Preserved lemons are a staple of Moroccan and other North African cuisines. They are used in tagines and many other dishes to impart a tangy depth of flavor to just about any dish. See them in our Moroccan Lemon Chicken with Honeyed Sauce. The lemons are preserved in a salty brine mixture over time, and the following recipe is a simple way to make them, adapted from Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes in the World. He chooses to use the refrigerator to help finish the lemons, making for an easier job and shortening the curing time.
Makes about 1 quart
1 cup Kosher salt
3 pounds lemons, washed, dried, then halved
1 cinnamon stick
2 or 3 cloves
1 pinch of saffron
4 or 5 black peppercorns
Sterilize a 1-quart canning jar and sprinkle a ¼-inch deep layer of Kosher salt on the bottom. Place ¼ of the lemons in the bottom, sprinkling with more salt. Repeat this process, adding the spices along the way. When the jar is about ¾ full, squeeze the remaining lemons into the jar, seeds and all, so the fruit is completely submerged in the lemon and salt brine. If the juice doesn’t cover the lemons, add more lemon juice. Cover the jar with the sterilized cap.
Leave the jar out on a counter for 7-10 days, shaking it once a day during the curing time (you’ll notice interesting chemical things going on during that time, as the mixture bubbles and the spices swell up).
Move the jar into the refrigerator for the next week to continue curing the lemons before you use them. When they have finished curing, remove the lid and smell. They should smell sweet with a citrusy aroma – if you smell ammonia, the lemons are no good and should not be used (this means that air got in during the process or your jar wasn’t sterile).
If you are using the lemons in a stew or a tagine, you can blanch them in boiling water for 10 seconds to remove a little of the heavy saltiness. For salads or other quickly cooked dishes, remove the flesh and blanch the peel in boiling water, then add to dishes.
Recipe and photo by Mark Tafoya. Adapted from from recipe in Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes in the World.