Recipe: Preserved Lemons


17 Feb Recipe: Preserved Lemons

Making preserved lemons -

It’s time to strike another item off my Culinary Bucket List. In an uncharacteristic display of patience, I tackled preserved lemons. They require endurance, not because they are hard to make, but because they take 4 weeks to cure.

In the meantime, to scratch my immediate-gratification itch, I started a Tumblr — a place to stuff all those little items I can’t clutter up the blog with. It’ll be a home for stray thoughts, non-food shots (which don’t necessarily translate to cats), and food shots that aren’t good enough for Foodgawker but tell a story I want to share. I’m still figuring it out, but if you care to pop by I have added a link to the far right of the menu bar. Go on. Click it. I dare you.

Anyway, I started researching preserved lemons before the whole Tumblr thing sidetracked me. Traditional recipes range widely. Some have bay leaves and pepper corns — even cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods and chili peppers. Some call for Meyer lemons, which I cannot find for the life of me. Others require unwaxed, thin-skinned lemons. Not sure I can get those either.

Marching boldly ahead, I compared techniques. Some sterilized the jars in boiling water. Others used a hot oven. Others just tossed everything into a jar and let the acid in the lemons kill the germs. Not sure the Internet is ready for that.

Even how you handle the lemons wasn’t set. Some sliced, while others merely slit the fruit before stuffing the insides with salt. Regardless of the source, all recipes called for salt, lemon juice and time. So I began.

Homemade preserved lemons Moroccan-style -

Trying to be authentic, I tried the score-and-stuff technique, but whole lemons didn’t fit  into the jar, so I sliced the suckers up.

Homemade preserved lemons -

Unsure if my lemons were adequately de-waxed or had thin enough skins, I made a single jar. If all goes horribly wrong, I will have a lone container of disappointment to contend with. If I triumph, I can do it all over again and start a podcast while I bide the time.

Homemade preserved lemons -

In a matter of minutes, I had a jar of lemons in salty juice. It is now quietly preserving away in the pantry. Depending on my mood, I will either shake it vigorously or up-end it once a day. For four weeks. Between Tumbls.

While all variations were clear on what to do with the lemons once they were preserved, the only aspect of preserved lemons they didn’t address was what to do with the seeds. It’s as if no one but me gets lemons full of seeds.

So I removed them.

Odds and ends from making preserved lemons -

Next month? Roasted Moroccan chicken, or a tagine. What would you do with a jar of preserved lemons? Have you made preserved lemons? If so, share your tips.

Preserved Lemons
Recipe type: Preserves
Cuisine: Moroccan
Prep / inactive time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
Preserved lemons are a staple in Moroccan cuisine and provide a distinct flavour plain lemons can't recreate.
  • 6 lemons, preferably thin-skinned (this number is approximate based on the size of the lemons and the amount of juice they provide)
  • ¼ to ⅓ cup kosher salt (Don't fuss over an exact amount as the lemons are rinsed before using.)
To Preserve
  1. Sterilize a wide-mouthed, 1-pint (1-litre) jar in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove the jar with tongs and allow to air dry. Do not towel-dry as this could contaminate the jar. Simmer the lid in the hot water to soften the rubber seal.
  2. Scrub the lemons, remove the stem end, then slice each into four wedges.
  3. Stuff the lemons into the jar, cut side up, sprinkling each layer with a good tablespoon of salt. The jar should hold about 3 lemons.
  4. Juice 3 or 4 lemons. If the lemons are hard and won't juice, microwave each lemon for 30 seconds before juicing. Pour the juice over the lemons. The juice should cover the wedges. Add another generous sprinkle of salt and seal the jar.
  5. Store the sealed jar in a cool, dark place, turning it upside down or shaking it vigorously every day for a month. The lemons are ready when the pulp is very soft and the salt-juice brine looks like syrup.
To use:
  1. Remove the required amount of lemon wedges using a clean fork. Reseal the jar and refrigerate. The opened jar should keep for 6 months. Rinse the lemon wedge. The pulp will be very soft. Using a spoon, scrape the pulp away from the rind, and dispose of the pulp. Use the rind as directed.

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No Comments
  • Amy Proulx
    Posted at 13:15h, 17 February Reply

    Yes, there is always a jar of preserved lemons in my fridge. Salt and lemons, and a splash of water, and once the brine gets going, just add a couple lemons once in a while.

    Where do my lemons end up? Soups, lovely Moroccan inspired harira soups with lots of beans. Good old roast chicken, minced up lemon with some chopped cilantro and garlic, rubbed under the skin. Yes, the olive and lemon tagine, it’s good, salty salty good. And on the olive theme, dice up a preserved lemon and throw it into a container of run of the mill olives, black or green doesn’t matter, a dash of chili, and let marinate to take the olives into the stratosphere.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 13:50h, 17 February Reply

      You can keep the jar going indefinitely? Really? Amy, I always learn a lot from you. Thanks so much. You’re the first person to mention this.

      Soup? Oh I love harira. Got a recipe? I’ll give it a try once my lemons cure.

      And the olive idea? Going to try that when my olive-fiend sister comes over. She’ll die. Happy.

      Thanks for sharing your sage wisdom on this.

      • Amy Proulx
        Posted at 12:42h, 20 February Reply

        Keep an eye on the volume, add a little salt each time you add a lemon. The flavours become a marvelous phenolic flavoured mix. Some say its an acquired taste. I say start small, a little goes a long way.

        • Charmian Christie
          Posted at 09:27h, 21 February Reply

          Good to know! Do you add lemon juice, too? I had not idea it could be perpetually topped up. I’m quite impatient to try them!

  • Judith Rutty Godfrey
    Posted at 17:58h, 17 February Reply

    No need to mess with the seeds as they end up being shriveled and brown, easily banished from the lemon. At least that’s my experience with purchased ones. You are going to love, love, love these lemons for so many reasons!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 18:38h, 17 February Reply

      Really? That’s good to know about the seeds. I hope removing them didn’t interfere with the magic.

      I can barely contain myself with these. Soup, chicken and olives are now on the “to do” list. Which to do first?

  • Robin Smart
    Posted at 16:38h, 18 February Reply

    Do olives for me!!! Please.
    PS I just spent a ridiculous amount of time de-seeding a lemon for the drinks for tonight’s party. You are not the only person to get overly seeded lemons. Maybe we shop at the same store and get the same batch, or maybe it is family luck.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 09:21h, 21 February Reply

      Olives it is. I’m curious to see how it blends. I love olive with orange rind so think will be wonderful — in the summer. With a glass of wine.

  • Jasmine
    Posted at 11:05h, 20 February Reply

    Thanks for the post Charmian! I’ve always wanted to get up the nerve to try making these and am now one step closer. Gorgeous photos too.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 09:23h, 21 February Reply

      Go for it! Apparently, it’s even better with Meyer lemons so I’m going to give that version a try once I locate them.

      I’d love to hear what you think of them when you get up the nerve to try the recipe.

  • Kathe Lieber
    Posted at 17:28h, 21 February Reply

    Charmian, I find that Meyer lemons are suddenly everywhere – at least here in food-obsessed Montreal. I can get them at my local (rather good) greengrocer’s, and even at my supermarket, Provigo, which belongs to Loblaws. Does your Loblaws not stock them? They seem to be a little sweeter and thinner-skinned than regular lemons (or some people I know). If you can’t find them, then obviously it’s time for another trip to Montreal! I thought of you the other day when I went into the great new spice store near me…

    P.S. Can’t believe I hadn’t subscribed to your newsletter till now!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 10:37h, 22 February Reply

      Oh, Kathe, I hope your Meyer lemon luck rubs off on me. Perhaps they are making their way into the mainstream, but I find my city is a bit on the slow side to get these items. I have tried the green grocers as well as the big chains, but can only find ordinary lemons (which are wonderful, don’t get me wrong!. Patience is not my strong point, but I have no choice in this.

      I would LOVE to come to Montreal again. Any excuse. It was so wonderful last summer. Andrew would dine at Schwartz’s and I’d be at the Jean Talon Market :-)

      Thanks for subscribing to the newsletter. I haven’t sent one in a long while, but now that you have signed up, I must get back to it.

  • Corina
    Posted at 10:44h, 07 May Reply

    I’ve only just stumbled upon your website and am in imminent danger of mooning about wasting precious work-minutes trying to find out what happened with the lemons!! Did they succeed? Am I going to be experimenting with lemony yumminess soon?

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 19:11h, 07 May Reply

      Oh, your timing is great. I am soon sharing my preserved lemon experience. They did turn out well! But that’s all I’m going to say for now.

  • Jordan
    Posted at 21:53h, 10 August Reply

    Do you seal it in a boiling water bath? If so, how long do you boil them? I may have missed this somehow, but I am truly intrigued and excited to try this; I don’t want any missteps getting in the way. Thanks!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 06:55h, 11 August Reply

      I didn’t seal them in a water bath. I simply put them in a jar with a hinged lid with a rubber seal. During my research none of the recipes called for heat seals.
      I believe the this is because ideally, you keep adding lemons, salt and juice as you deplete your stock. This is more like olives than pickles or jam in that the salt is the preservative. And the lemons have plenty of acid, so there shouldn’t be an issue with food safety.

      Good luck with your preserved lemons!

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