Saturday, July 10, 2010

Preserved Lemons

Excellent Ingredient of the Week
Preserved lemon (or lemon pickle) is a condiment that is common in North African cuisine, especially Moroccan cuisine in tagines. Diced, quartered, halved, or whole lemons are pickled in a brine of water, lemon juice, and salt; occasionally spices such as Saffron are included as well. The pulp of the preserved lemon can be used in stews and sauces, but it is the peel (zest and pith together) that is most valued. The flavor is mildly tart but intensely lemony. They may then be sliced, chopped, or minced as needed for the texture of the dish. The rind may be used with or without the pulp. The pickled pulp and liquid can be used in Bloody Marys and other beverages where lemon and salt are used. The flavor also combines well with horseradish, as in American-style cocktail sauce. I like to chop them up and make a preserved lemon and green olive tapenade. They can be added to salsas or finely chopped and used as a garnish on cold soups.

Some health uses: In Ayurvedic cuisine, lemon pickle is a home remedy for stomach disorders and its value is said to increase as it matures. In East African folk medicine, lemon pickle is given for excessive growth of the spleen, in case that’s an issue for you! The only place I have found them in town is Ziggy’s, but they're not always in stock, so call ahead. I usually just make my own. Here's a simple recipe. Remember you need to let them cure for a while. One other thing to note: when I made them in London we had access to the thin-skinned middle eastern lemons, which we don’t have here. American lemons have too much pith (the white stuff) so you might want to use Meyer lemons, which work pretty well.

8-10 Meyer lemons scrubbed very clean
1/2 cup kosher salt, more if needed
Extra fresh squeezed lemon juice, if needed
Sterilized quart canning jar

Place 2 Tbsp of salt in the bottom of a sterilized jar. One by one prepare the lemons in the following way. Cut off any protruding stems from the lemons, and cut 1/4 inch off the tip of each lemon. Cut the lemons as if you were going to cut them in half lengthwise, starting from the tip, but do not cut all the way. Keep the lemon attached at the base. Make another cut in a similar manner, so now the lemon is quartered, but again, attached at the base.

Pry the lemons open and generously sprinkle salt all over the insides and outsides of the lemons. Pack the lemons in the jar, squishing them down so that juice is extracted and the lemon juice rises to the top of the jar. Fill up the jar with lemons; make sure the top is covered with lemon juice. Add more fresh squeezed lemon juice if necessary. Top with a couple tablespoons of salt. Seal the jar and let sit at room temperature for a couple days.

Turn the jar upside down occasionally. Put in refrigerator and let sit, again turning upside down occasionally, for at least 3 weeks, until lemon rinds soften.To use, remove a lemon from the jar and rinse thoroughly in water to remove salt. Discard seeds before using. Store in refrigerator for up to 6 months.