Unique to Morocco, so easy to make & add a fabulous flavor.
They bring saltiness, acidity and a perfume citrus quality to everything from stews & tagines to salads. Prepare a few batches, & give them away as unusual foodie gift.
You will need fresh, firm skinned, lemons, if shop bought scrub them in-case they have been waxed. You need twice the number of lemons that you are going to preserve, enough to fill the jar tightly and the rest to squeeze.
Your only other ingredient is coarse salt. Kosher salt is iodine free and is recommended. About 175ml / 6 lemons.
Use a wide-mouthed sterilized jar, but one with a narrow surface area to prevent oxidation on the surface. Consul jar is ideal.
Stand a lemon, stem side down on a cutting board & use a sharp knife to cut down into it as if you were going to cut it in half, stopping about 1cm from the stem. Now make a perpendicular cut, again stopping 1 cm from the stem, so the lemon is quartered but still intact.
Holding the lemon over a bowl, open the quarters & pack in as much salt as you can, allowing the excess to fall into the bowl. You will use up to 25ml per lemon. If a lemon splits into 2 don’t panic, just squeeze the 2 halves together in the bottle. I find larger lemon difficult to pack into a jar, so I often cut quarters and try to wedge the cut sides together in the jar, ensuring that each cut surface has a sprinkling of salt.
Put the lemon cut side up into the jar and repeat the process until the jar is full and tightly packed. Put the lid on the jar and leave overnight. If you can push the slightly softened lemons down, to squeeze another lemon in the next day, do so! If there is only a little space add a half or quarter of a lemon.
Juice the remaining lemons (cooks tip: first zest the lemons & air-dry, then freeze the zest, use in recipes as required), pouring the strained juice into the jar until it is filled to the brim and all the salted lemons are completely submerged.
Place the lid on, but not too tightly. Place the jar in a cool dark place (not in fridge) and for the first week, shake the jar daily to ensure that salt that may have settled on bottom is redistributed. If lemons are not all submerged, add more lemon juice.
Slight fermentation may take occur, this is normal, but not essential.
After 1 month, it’s time for the big reveal! Open the jar. If some lemons have floated to the top they may have turned brown due to oxidation. They are fine to consume. I find, if they are refrigerated they maintain the colour. Exposure to light results in browning.
Take out a lemon, cut off a little slice of the peel & pop it in your mouth. Your whole mouth will be filled with a powerful flavour that goes from salty to citrusy to piney to almost tingly, and you’ll discover that the rind has lost its bitterness & softened to a creamy texture.
In Morocco, it’s usually only the yellow rind of the preserved lemon, stripped of the pith, is used in cooking. The rest of the fruit is discarded. You may want to use the flesh and the salty-citrusy juice. Use as a flavouring to savoury dishes during cooking or to finish the dish
will keep refrigerated for 3-4 months. A layer of olive oil may be added on surface, but personally I find this gives a rancid flavour and detracts from the fresh zesty lemon flavor. I rather make small quantities (5-7 lemons) more often, and then I still end up with brown lemons if I have not used them often! They still taste good, so don’t be put off by the colour.
Olives: cut rind finely and toss with olives; adds an interesting flavour to tapenade
As a topping for fish, chicken or steak, make a salsa verde: chopped toasted almonds, parsley, olive oil and finely chopped preserved lemon
Salad: dice and add. I make a delicious roast butternut, tossed with chickpeas, preserved lemon, chopped coriander and sometimes plump sultanas (previously soaked in orange juice).
Vegetable dishes: over green beans or with sautéed spinach
Couscous or savoury rice: add diced preserved lemon & finely chopped parsley or coriander just before serving
Salad dressings or sauces: Add to vinaigrettes, yoghurt-based dressings or mayonnaise
Pasta: add with diced feta, pitted olives & olive oil; delicious with seafood
Stews / tagines: use as part of seasoning of dish during cooking or add strips at the end when serving
Fish: add to seafood salads; rice dishes (pilaf-style); with olive oil over grilled or baked fish; in fish cakes
Variations: you can add about 20% sugar to the salt for a gentler flavor; add aromatics such as rosemary, thyme, peppercorns, dried chilies or bay leaves, these will not flavour the lemons, but the juice and make great presentation in a gift jar!
Just experiment, it’s delicious fun!