my staples: preserved lemons

We always have lemons hanging out in our refrigerator. I’m sure it’s a relic of living in the Bay Area, o those lemon-tree-having days of yore. Every once in a while, I go a little crazy and find myself with an extra bag or two. When this happens, I decide friends will need gifts in a few weeks, and I make a batch of preserved lemons.

This recipe is so simple that anyone can do it, and it’s really, truly a unique addition to your stock of condiments. Homemade preserved lemons are much better than what you can buy in a jar. A quarter of a preserved lemon, pulp removed and very finely chopped, is delicious over roasted asparagus or steamed green beans, and you can use the lemon pulp in marinades and dressings. I even put little pieces of preserved lemon on skewers of BBQ shrimp or chicken.

Although it seems like Meyer lemons would make a terrific version, their lack of acidity, whereas delicious in many dishes, is a detriment in preserved lemons, and they tend to go bad more quickly. I have made this recipe with Meyers, and stored the jar in the refrigerator, but I found they also get bitter. Plain lemons, known in the biz as Eurekas, are best. And try to get organic lemons, since you will be eating the peel.

Preserved Lemons

An easy-delicious way to instill punchy lemonitude into anything you use lemons for, except, maybe, lemonade. From Morocco, these little darlings can be used for all kinds of different preparations. There are other recipes that include spices such as cumin and coriander and clove, but I like the versatility of the plain salt version. Add seasonings as you please.

3-4 pints jars, cleaned well, with lids
a dozen or so juicy organic lemons
kosher salt
a few peppercorns

Wash lemons well, remembering you will be using the peel, and pare off discolored spots. The lemon’s shape doesn’t matter as much as its freshness, but if you’re gift-giving, look for pretty specimens. Ugly ducklings can be juiced and used to fill the jar with juice — plan to devote at least two lemons to juicing.

Slice 3-4 long gashes into whole lemons, leaving ends intact. Sterilize pint jars. Put a tablespoon of salt and a few peppercorns in the jar. Stuff a bunch of salt into gashes in lemons. Pack lemons into jar tightly, pouring in some lemon juice and adding a bit of salt every layer or so. Cut a few lemons in pieces to stuff in cracks, if you like. Top off jar with lemon juice to cover. I’ve seen some recipes that say cover with boiling water, but I don’t do that. Don’t worry about “wasting” lemons by juicing them into the jar. You’ll want all the delicious salty juice you can get. All recipes caution against using that nasty-ass fake lemon juice. Seriously, don’t.

You should be able to get 3-4 whole lemons into a pint jar if you really press down on the lemons, and you should.

Close jars tightly and keep unrefrigerated in a cool place for a couple of days (the refrigerator is, I find, too cool to allow the lemons to properly cure), then add more lemon juice, if necessary, to fill the jars. At this point, I like to smush down the salted lemons with a wooden reamer to extract more juice in the jars, as well.

After 2-3 weeks unrefrigerated, you will see the lemons have considerably softened and become a bit viscous and juicy. This means they are ready. After opening, keep in the refrigerator. As you use lemons, add more juice. You’ll find the preserved lemons change character over time, and they keep for a long time, if properly acidic and salted.

3 thoughts on “my staples: preserved lemons

  1. Gillian 16 April 2008 / 7:05 am

    oh, that sounds divine!!!


  2. where'stheceleriac 23 April 2008 / 4:05 pm

    I can attest to their divinity, as a proud recipient. Tasted them the other night over green beans made by the talented Eugenia. If only she still lived behind the orange curtain. I’ll make do with lemons.


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