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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Preserved lemons

Excellent Ingredient of the Week
Preserved lemon or lemon pickle is a condiment that is common in Indian Cuisine, North African cuisine, and especially Moroccan cuisine. Diced, quartered, halved, or whole, lemons are pickled in a brine of water, lemon juice, and salt; occasionally spices are included as well. The pickle is allowed to ferment at room temperature for weeks or months before it is used. 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.

How to Make Preserved Lemons

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
* You don't need to use Meyer lemons, regular lemons will do, it's just that the milder Meyer lemons work very well for preserving in this way.

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. Store in refrigerator for up to 6 months.

To use, remove a lemon from the jar and rinse thoroughly in water to remove salt.

You can add spices to the lemons for preserving: cloves; coriander seeds; peppercorns; cinnamon stick; bay leaf.

What to do with them:
  • Make traditional Moroccan Tagines with lamb or chicken
  • Puree 1 cup preserved lemons with 1 jar mango chutney and serve with grilled fish
  • Blend lemons with yogurt and use as a dip
  • Mix the chopped lemons with with green olives and make a nice hors d'oeuvre