Easy Preserved Lemons

It was about time: as I was staring at two bags of beautiful and perfectly shaped juicy lemons on my kitchen counter last week, I realized how long it had been that I shared a recipe or a story on my blog. Working on my second book has taken over my life since the holidays, and my first book is still, marvelously, keeping me on my toes two years after its publication! So thank you, kind people, for bearing with me.

Preserved Lemons, Maria Speck, IMG_4293 - Version 2

When I have the bright golden citrus in front of me, I am always tempted to make preserved lemons. They are a staple in the Moroccan kitchen and can be used in countless recipes. Their complex salty and tangy notes will almost jolt you out of your seat when you try them the first time—little do they resemble the highly acidic burst you get when squeezing fresh lemons.

This recipe, adapted from one in Germany’s leading women’s magazine Brigitte, is so

Cut-out from Brigitte

Cut-out from Brigitte

easy you will ask yourself why you haven’t I tried it earlier. I certainly did when I made it for the first time years ago. And I always revel at their amazing clean taste, far superior to anything you will find in a store, even a posh one. At least in my humble opinion.

Given how little labor is involved, I’m embarrassed to admit how rarely I make them.  All you need is just a few minutes and a bit of patience—about 4 weeks all told, of plain waiting. But even your wait is rewarded as you will find yourself smiling as you walk by the jar of tightly packed lemons on your kitchen counter. The colorful wedges lighten my mood each time.

I like to fill a large 4-pint jars but if you are new to the flavor of preserved lemons try this smaller sample first. Next time: double or quadruple the recipe, transfer into small jars, top off with the salty liquid, and share.

I use my preserved lemons in many ways. I like to tuck them around chicken, together with potatoes and other vegetables I plan to roast. You can fill the cavity of a whole fish with them or top a fish filet with a few tablespoons of chopped rind, olives, and parsley before roasting. Or use the rind to garnish soups and salads. Keep in mind, the wedges are salty—always give them a good rinse, and you may want to reduce the amount of salt in your dish.

Some people don’t like the soft and mushy pulp of the lemons once they are preserved. In my frugal kitchen I can’t get myself to throw anything edible away, so I was relieved to come across a creative use in a restaurant a few years ago: coarsely chop up the pulp and drizzle it with good-quality olive oil. Serve on a small dipping plate, accompanied by warm pitta or lavash bread. A keeper!

Preserved lemonsLemons, Maria Speck, IMG_4214 - Version 2

1 (1 pint/2-cup) glass jar
2 organic lemons  (scant 200 grams)
3 tablespoons (50 grams) fine sea salt
about 1 cup of water

1 Rinse the whole lemons well under hot running water and rub them dry. Cut each lemon into six wedges—first in half lengthwise, then each half into three pieces. At this point you can remove and discard the seeds (I have forgotten this more than once, and it was not a problem).

2 Add the lemon wedges to a small bowl and toss with the salt. Pack them tightly into the jar and top off with water (I use filtered), leaving a bit of air space. Seal tightly, and shake the jar to dissolve the salt. Allow to sit at room temperature for 4 weeks. Occasionally shake the jar, a few times per week. The lemons will darken a bit as they mature.

How to store: Once you open the jar, store the preserved lemons in the refrigerator. They will last at least 3 months, up to 1 year. Make sure that they are always covered with liquid. Occasionally, your lemons can develop a white lacy substance which is harmless; just rinse it off before using.

And a note: keep it clean, your work surface, your hands, the jars, and spoons. While salt is a natural preservative, basic hygiene is always a good idea if you want your food to last.


4 Responses to Easy Preserved Lemons

  1. Beautiful jar of lemons! So easy to prepare and so flavorful, sometimes it just takes a little nudge of inspiration to make something. With so many Moroccan recipes calling for these beauties, hopefully I’ll catch the inspiration bug as well.

  2. Sara says:

    Hi Maria! Hope you are well during this sad week in Boston.

    I am due to make some preserved lemons soon myself–I found a jar in the back of my fridge of uncertain age so I sadly but cautiously tossed just this weekend. Your jar is so pretty, and these are so beautifully fragrant. Good luck keeping on with your book!

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