I can’t remember the first time I tried preserved lemons. I just know that life isn’t the same once you’ve experienced the delightful taste this bright citrus offers. Lemons add an important acidity to everything they’re a part of, but preserved lemons add an ethereal, mouth-puckering sweetness that’s excitedly delightful and irreplaceable. In other words, a grating of zest will never live up to the punchy flavor preserved lemons lend. It’s a certain je ne sais quoi that can’t be explained because words won’t make it justice, it simply needs to be experienced. Over and over. That’s probably why when I have a jar in the fridge, it finds its way into every dish not as an intruder but a welcome addition. Preserved lemons are typical in Moroccan tagines and you’ll find them in my recipes here and here. But they can be used in salads, dips, dressings, roasted chickens, and more. You’ll want to get a jar going if you haven’t already because you’ll see them being used around here a little more often. It requires patience to wait until the lemons have reached their full potential, at least 2 months, sometimes less. But it’s worth the wait. If just for the magic of seeing how a little bit of salt can be so transformative.
A few tips:
find beautiful lemons with a thin peel
the lemons should be ripe so they don’t turn bitter
know your kosher salt, the Israeli brand I used was much saltier than typical kosher salt. I recommend Diamond’s because it’s salinity isn’t as overpowering. If your lemons are too salty, rinse them gently before using or adjust the salt in the dish to compensate
7 lemons, cut into eights (not all the way through)
Kosher salt (preferably Diamond Crystal)
Pour boiling water into a 1 liter glass jar and let sit for a few minutes. Pour out the water and sprinkle 1 tablespoon salt on the bottom of the jar. Set aside on a clean surface. Rub 1-2 tablespoons salt into each lemon, getting it on each wedge. Close up the lemon and firmly pack into the jar. Repeat until the jar is full. Juice should be covering the top, otherwise squeeze a lemon and pour juice to cover. Seal and leave at room temperature for 1 week, shaking up the jar to redistribute the salt and make sure the lemons are always submerged in liquid. Transfer to the fridge for about 2 months, checking on it periodically. Feels like forever, but worth it.
Optional additions: chile peppers, bay leaves, sugar, paprika. But I like to keep it simple.