Preserving lemons


A few weeks ago, I saw a recipe for Israeli couscous with butternut squash and preserved lemon on David Lebovitz’s blog, and immediately wanted it for dinner. A quick scan showed that I had everything to make it, excepting the preserved lemons. The recipe assured me that I need not skip that ingredient (as if said item being in the name of the dish wasn’t hint enough). The obscure citrus addition rang a memory bell, though, and sometime later that day I vaguely recalled having preserved lemon in one of our dishes during our evening with The Four Coursemen (featured in last month’s Food and Wineour Athens boys are just growing like weeds!).

Anyway, I decided preserved lemon was something I needed in my house. As usual, a google search answered all of my nagging questions, and it’s as easy as pie. Well, it seems to be right now, but I’ll know for sure in a few weeks when the lemons have actually finished all that preserving (should I talk to them, whisper words of encouragement? can I trust the chemical exchange that occurs as the acid and salt cohabitate?).

As they say, only time will tell. In the mean, should you feel the desire to also make David’s couscous before we ring in 2010, you need to get a couple pounds of organic lemons (I try not to push organic ingredients if unnecessary; but when using the peel of the lemon, be it by zesting or preserving, it is best to avoid pesticides since they are so concentrated in the skins — and hey, they’re usually on sale around now) and boil a quart-sized canning jar. Grab a quarter cup or so of  salt, and then gather the patience to wait a couple weeks (when you find that stash of patience, send me an email with its general location).

Preserved Lemons

  • 1 quart-sized glass jar with lid, boiled to sterilize
  • about 2 pounds (6-8) lemons (meyer lemons are preferred, but they were pricey, so I opted for regular organic ones, looking for smaller, thin-skinned fruits), plus more lemon juice if necessary
  • sea salt or kosher salt — 1/4 cup or more

Wash lemons. Using a paring knife, cut the knob off the tip of the lemon, leaving the stem end. Cut lemons almost into length-wise quarters, leaving the stem end intact (you don’t want the lemons to separate into individual sections).

Sprinkle 2 Tbsp salt into the bottom of the jar. Pack the cut sections of each lemon with salt — up to a tablespoon of salt per lemon — and push the sections back together to make the lemon whole again. Place the lemons in the jar, sprinkling a thin layer of salt between additions. Push the lemons down to exude some of the juices and to squeeze them in the jar. Sprinkle another layer of salt on top, and close the jar tightly.

Let sit at room temperature for a few days, opening the jar each day and further pushing the lemons to produce more juice. If after 2-3 days the lemons aren’t completely submerged in juice, add freshly-squeezed lemon juice to the jar until the level is high enough.

Let sit for a few weeks, turning the jars every so often to make sure the salt is dissolved. The lemons will soften when preserved. These will be fine at room temperature (though they are often refrigerated), and last up to six months. To use them in recipes, dice the skin and pulp together, or alternatively scrape the pulp (discard) and use only the diced rind.

2 thoughts on “Preserving lemons

  1. I, too, have been intrigued by the preserved lemons. I have a recipe in a book for them, even. However, other than the recipe you referenced, what can they be used for? How did your lemons turn out? Is there anything you would’ve done differently? So many questions!

    1. Monica, I haven’t used them yet — but will probably do so within the next couple of weeks.

      From what I understand, they can be used as an addition in grain salads (rice, quinoa, etc.) and relishes. Since they are Moroccan in origin, they will most likely be called for in those types of recipes (including tagines).

      I think it will take trying them to better understand their flexibility; I’ll try to update once that happens here ; )

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