Following the last post featuring the asparagus salad with preserved lemons I had a few inquiries about how to make preserved lemons. The process of preserving lemon is very simple and does not require cooking. Essentially you pile lemon wedges, coarse salt and lemon juice into a jar and let it sit for a month or so until they are ready.
What kind of lemons
My favourite lemons for this recipe are the small Meyer lemons but they are hard to get here so any lemons would do. Choose lemons with soft thin skin for best results.
How to cut the lemons
Depending on the size of the lemons and the jars you use, either cut an X into each lemon without going through the bottom, or cut the lemons into 4 or 6 wedges. If I have really small Meyer lemons with thin skin I may keep them whole, perhaps making one incision in their peel to allow the brine to enter.
Once you cut the lemons, sprinkle the cut surface with salt.
How to fill the jars
Some recipes call for sterilizing the jars before using, some don’t. You can run them through a dishwasher cycle or drop them in boiling water for a few minutes before filling. Whether you sterilize the jars or not, keep them refrigerated after opening.
Pour half the salt to the bottom, then fill jar with the lemons pressing them in to extract their juice (I use a wooden spoon). Add remaining salt as you fill the jars. Top the lemons with extra lemon juice until they are covered with liquid. Add a couple of bay leaves into each jar and maybe a couple of peppercorns. Some recipes call for adding hot pepper, rosemary, thyme and even cinnamon. I tend to keep mine simple.
Once filled, secure the lid and leave in a cool place for about a month. Turn the jars over and shake every couple of days to distribute the salt and move the juice around.
When are they ready?
The lemons are ready when the skin is soft. Sometime it takes a month, sometimes longer.
How to use preserved lemons
Peel or pulp: Most recipes call for using just the preserved lemon peel, scraping off and discarding the pulp. Add the rind to food as is or add it to cooked food towards the end of the cooking. I often do use the pulp and add to food while it is cooking. If the lemons are small, such as Meyer lemons, I use them without scraping.
Rinsing: rinse the lemons in a colander under cold running water before using to rinse off excess salt.
Preserved lemon is a common ingredient in middle eastern cooking. Suggested uses:
- With grain dishes
- With cooked vegetables
- Scatter over a salad
- In a salad dressing
- Add to pasta
- Use in Tagine
- Any dish that would be enhanced by a savoury lemony flavour
Lemons as needed for preserving and for lemon juice, cleaned and dried. I prefer Meyer lemons but they are harder to get here, so any lemons would do but try to get the thinner skinned ones.
1/4 cup Kosher salt or pickling salt per pint jar.
1 tablespoon sugar per jar
Lemon juice as needed
2 bay leaves per jar
Optional ingredients: peppercorns, turmeric, coriander seeds, cinnamon stick
If using pint jars place half the salt and the sugar at the bottom of each jar.
Trim the stem end of the lemons being careful not to cut into the flesh.
Depending on the size of the lemons, either make an X cut in the lemons keeping the bottom (stem end) intact (see image above) or cut them into 4-6 wedges.
Generously sprinkle inside of the X cut lemons or the wedges with remaining coarse salt.
Pack the lemons into the jars fairly tightly, squeezing them and allowing their juice to run.
Add remaining salt as you layer the lemons in the jar.
Add a couple of bay leaves per jar.
Add optional ingredients as you wish (see above).
When the jar is full, top it with additional fresh lemon juice.
Wipe the jar clean, top with a lid and let sit in a cool place for about a month before using.
Every couple of days turn the jars to redistribute the liquids and help the salt dissolve.
Once opened, keep refrigerated.