of the flavor? Thank you. Paul

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Hi Paul, that’s just the problem, there really is no substitute. The process of preserving the lemons really alters the flavor and using regular lemon in it’s place just isn’t remotely the same. I’ve seen people just some fresh lemon juice in a pinch, but again, it won’t taste anything like it’s supposed to. Buy a few lemons and get started on these preserved lemons today and you’ll have them on hand for many months whenever you need them!

  21. Diane P.

    wrote on

    Hi Kimberly,
    I just finished my very first batch of preserved lemons and can hardly wait for the next 3 days and 3 weeks to pass. I plan to ship my son a jar since he supplied the limons (not lemons) from his own tree. Must they be refrigerated during the shipping process. I live in Jersey and he in California?

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Hi Diane! No, they actually don’t have to be refrigerated at all. It’s just recommended as a precaution. Your son can always refrigerate them upon arrival. Enjoy!

  22. cedwardrobinson

    wrote on

    The lemons used in Morocco are similar to Meyer lemons, but they are not the same species.

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Yes, they use doqq and boussera lemons and Meyer lemons are the most similar.

  23. Sara

    wrote on

    I just picked a bag of Meyers off my backyard tree and put up a half gallon. I plan on sharing with my mother and sister!

    I had an amazing preserved lemon and strawberry pizza, years ago, and have always meant to try making it. Picture the berries functioning as super mild sweet cherry tomato, and the lemon as the sauce. Savory, not dessertish at all!

    Puree the lemons and juice all together for a savory marmalade on goat cheese for an appetizer.

    Preserved lemon stuffed in the interior of a roasted chicken infuses great flavour.

    Thanks for a great reminder of how easy this really is ; -)

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Oooh, those all sounds fantastic, Sara, I’ll have to give them all a try! Your mother and sister will be thrilled to get those!

  24. Brenda

    wrote on

    I have just finished my last jar of preserved lemons, I have salt and juice syrup left, I have been using a small amount of this to flavour and season, chicken and fish it really adds to the flavour. Waste not want not.

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Agreed, Brenda! I always use the juice for cooking, too – it’s fabulous!

  25. wrote on

    hello there!
    i absolutely love your blog! the pictures are amazing and so easy to follow,thank you so much for sharing!
    just picked a dozen of lemons from my mother in laws garden in portugal and cant wait to preserve them using your pictures!
    thanks again!
    btw @getrude: you sound very unfriendly and very annoying! quiet a know-all

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Thanks so much for the compliment, Clarice! Preserved lemons from Portugal, that has such a wonderful charm about it :) Happy preserving!

Trackbacks

Leave a Comment