Moroccan Preserved Lemons

by Karen on Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Post image for Moroccan Preserved Lemons

I absolutely love lemons.  I find myself grating lemon zest into anything I can and even sucking on lemon wedges with a little salt.  Yes, I'm that crazy about lemons.  This versatile and beautiful fruit likely originated in northwestern India as a two-step hybrid fruit, first between a citron and lime.  Later this citron-lime fruit was crossed with a pummelo, which formed the lemon.  It made its way through the Middle East then to the Mediterranean and then to Spain.  Every region utilized the lemon differently but in northern Africa the lemon is preserved giving new dimension to its bright flavor.

Preserved lemons are used in dishes throughout Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.  The process preserves the lemons in their own juices and lots of salt, which develops bacteria and yeast to transforms the acrid bitter peel into an edible condiment within weeks.  The addition of the peel of preserved lemons lends a deeper and rounder sour flavor that is very different from the light and sharp tang of raw lemon.

I'm using this batch in a Moroccan chicken tagine (stay tuned!), but a little preserved lemon goes a long way in anything like stewed meats or tagines.  You can also chop it finely and add it to dressings, sauces and dips.  It's best to use a thinner skinned lemon like Meyer lemons, but any lemon will do.  I didn't use Meyer lemons this time and it turned out great.  Try to find unwaxed ones or scrub and wash your lemons very well as you'll be eating the peel.

– 6 lemons, scrubbed and cleaned
– 3 cups of kosher or sea salt
– water

*You can shorten the preserving process by freezing the lemons first, which helps speed up the salt penetration.  Simply place the lemons in a freezer bag after you've cut them and let them fully freeze and defrost.  Then, start packing them with salt.

In a large clean jar, fill the bottom of it with 1 cup of salt.

Using a knife, cut the lemons lengthwise twice so you have an X-shape incision, but do not cut all the way through the lemon so it is still attached at one end.  Open up the lemon and pack salt inside the lemon.

Pack three of the lemons on top of the first layer of salt and then add another cup of salt.  Add the last three lemons and then pour in the last cup of salt on top of the lemons.  Press down so the juices release and fill the rest of the jar with water just until it covers the lemons.

Close the jar and store in a cool and dark place for 2-3 weeks until the lemon peel has softened.  Every now and then turn the jar upside down so the salt redistributes.

When you're ready to use the preserved lemons just remove the pulp and use the peel.  Make sure to rinse off the peel to remove excess salt before adding it to your dish.  You can store the preserved lemons for up to a 6 months in the refrigerator.

(Recipe from Dinners and Dreams)

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{ 11 comments }

Kulsum at JourneyKitchen May 3, 2011 at 9:23 am

My favorite thing to snack at work is lemon slices with salt! My colleagues have officially declared me crazy. You can tell I love citrus desserts, add lemon juice to atmost everything I make, kind of obsessed. Where would the world be without lemons! Love preserved lemons and SO SO looking forward to the tagine 🙂

Belinda @zomppa May 3, 2011 at 9:33 am

Beautiful. Lemons are just plain happy. I have never tried to preserve. I can’t wait for that tagine!

Deana May 3, 2011 at 9:41 am

Looks beautiful!

Sasha (Global Table Adventure) May 3, 2011 at 5:34 pm

The salt looks like snow… dreamy.

mlle paradis May 3, 2011 at 8:00 pm

darn! i passed on some small canning jars today and now i’m regretting it! they would have been perfect for this! i will definitely try this soon though.

we got our aguachile at a friend’s recommendation at king ranch (maybe it’s ranch king?). it’s a chain of latino supermarkets. hers is in covina. i went to the one in pasadena. really good!

Delishhh May 4, 2011 at 10:11 am

Oh my – what a great idea. I am not sure i could eat them though. As a kid my mother made me eat lemons with salt when i had a sore throat and i always used to gag 🙂 Too many bad memories – but i love this idea.

Maria May 4, 2011 at 11:06 am

I too adore lemons and wonder why I don’t preserve them more often?! I love the flavour preserved lemons bring to so many dishes, you’ve definitely inspired me to make this again soon!

Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen May 6, 2011 at 4:17 am

Interesting tip about freezing the lemons first, I never knew that.

Sally - My Custard Pie May 23, 2011 at 11:49 pm

I share your obsession with lemons. I am never without them in my kitchen and always have a jar of preserved lemons in my fridge. Wonderful.

Laura from Silk Road Gourmet June 9, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Hi Karen:

I’m a big fan of preserved lemons and use them in savory recipes, but also in salads (tomato and cucumber etc), soups you name it. There is even a drink recipe that uses them in a simple syrup. Sometimes I just substitute it for zest as I did in a Kazakh Chicken with Olives dish a few nights ago – zingy!

I don’t use as much salt as called for in most recipes, and I do use other spices like bay and cloves or cracked pepper – they add a wee-bit extra flavor – and help keep bacterial overgrowth down without a ton of salt.

Karen June 9, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Thanks Laura! I’ve made preserved lemons with spices before and they are lovely. These have a lot of salt but after it’s very well rinsed, its not too salty

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