How to Make Preserved Lemons

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Here’s a preview to a much more delicious post to come, one that actually uses the preserved lemons in a recipe. But it’s always nice to dig deeper into the ingredients of a recipe, especially when they might seem exotic and elusive at first. If you’ve ever tried Moroccan food, you’ve probably come across this singular ingredient in a tagine with chicken. I’ve made many renditions of the dish using just fresh lemons in lieu of hunting down the proper stuff, and it just wasn’t the same (although, still kinda good).

But I have to thank Ball and their new book on preserving methods for the inspiration. Today they’re celebrating a Can-It-Forward Day, to help everyone figure out how to preserve all their summer produce, with live video instructions and Q&A’s on Twitter (hashtag #canitforward). I never participate in campaigns on this blog unless it’s for a charity, but after a recent chat with Sherri Brooks Vinton on Eat Your Words, talking about creative ways to reduce food waste in the home, I’ve felt compelled to do more preserving. Especially now, at the height of harvest season, when we often have too much and manage to let great produce go to the wayside. Food waste is a real challenge for other parts of the food chain, but at least in the home kitchen the solutions can be just a lot of fun.

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I kept wondering about what kinds of produce I haven’t tried preserving yet, either because it seemed too difficult or just never got around to. Turns out it only takes a mason jar and some salt to make preserved lemons—and a bit of time to let them ferment.

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It starts out with some clean, preferably organic or well-scrubbed lemons. To get their juices flowing in the jar, they’re typically sliced into quarters lengthwise, leaving about a half-inch at the base to hold the lemons intact.

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Then you rub them with salt inside and out. Squish these suckers into jars (I packed three medium-sized lemons into a 1-quart mason jar). The juice that comes out should totally submerge the lemons in the jar, but if it’s not enough, squeeze some extra fresh lemons and add the juice until it does.

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Then that’s basically it. It’s a waiting game next of about 30 days to let the lemons ferment just enough, according to The All New Ball Book of Canning and Preserving (and corroborated by various other recipes for Moroccan preserved lemons I found elsewhere). You can also let the lemons ferment a bit longer, and it’ll last in the fridge for up to a year. That should give me plenty of time to figure out what to do with preserved lemons.

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But what should I make with them, once they’re fully preserved? Of course, tagine with chicken, olives and preserved lemon (as recalled in this and this post from a long-ago trip to Morocco) is one go-to. But there are plenty of creative uses for preserved lemons—from stews to salad dressings. Any suggestions?

Leave a comment with an idea for a dish to make with the finished preserved lemons, and my dog Doug will choose one winner! I’ll try to make your suggestion in a recipe post in the future, and you’ll also win a copy of The All New Ball Book of Canning and Preserving: Over 350 of the Best Canned, Jammed, Pickled, and Preserved Recipes. It really is the best new cookbook from Ball, as it includes fermented recipes and traditional, international preservation methods, like for these lemons. Hope you win!

Preserved Lemons
Recipe courtesy of The All New Ball Book of Canning and Preserving, Oxmoor House press, 2016

8 to 10 small unblemished organic lemons, scrubbed under hot water and divided
5 tsp (25mL) Ball salt for pickling and preserving (or kosher salt or sea salt)
1 (1-qt./1-L) canning jar
flavoring herbs: 1 bay leaf, fresh thyme sprig, 1 tsp black peppercorns, 1 tsp dried crushed Aleppo pepper (optional)

Remove stems from lemons. Place 1 lemon, stem end down, on a cutting board; cut from top to bottom to, but not through, to stem end, quartering lemon, but leaving bottom intact. Spread lemon quarters apart, and rub flesh with 1 tsp salt. Close lemon, and place in jar, pressing with a wooden spoon to release juice. If desired, add 1 or more flavoring herbs.

Repeat procedure with as many of the remaining lemons as can be tightly packed into jar, leaving 1-inch headspace. Squeeze juice from remaining lemons, discarding seeds; add juice to jar, pressing lemons down until completely submerged. Cover top of jar with plastic wrap. Center lid on jars. Apply bands, and adjust loosely. Let stand, at room temperature, for 3 days, adding additional lemon juice as necessary to keep lemons submerged.

After 3 days, place in refrigerator and let ferment for 1 month before using. Store lemons in refrigerator for up to 1 year.

Cost Calculator
(for 2 jars of preserved lemons)

8 lemons (at 50 cents each): $4.00
5 tsp salt: $0.25

Total: $4.25

Health Factor and Green Factor ratings respectfully omitted for guest recipes. I received 1 free cookbook and 2 mason jars from Ball in exchange for this post.

5 Responses

  1. Birgitte
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    I don’t have any suggestions for recipes (so am nott entering the competition), but just wanted to say that this looks great and surprisingly easy. I’ll try it and look corward to seeing it used.

  2. Cathy Erway
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    @Birgitte: Yes! Hope you enjoy giving it a run too!

  3. Saralyn
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    I am kind of obsessed with preserved lemons. Made some last year. Love having them them in my fridge to have when I need/want some bright citrus flavor in a dish. I seeded my lemons and tossed them in the food processor once they had fermented. I don’t have recipes, but ideas to share. I’ve added a spoonful (or two) to pesto, or pasta dishes, just prior to serving. Last night I added it to a carrot green, parsley, basil pesto with minced anchovy that I tossed with roasted cauliflower. I’ve also added it to dresses for salads and such. I’ve found it is best when added just prior to serving. Too much heat seems to diminish the bright lemon flavor.

  4. Emily H
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    I wonder how these would be in cocktails! Especially in a cocktail where you’d rim the glass with salt, anyway, like a margarita type drink… Hmmm.

  5. Anne H
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    I love to make preserved lemons, especially with meyer lemons. I do them in quart jars and add a cinnamon stick and allspice berries in the North African style. My favorite way to use them this time of year is to make a salad with sliced tomatoes, sliced red onions, chopped parsley and mint, and feta dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. I scrape the pulp off the rind and slice it thinly.

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