Preserving Lemons

There are a lot of cultures that preserve lemons, from North Africa to Italy to Asia.  They came up with the idea of salting lemons as a way to keep them throughout the year. But one place in particular has taken this to another level entirely. That is Morocco. It has been a culinary phenomenon that has had a huge effect on the cuisine, to the extent that the preserved lemon has completely displace the fresh article. Moroccan’s don’t even think of fresh lemons in connection with food beyond garnishing drinks and making lemonade.  Preserved lemons, on the other hand, can turn up in practically any savory dish on the table.

Basically preserved lemons are brined fruit, like an olive, or a pickle.  It’s cured and fermented in heavy salt.  But unlike those foods, which are nibbles, that sometimes get used as ingredients in cooking, a preserved lemons is never a nibble and always a seasoning, with an unmistakable, irreplaceable flavor-not to mention the flavor-enhancing qualities that have a unique effect on other ingredients in the dish as well.

What soy sauce and fish sauce are to Asian cooking, preserved lemons are to Moroccan food. They bring saltiness, acidity and a perfumy citrus quality to everything from stews and tagines to salads.  They’re the “ping” that balances the earthy flavors of cooked greens, soups, marinades, and sauces for lamb, beef, chicken, vegetables and fish.

They are incredibly easy to make and the payoff is huge flavor.  All you need are lemons, salt and a little patience.  If you start today, you’ll have preserved lemons in about a month.

Simple ideas with preserved lemons

Olives: toss a bit of minced preserved lemon rind with olives and a splash of olive oil. Warm in a sauté pan, or serve at room temperature.  Add minced preserved lemon to tapenade too.

Quick Salsa Verde: make a topping for fish, chicken or steak by tossing chopped blanched almonds I love Marcona’s , parsley, and olive oil with minced preserved rind.

Salads: dice preserved lemon rind and add to salads.  Try making this delicious spring vegetable salad with farro and preserved lemon.

Vegetables: add diced preserved lemon rind to braising greens, carrots, broccoli and other vegetables

Couscous: toss some finely minced preserved lemon rind and parsley into couscous just before serving.

Preserved lemon puree- addictive, ultra versatile puree that you can have on hand and add to food whenever you want a shot of flavor.  It can be used in everything from deviled eggs, egg salad, tuna salad, pasta with shrimp and Caesar dressing.  To make this coarsely chop the rinds of 3 preserved lemons and put them in a blender with ½ cup water.  Puree scraping down the sides as necessary.  Blend in 1 Tbsp. olive oil.  You should have a puree the consistency of a thick mayonnaise.  It it’s too thick add a little water.  Makes ¼ cup.  If you like you can add a bit of the pulp to make the puree saltier.  Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator topped with a film of olive oil, this will keep for several months.

Add a flavor bump to deviled eggs by mixing together 2 Tbsp. minced preserved lemons into 1/3 cup mayonnaise.  Hard boil 6 large eggs. Cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the yolk.  Mash with a fork and then stir in 6 Tbsp. of the preserved lemon mayonnaise 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard and some freshly ground pepper and kosher salt to taste. Spoon or pipe into the halved egg whites.  These can be served as is or top with some minced chives, smoked paprika or Za atar.

Ingredients:

5 Meyer lemons

1/4 cup kosher salt, more if needed  

Sterile Mason Jar   

Directions: 

Quarter the lemons from the top to within 1/2 inch of the bottom, sprinkle salt on the exposed flesh, then reshape the fruit.

 Place 1 tablespoon salt on the bottom of the mason jar. Pack in the lemons and push them down, adding more salt, and the optional spices between layers. Press the lemons down to release their juices and to make room for the remaining lemons. (If the juice released from the squashed fruit does not cover them, add freshly squeezed lemon juice — not chemically produced lemon juice and not water.*) Leave some air space before sealing the jar. Let the lemons ripen in a warm place, shaking the jar each day to distribute the salt and juice. Let ripen for 30 days. To use, rinse the lemons, as needed, under running water, removing and discarding the pulp, if desired — and there is no need to refrigerate after opening. Preserved lemons will keep up to a year, and the pickling juice can be used two or three times over the course of a year.