I just love using preserved lemons to add an intense bit of lemon tartness to dishes, savory or sweet. In many recipes where I call for these, you can substitute lemon zest, but it’s just not the same.
Just remember that when you are using lemon rinds, it’s important to remove all of the pith before using, as that’s where the lemon’s bitterness hides and your end result will overpower a dish very easily. They’re very intense and a little goes a long way!
- 2 ¼ cups coarse salt
- 9 lemons
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 ½ cups vodka
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
Bring a large pot of water to a boil with ¼ cup of the salt. Boil 4 of the lemons whole until they begin to soften, 5 minutes. Remove them with tongs and set them aside to cool. Add the remaining 5 lemons to the boiling water for 5 minutes, and then remove them and set them aside to cool with the others.
In a small pot, combine the remaining 2 cups salt, sugar, vodka, fennel seeds, peppercorns, red pepper flakes, and mustard seeds. Set the pot over low heat and simmer until the sugar and salt have dissolved, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the cooled lemons, running your knife lengthwise from just below the top of the lemon to just above the bottom tip, so as to cut it into quarters without cutting all the way through the fruit. Stuff the lemons into a large glass jar with a lid (at least ½-gallon sized). Pour the salt liquid over the lemons, pushing the fruit down to make sure it’s submerged. Let the liquid come to room temperature, and then close the lid tightly. Let the lemons sit at a cool room temperature for 2 weeks*, then they are ready to use. Once you open them, the preserved lemons can be refrigerated for up to 6 months.
Editor's note: The recipe and introductory text below are excerpted from Paula Wolfert's book Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco. Wolfert also shared some helpful cooking tips exclusively with Epicurious, which we've added at the bottom of the page.
Preserved lemons, sold loose in the souks, are one of the indispensable ingredients of Moroccan cooking, used in fragrant lamb and vegetable tagines, recipes for chicken with lemons and olives , and salads. Their unique pickled taste and special silken texture cannot be duplicated with fresh lemon or lime juice, despite what some food writers have said. In Morocco they are made with a mixture of fragrant-skinned doqq and tart boussera lemons, but I have had excellent luck with American lemons from Florida and California.
Moroccan Jews have a slightly different procedure for pickling, which involves the use of olive oil, but this recipe, which includes optional herbs (in the manner of Safi), will produce a true Moroccan preserved-lemon taste.
The important thing in preserving lemons is to be certain they are completely covered with salted lemon juice. With my recipe you can use the lemon juice over and over again. (As a matter of fact, I keep a jar of used pickling juice in the kitchen, and when I make Bloody Marys or salad dressings and have half a lemon left over, I toss it into the jar and let it marinate with the rest.) Use wooden utensils to remove the lemons as needed.
Sometimes you will see a sort of lacy, white substance clinging to preserved lemons in their jar it is perfectly harmless, but should be rinsed off for aesthetic reasons just before the lemons are used. Preserved lemons are rinsed, in any case, to rid them of their salty taste. Cook with both pulps and rinds, if desired.
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How to use preserved lemons in cooking and baking (recipe round-up)
I get asked so often how to use preserved lemons in cooking and baking, that I decided to expand my usual response into a post.
From what I have noticed, home cooks tend to purchase a jar of preserved lemons for a specific recipe – and then stuff the remainder in the back of the fridge for a year or two. Others get fired up over a DIY recipe, like my Spiced Preserved Lemons, but then don’t know what on earth to do with them afterward.
I use preserved lemons in practically everything. I should state from the beginning that I am a longtime devotee to preserved lemons and always have a jar or two in my refrigerator. Hopefully by the end of this post you are both inspired to stock your pantry permanently with preserved lemons and feel confident adding them to your cooking and baking.
Traditionally, salt-preserved lemons were a staple in Morrocan cooking, but now (similar to the recent popularity of harissa) chefs and home cooks alike are reaching for a jar to inject a zing of tangy lemon flavour into everything from pesto to pasta. Why, just this evening for dinner I finished a pea, pancetta and parmesan risotto with a spoon of minced preserved lemon.
Not only do the lemons add a little extra saltiness to a dish, but they also provide a musky fermented note that is almost umami and bring an intense lemon flavour that is unmistakable. In short, they are capable of completely transforming a dish for the better.
Back in my restaurant days, we packed five-gallon buckets full of salted lemons and let them transform in the walk-in refrigerator. When they were ready, we minced the rind and stirred it into couscous, topped salmon tartar and finished raw oysters with a tangy preserved lemon shaved ice. Delicious.
In my own kitchen I blend preserved lemon into frosty lassis, bake it into madeleines and add it to quinoa dishes. I chop it and fold the lemon into avocado egg salad sandwiches. And that is just the start. My upcoming cookbook features preserved lemon in a herbacous potato salad and my next cocktail is going to be this preserved lemon sage gin & tonic. It seems I just can’t stop.
Okay, now you know the why, so here is the how. It’s very simple: remove a quarter of lemon from the jar and rinse under cold water. If you skip this step the salt on the lemon will overpower. Pat the lemon dry and separate the peel from the flesh.
The preserved rind of the lemon is the real prize here, although the flesh can be used as well. I mostly use the peel in my cooking and baking, diced or finely minced.
Now that you have your prized ingredient, let’s put it to good use: enhance salad dressings, liven up soups, add extra zing to chicken dinners and pastas. And when that gets old, fold it into quick breads, fruit pie filling and pancake batter.
Preserved Lemon Recipe Round-Up: Savoury
- :: Topped with goat cheese, this versatile vegetarian dish from the archives is absolutely popping with flavour. :: Eating Well :: The Guardian :: Food & Wine :: The Kitchn :: Serious Eats :: Alexandra’s Kitchen
- :: A Simple Bites classic just toss a teaspoon of minced preserved lemon in with the rest of the ingredients. :: The Guardian :: Eat Simply, Eat Well :: Food & Wine :: Bon Appetit :: Letty’s Kitchen :: My Name is Yeh
One last savoury idea…dice up the lemon and add a tablespoon or so into the filling for these Tangy Quinoa Spring Salad Cups. The flavours play very well together: jalepeno, avocado, cilantro, mango – and preserved lemon.
Preserved Lemon Recipe Round-Up: Sweet
- :: In this favourite drink from the Simple Bites archives, small Quebec strawberries and tangy preserved lemons marry in a sweet and salty lassi. :: A spoon of minced preserved lemon would only improve this fragrant pound cake. :: Stir a little minced preserved lemon into the whipped cream or the compote. :: Food52 :: The Daring Gourmet :: NYT Cooking
- :: A Simple Bites original, best-loved recipe. Don’t make them just at Christmas they would also be perfect for Easter brunch. :: Dave Bakes :: Food & Wine :: Dinner with Julie
Looking for more? My friend Alana has plenty more ideas for using preserved lemons, including a kale caesar salad recipe. Yes please.
Remember, a jar of preserved lemons can hold in the refrigerator for up to a year, so there’s no need to use it all up at once. Spread the goodness out, jazzing up dishes here and there throughout the week. I’d love to hear what you make, so leave a comment and share how you use your preserved lemons.
Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.
What to do with preserved lemons
Got a jar of preserved lemons lurking in the back of your fridge and don't know what to do with them? Look no further. From dressings to salads, stews, and as a flavouring for Middle Eastern dishes, we've got 10 imaginative ways of using them up. And they're all pretty easy, too!
Published: July 16, 2015 at 9:55 am
1. Make a dressing
We use preserved lemons a lot in the olive test kitchen, and they’re usually finely chopped in dressings for salads or fish. Here, it’s paired with a roast leg of lamb for a lighter, summery dinner rather than having a lamb roast. We’ve mixed it with capers, white wine vinegar, olives, garlic and plenty of fresh herbs for a sunny dressing with a big punch. You could add it to your regular salad dressings for a zesty kick – it’s more fragrant than regular lemon juice.
2. Put preserved lemons in a salad
Instead of adding preserved lemon to dressings, try adding it to more robust dishes such as lentil salads to brighten up pulses. It’s really lovely with puy lentils and kale like the recipe here. Top with plenty of goat’s curd, labneh or yogurt for a healthy but filling meal.
3. Cook them in a stew
Adding preserved lemons whole to one pot dishes means you get a more aromatic flavour. Or if you’re a die-hard preserved lemon fan, cut them into strips and add them to a chicken stew with olives and thyme… it’s like being transported to Morocco.
4. Pair them with cheese
Rich baked ricotta is paired with preserved lemon to cut though the creaminess in this dish. It’s a great vegetarian dinner party starter. If it’s too hot outside to turn the oven on, try whipped goat’s cheese (such as this one) with the preserved lemon dressing instead.
5. Give an extra dimension to middle eastern cooking
Preserved lemon isn’t the predominant flavour in these little spinach, feta and onion parcels, but they add something extra to the classic combination. You could add it to most spinach dishes for a fragrant hint, including spinach and mushroom pilaf, veggie lasagne or creamed spinach.
The Palomar’s shakshukit (essentially a deconstructed kebab) is a dish from Jerusalem of spiced mince meat, topped with plenty of dips including harissa, tahini, pesto, tapenade and, of course, preserved lemon. There might be quite a few ingredients in the list, but it’s totally worth it and would be a great starter to a Middle Eastern sharing menu.
7. Add them to salsas
Try pan-fried halibut topped with crispy panko breadcrumbs, with a super easy salsa dressing of tomato, preserved lemon, chives and olive oil. This would be great with any white fish for a quick supper. Just serve with seasonal veg, and you’ve got a healthy mid-week meal.
8. Add them to fish curry
Preserved lemon is great in fresh tomato fish curries. This one is spiced with cumin, coriander, saffron and lemon juice. Serve in a tagine with buttered couscous and a dollop of harissa for a quick but impressive main.
9. Use them with fresh lemon to create new flavour profiles
Whoever thought of griddling cucumbers is a genius. We’re fully on board. This recipe comes topped with sweet brown shrimp, coriander and yogurt. By mixing fresh lemon juice and preserved lemon peel, you get a really rounded lemon flavour which works well in this fresh dish. Spinkle over some toasted flaked almond and serve with crusty ciabatta for a main, or divide between small plates for a beautiful summery starter.
10. Add them to grains
Stir through spelt, barley or couscous and serve with Morroccan inspired stews, or perk-up cauliflower couscous with pomegranate, mint, red onion and lemon for a fragrant side dish that works especially well with these venison and mutton kofte.
Put a kettle of water on to boil.
Select a large clean jar with a tight-fitting lid for preserving the lemons. Figure out how many lemons will fit into the jar. You'll need those lemons plus the juice from about 1 1/2 times that amount. Leaving one end intact, cut each lemon you're preserving into quarters lengthwise. Fill each lemon "blossom" with about a tablespoon of salt and place in the jar.
Squeeze the juice from the extra lemons and pour the lemon juice over the salted lemons. Fill the rest of the jar with boiling water. Screw the lid on tightly.
Let the jar sit on your counter for about 10 days, shaking it up once a day to redistribute juices and salt. Then refrigerate for up to 6 months.
To use: Rinse the preserved lemons before using. You can use the yellow rind and/or the flesh, but discard the bitter white pith.
Make Ahead Tip: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
How to make this preserved lemon vinaigrette recipe
I choose to use the flesh and rind of the lemon, being careful to remove the seeds. Some people only use the rind – I use as much of the lemon and the preserving liquid as I possibly can.
- Rinse the salty liquid off the lemon and chop coarsely if using a food processor or more finely if just whisking your vinaigrette.
- Put all the ingredients in the food processor and pulse or turn it on until it’s the texture you want – completely smooth or leave some bits of lemon. You also want to see the oil incorporated.
- If whisking by hand, I would add the oil a bit at a time whisking to emulsify it with the other ingredients.
- The most important thing is to taste it. Too tart? Add a touch more sugar. Want even more lemony freshness? Add some more fresh lemon juice. Want a stronger herby flavor – add extra dried or fresh thyme or parsley.
If using it soon after you make it, leave it out of the fridge so it doesn’t congeal. Refrigerate the leftovers and don’t be concerned that it thickens up – take it out and let it come to room temperate or add a touch of lemon juice and whisk it smooth.
Preserved Lemons: Older, Wiser And Full Of Flavor
On many occasions in my longtime relationship with cookbooks, I have had this experience (which will sound familiar, if you like Middle Eastern flavors as much as I do). I'm happily paging through my new Moroccan or Lebanese or Israeli book, lost in dreams of lamb and sumac, saffron and figs. "Mmmm," I murmur over a glossy page, "that looks delicious."
I trace my finger down the ingredients list. Shallots, check. Tomatoes, check. Cinnamon stick, check. And then there it is: Preserved lemon. "Drat," I think. "Foiled again."
The flavor of a preserved lemon needs no justification. It's mellow yet intensely lemony, with none of the nose-tickling bright high notes of the fresh lemon.
Here's the thing about preserved lemons: They're not the sort of thing you can just pick up anywhere. And while they're easy to make, it's not like you can just say, "Oh, I'll do them tomorrow afternoon, and then we'll have the lamb Thursday." Preserved lemons can take a month — certainly not less than two weeks. By that time, I've put aside my North African cookbooks and I'm on to an easy French or Hunan cookbook, or a book that's all about ice cream or pickles. Preserved lemons are not great if you have a short attention span.
On the other hand, they keep practically forever. So if you can just make up your mind one afternoon to spend the 15 minutes it takes to cut, salt and jar them, afterward you can pretty much forget about them for as long as you like, or until you happen to think about Mediterranean citruses again.
About The Author
T. Susan Chang regularly reviews cookbooks for The Boston Globe, NPR.org and the cookbook-indexing website Eat Your Books. She's the author of A Spoonful of Promises: Recipes and Stories From a Well-Tempered Table. For more information, visit her blog, Cookbooks for Dinner.
The only real problem is that they might be taking up valuable real estate in the fridge, where someone not in the know might mistake them for a project gone wrong and toss them. If this is a habit among members of your family, I recommend that you train them out of it. ("Whoever throws something out has to taste it first" is an extremely effective rule.)
Once you've stashed away your very own golden hoard, you're set. You can pair your preserved lemons with olives (is there any other cuisine which makes such magic with old, salty fruits?) in the traditional, braised fashion. You can dress them up with lashings of butter in potatoes or risottos or couscous. They stand up to garlic, and they cooperate with cilantro. They nicely balance sweet flavors, such as dried apricots or honey.
Once, the reason for preserving lemons was the usual one: It was a way of continuing to enjoy the fruit after its season had passed. But the flavor of a preserved lemon needs no justification. It's mellow yet intensely lemony, with none of the nose-tickling bright, high notes of the fresh lemon. The peel — which is the part you use, usually — is soft to the touch and satiny in the mouth. It's translucent, with a muted yellow luster when you hold it to the light, which I like to do just for fun after pulling out the pulp and rinsing off the salt. Sometimes, if the peel happens to be particularly thick, I laterally slice off another quarter-inch layer of pith from the inside, the better to taste and smell that shining cortex.
These days, of course, you can get adorable young lemons pretty much any time you want. (You can even get organic ones by the bag.) They're firm, fresh and tart, and sometimes there really is nothing you want more. But give me my old lemons, mild and mellowed, a little soft and salty, making everything around them seem a little sweeter. They're not the only ones, I hope, that grow more tender as they age.
Recipe: Preserved Lemons
You can find a recipe for preserved lemons just about anywhere, they're that easy. Here's an adaptation of one from Claudia Roden's Arabesque (Knopf, 2005). I used kosher salt, and I can't see that it did any harm.
Juice of 4 additional lemons, or more to taste
Wash and scrub the lemons. The classic Moroccan way is to cut each lemon in quarters but not right through, so that the pieces are still attached at the stem end, and to stuff each with a tablespoon of salt and squeeze it closed. Put them in a sterilized preserving jar, pressing them down so that they are squashed together, and close the jar.
Leave for 3 to 4 days, by which time the lemons will have disgorged some of their juices and the skins will have softened a little. Open the jar and press the lemons down as much as you can, then add fresh lemon juice to cover them entirely.
Close the jar and leave in a cool place for at least a month. The longer they are left, the better the flavor. (If a piece of lemon is not covered, it develops a white mold that is harmless and just needs to be washed off.)
Before using, scoop out and discard the pulp, and rinse the lemon peel under the tap to get rid of the salt.
Recipe: Chicken With Preserved Lemon And Green Olives
This is the absolute best-known way to eat preserved lemon, and for good reason. I have two-dozen recipes for chicken with preserved lemon and olives on my shelves, but Claudia Roden's recipe from Arabesque (Knopf, 2005) is my choice for its sheer clarity and sure-footedness.
Homemade Preserved Lemons
When life gives you lemons &mdash pickle them! They'll add tangy, citrusy flavor to dips, salads, chicken, and more.
- Heat covered 6-quart saucepot of water to boiling on high. With tongs, place 1-quart wide-mouthed glass canning jar and metal lid into boiling water. Boil 2 minutes, turning occasionally. Remove and invert onto clean kitchen towel to dry.
- Scrub lemons quarter lengthwise, leaving 1&frasl4 inch of bottoms intact. For each lemon, rub 1 tablespoon salt between quarters place in jar.
- Add enough lemon juice to cover completely (about 1 1/2 cup). Cover with lid. Let stand at least 4 weeks in cool spot. Refrigerate after opening (keeps for 6 months).
Try our variations on the classic! After the preserved lemons have stood for 1 week, remove lid, firmly press down on lemons and add flavorings.
1 cinnamon stick, broken up + 2 whole cloves + 1&frasl2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
4 star anises + 2 tablespoons fennel seeds + 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 40 to 50 large lemons (about 10 pounds), washed and dried
- 1 box (about 10 cups) kosher salt
Sterilize two 1.5-liter canning jars and two 1-liter canning jars with clamp-top lids (we used Fido brand) by boiling them and their rubber seals in water 10 minutes. Remove with tongs, and let cool.
Cut stem end off each of 24 to 30 lemons. Make 5 or 6 slits (a little less than 1/2 inch deep) down the length of each lemon with a sharp paring knife, cutting to within 1/2 inch of bottom of lemon but not all the way through. Press top of lemon with your palm to flatten and cause slits to splay open. Gather and save any juices that accumulate on cutting board. Pack as much salt as possible (about 1 tablespoon) into each slit.
Place about 1/2 cup salt in each 1.5-liter jar, and pour in a little lemon juice. Working with 1 jar at a time, add 1 lemon, and flatten as much as possible. Sprinkle in a little more salt, add another lemon and repeat process, adding more juice every so often. Repeat until you reach top of jar (each jar should take 12 to 15 lemons). Seal jars, and refrigerate 20 days, shaking and rotating once a day, before giving as a gift. Most but not all of the salt will dissolve.
For remaining lemons, trim stem end of each lemon and cut in half lengthwise cut each half into 8 pieces. For every 2 cups of lemon pieces, toss with 1/2 cup salt in a bowl. Fill two 1-liter jars with lemon mixture, pressing down as many lemon pieces as possible and causing them to exude some of their juice. Seal jars, and refrigerate at least 10 days, shaking and rotating once a day, before giving as gifts.
A versatile Middle Eastern condiment, preserved lemons are great to have on hand. This version includes sugar, which gives the lemons a bright, sweet-tart taste.
- 2 3/4 cup sugar, divided
- 3/4 cup kosher salt
- 1 lemon, sliced 1/8 inch thick and seeds removed
- 2 cups water
Mix together 3/4 cup sugar and the salt. Layer the lemon slices in a baking dish and cover with the sugar-salt mixture. (Make sure the slices are completely covered.) Let cure for 48 hours in the refrigerator.
Remove the lemon slices from the cure and rinse under cold water to wash away the curing mixture. Combine the remaining sugar and the water in a pot. Heat over medium-high heat until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is boiling. Add the lemon slices and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Let the slices to cool in the syrup. Transfer the slices to a jar, cover, and refrigerate for up to a month.