Preserved lemons are one of those condiments that you don’t know you need, until you try it, and then the heavens open, all sorts of citrusy wonderment shines down upon your world, your life is transformed, you finally understand the meaning of life for a brief second, and your world suddenly makes sense in the most delicious way. Or something like that.
When Meghan over at Cook.Craft.Love chose lemons as the feature ingredient for May’s Monthly Ingredient Challege, I knew exactly what I was going to make! I adore lemons and all sorts of lemon-y things, and I thought about making a lemon dessert, or maybe a savory lemon risotto, but I kept coming back to these, my darling preserved lemons. You see, they’ve been on my “I need to make another batch” list since we moved 10 months ago, and on my “I should blog this sometime” list for a little less. I just can’t get enough of these lemons!
Preserved lemons a staple in Moroccan cooking, and a very common addition to meats in many Middle Eastern cuisines. In fact, my mother came to visit a few weeks ago, saw my lemons, and told me that she remembered seeing her father eat a lemon slice anytime he had steak or chicken, right along with the meat, for flavor. Now she wonders if it wasn’t a slice of preserved lemon because the rinds were very soft. One of my absolute favorite recipes for preserved lemons is my preserved lemon hummus. It’s so refreshing!
Some shops will carry preserved lemons in small, overpriced jars, but I think it’s better to make your own. That way, you can use organic lemons to avoid pesticides and tailor the spice blend to fit your personal preferences, and now that you have this handy post on how to preserve lemons, you really have no excuse. 😉
You start by finding a beautiful jar. It’s not a requirement, but the lemons look so nice in a jar, and they make a beautiful gift for a food lover if you want to make a second jar to share. Then, you pick out your lemons. The quantity you’ll need depends on the size of your jar. I’ve made small 8 ounce mason jars for gifting, and each jar fit either 2 large lemons, or three small lemons. The jar in the photos has 5 lemons, a mix of large and small. You’ll also need a few extra lemons just for juicing since the lemons are preserved in their own juice.
After you wash and cut the lemons, you’ll fill the cuts with as much kosher salt as you can. Pack your lemons into the jar as tightly as possible to release the most juice. Add your spices to the jar. I use whole spices for two reasons. One, it’s prettier, and who doesn’t like pretty food? And two, the spices are in the brine for a loooong time. You’ll get a better flavor out of using the whole spice versus using ground spices. All are easily found at most supermarkets.
Then you wait. Overnight. And you check your lemon juice levels the next day. Press your lemons down a bit to ensure they’re still nice and tightly packed and help release any remaining juice. If they’re covered by the juice, seal the jar and you’re done for the day! If they aren’t covered by juice, squeeze some fresh juice from another lemon into the jar to bring liquid levels up. I usually have to do this at least the first day. Repeat this level check for two more days – three days total. Then you wait again, for another 27 days, until a month has passed. Give the lemon jar a swirl about every couple days if you remember to help diffuse flavors. They’re just fine on the counter, but you can store them in the refrigerator too if you prefer.
After a month, the lemon rinds will be soft and pliable and have this fantastic flavor, perfect for cooking. To use, pull out a section of lemon and add to your favorite soup, protein, salad, or make my fabulous hummus! Preserved lemons will keep several months on the counter or up to a year in the refrigerator. I usually store them in the fridge once I open the jar for use.