In Moroccan and the Middle Eastern cooking, the lemon is treated much differently than here in the U.S. And it’s a difference I love.
While Americans tend to focus on the zest and the juice of the lemon, in the Middle East it is the rind that is prized. That’s because they preserve their lemons, softening the rind and essentially pickling it with a long soak in a brine of salt and juice. You won’t believe the taste when you try them.
I have wanted to make these for the longest time, but never got around to it. Which is kind of silly, because the recipe is simple. Part of it was the fact that for those who us who are fond of immediate gratification, these don’t offer much in that department. Plus, every time I felt like making them it was because I saw them in a recipe that I wanted to make that very instant (frequently some variation of chicken with olives and preserved lemons), and it was too frustrating to imagine waiting.
But I got over it, and with just 10 minutes effort I had a jar of lemons marinating away in a salt and juice bath. Now about 4 weeks later my preserved lemons are open for business.
Preserved lemons last for up to 9 months, so the perseverance and patience will pay off for weeks and weeks. The flavor is still that of a lemon, but more muted, and the rind will have softened quite a bit and have a nice gentle, chewy texture. I’m so excited to use them (finally!) in that chicken dish with olives. And I plan to use the rest in pasta dishes, ceviche, grain and vegetable salads, fish dishes, roasted vegetables, on flatbread… You get the idea.
Some cooks also like to layer in spices to the brining mixture, such as cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, cardamom, cloves, vanilla beans and peppercorns. Make one batch plain, then see how you want to experiment. Meyer lemons are great for preserving if you can find them, as they have thinner skins and less of the bitter white pith than regular lemons, but either will work.
These lemons, packed with the brine in canning jars, also make great gifts!
Start to finish: 3 to 4 weeks (10 minutes active)
Makes 10 lemons
1 or more clean jars to hold the lemons
1/2 cup kosher salt
2 cups lemon juice
Cut the lemons lengthwise into quarters, but stop before the quarters are completely separate, so the lemon holds together at the bottom. Generously salt the insides of the lemons, then press the quarters back together. Sprinkle some salt in the bottom of the jar and pack in the lemons, pressing them down as you go to release some of the juice and sprinkling additional salt between the layers of lemon.
Pour in the juice; there should be enough liquid to completely cover the lemons. Make sure there is a little headroom between the top of the liquid and lemons and the lid of the jar. Seal the jar.
Let sit at room temperature for 3 days, giving the jar a shake or 2 each day to redistribute the salt and liquid around the lemons. After 3 days, refrigerate the jar for at least 3 weeks (4 for best flavor). Give the jar a shake every couple of days as you think of it.
When you are ready to use the lemons, pull one out of the jar, give it a thorough rinse in cold water, then remove the seeds. Mince or sliver the rind to use in recipes. You also can use the flesh, though it will remain a bit salty.
Katie Workman has written two cookbooks focused on easy, family-friendly cooking, “Dinner Solved!” and “The Mom 100 Cookbook.” She blogs at https://www.themom100.com/about-katie-workman/