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Home » Cuisines » American » Preserved Lemons- an easy recipe with bold flavor

Preserved Lemons- an easy recipe with bold flavor

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Preserved lemons are among the heart of Moroccan cooking.  As a matter of fact, they are one of the most important ingredients used in their cuisine.  They add brightness, salt and flavor depth to tagine, stews and many of their dishes.

You can buy a jar of preserved lemons in most International markets but for only the cost of a bag of lemons and a jar of sea salt you can make your own supply. 

Initially, it takes but a few minutes to cut, salt and stuff the lemons into a jar.  It is the long wait that is the most difficult.  After the lemons have been in the refrigerator for a month or so they are ready to use.  They become more flavor intense the longer they sit in the salty lemon brine.

Fresh lemons and a knive

Fresh Lemons

Something magical happens when the salt and lemons join forces. The salt tenderizes the lemon rind and the fruit pulp has a sort of jam-like consistency. The lemons have a very intense flavor without the bitterness. Lemons are also preserved in oil, a brine or pickled. Preserving the lemons in salt and lemon juice is, by far, the most popular method.

What are the best lemons to use for Preserved Lemons?

The lemons can be either the regular lemons found in local grocery stores, organic lemons, or those special Meyers lemons that cost a little more. 

Most lemons, except for organic lemons, will have a waxy food grade coating applied to them.   The purpose of the wax is to keep the peel fresh and glossy and is safe to eat.  It should be removed before preserving so the lemon can better absorb the brine.

To remove the waxy film from the lemons, place them in a single layer of a colander and pour boiling water over them.   Then, holding the lemons, one at a time, under cool running tap water scrub each lemon removing the wax.  Pat dry with paper towels and you are ready to make your preserved lemons.  You will need to do this in batches if you are using more lemons than can fit in a single layer. 

How to make Preserved Lemons:

All you need for this process is a clean, sterilized jar, enough freshly scrubbed lemons to fill the jar and a pure, un-iodized salt such as kosher or sea salt.  This is the simple procedure:

Salting the lemons for preserved lemons

A spoon full of salt

  • Wash and scrub the lemons.  The classic Moroccan way is to cut each lemon in quarters from the tip end to the stem end,  but not right through, so that the pieces are still attached to the stem end.
  • Then, stuff each lemon with a tablespoon of salt and squeeze it closed.
  • Put them in a sterilized preserving jar. Press them down squishing them together tightly, and close the jar.
  • Leave the jar sitting on the counter top for 3 to 4 days, turning them upside down/right-side up at least once every day.
  • After 3-4 days open the jar and press the lemons down firmly, the lemons will be softened somewhat and will give up some of their juices.
  • Juice four additional lemons and pour the juice over the top and smash them down again so that the lemons are completely covered with juice.
  • Close the jar and leave in the refrigerator for at least a month, the longer they sit to ferment the better flavor will taste.
     
Lemon being juiced, lemon juice in jar

After 3-4 days, squeeze the juice of 4 lemons

How to use Preserved Lemons:

Preserved lemons are not just for Moroccan dishes such as a tagine.   Add them to stews, pasta, grain salads, salad dressings and salads. Even if your tagine or stew doesn’t call for preserved lemons specifically, get creative and do some recipe tweaking.

 

Pouring lemon juice on lemons

After 3 or 4 days cover the jar with the fresh squeezed lemon juice

It is fun to add a little preserved lemon rind to a recipe and discover the unique flavor the tang of the lemon adds to a dish.   I have chopped the preserved rind into small pieces and included them in my salads which really jazzes up the flavor.

SOME OTHER RECIPES WE ARE SURE YOU WILL LOVE:

  • Herbed Olive Oil Dip:  A quick and impressive Herbed Olive Oil Dip made with fresh herbs, garlic and seasoning. Serve with crusty Italian or focaccia bread as dippers.
  • Greek Stuffed Grape Leaves (Dolma):  These traditional bundles of rice-stuffed grape leaves are known as Dolma or Dolmades. They have a filling of rice, onions, lemon juice, mint and dill. There is a sweetness from the addition of dried currents and a crunch from the toasted pine nuts.
  • Pickled Red Onions: A recipe for pickled red onions that are easy to make and no wait time to enjoy them.  They are sweet, salty, sour and crunchy. They are delicious on salads, sandwiches, appetizers or as a condiment

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This recipe for preserved lemons has been adapted from Claudia Roden’s Arabesque cookbook.

Salted Lemons

Preserved Lemons

Yield: 4 to 6 preserved lemons (12 to 18 servings)
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes

Preserved lemons have an intense flavor and their tender rind has an almost jam-like consistency.

Ingredients

  • 4-6 lemons (depending on the size of the jar you choose)
  • 4-6 tablespoons sea salt
  • Juice of 4 additional lemons

Instructions

  1. Wash and scrub the lemons. *See Notes
  2. The classic Moroccan way is to cut each lemon in quarters but not right through, so that the pieces are still attached to the stem end. Then, stuff each lemon with a tablespoon of salt and squeeze it closed. Put them in a sterilized preserving jar, pressing them down so that they are squashed together, and close the jar.
  3. Leave the jar sitting on the counter top for 3 to 4 days, turning them upside down/right-side up at least once every day.
  4. After 3-4 days open the jar and press the lemons down firmly, the lemons will be softened somewhat and will give up some of their juices.
  5. Juice 4 fresh lemons and pour the juice over the top and smash down again so that the lemons are completely covered with juice.
  6. Close the jar and leave in the refrigerator for at least a month, the longer they are left to ferment the better flavor will be.
  7. Before using, rinse the lemon peel under cold water to get rid of the salt. If you will be using the pulp you may need to adjust the seasoning in the dish to allow for the saltiness of the pulp.

Notes

  1. Most lemons will have a waxy food grade film covering them.
  2. To remove the waxy film from the lemons, place them in a single layer of a colander and pour boiling water over them. Then, holding the lemons, one at a time, under cool running tap water scrub each lemon. Pat dry with paper towels and you are ready to make your preserved lemons.
  3. The lemons should sit on the counter top for 3-4 days, turning at least once per day.
  4. After 4 days, juice 4 fresh lemons and pour over the top of the lemons. Cover with a lid and refrigerate for 1 month.
  5. The longer the lemons sit in the fridge the better they will be.
  6. The entire lemon can be eaten.
  7. I used my meat mallet to press the lemons down firmly.
  8. As you use the lemons, keep the remaining lemons pushed down and covered with juice. Add additional juice as necessary.
  9. Preserved lemons will keep at least a year in the refrigerator.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 18 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 21Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 2124mgCarbohydrates: 6gFiber: 1gSugar: 3gProtein: 1g

Nutrition information is a guideline only, is calculated automatically by third party software, and absolute accuracy is not guaranteed.

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Pat Nyswonger

Pat is a wife, mom of four adult children, and grandmother to seventeen beautiful children. She is a self-taught home cook and loves creating delicious meals for her family and friends. Her kitchen is the hub of activity in her home, and she loves to entertain.

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Laura

Thursday 17th of August 2023

Hi there. I tried this recipe and I am reporting back . It's very delicious, My family absolutely loves it. Thank you so very!

Dahn Boquist

Friday 18th of August 2023

I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for the comment.

Dahn Boquist

Friday 18th of August 2023

I'm so happy to hear that. Thanks for the comment.

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