Have you heard of preserved lemons?
I hadn’t until a few weeks ago when I went to one of my favorite local restaurants and ordered an appetizer of roasted Brussels sprouts that were made with diced preserved lemons. The bright zesty bursts of lemon peel in an otherwise savory, earthy dish caught my attention and I commented on them to our server.
When I learned that the zingy ingredient that caught my attention was preserved lemons and did more research on the ingredient, I learned that they are often used in Moroccan dishes and tagines. But what made me the most excited was that I now had a way to capture the bright citrus gems of this time of year to enjoy during all of the other months!
And now that I’ve made these preserved lemons, I can’t stop putting them in every dish!
These zesty, bright lemon peels mellow out in their brine over the three weeks they sit. When they’re done pickling (as my roommate pointed out) they are very similar to olives, but of course they’re lemons. The briny, salty lemon peels are tangy and tender, and the bitterness found in fresh lemon peels has softened to a gentle, versatile zing.
When you remove the flesh from the pickled skin and wash and dice the peels, you get an ingredient that quickly and easily adds delicious zest to every dish it’s used in.
You can also blend the peels to make a potent, lemony puree that can be stirred into a variety of dishes.
While most preserved lemon recipes will tell you to quarter the lemons just to the bottom (but not all the way through) and/or to place the lemons in the jar and mash them down until the juice comes out, we’re going to make our preserved lemons in a way that’s a bit easier and simpler.
We’re going to quarter the lemons all the way through and juice them before putting them in the jar and layering them with salt, so we can be sure we’re getting the most juice out of the lemons.
If you can find them, I strongly recommend making these preserved lemons with gentle, large, bright Meyer lemons. This pretty fruit is slightly sweeter, more mellow, and less bitter than traditional lemons, but regular lemons will certainly work in this recipe.
And while the herbs and spices are not required, adding them to the brine creates a more flavorful, fragrant, unusual product that is an absolute delight to cook with. In addition to (or instead of) the bay leaves and cloves I used, you could also use fresh or dried thyme or rosemary, garlic, cinnamon sticks, or sliced ginger.
You’ll love the addition of spices to your preserved lemons!
Looking for more ways to use this new ingredient? Stay tuned for a slew of recipes featuring delightful homemade preserved lemons!
And if you can stand to divvy up your batch, a little jar of preserved lemons makes a fantastic homemade holiday or hostess gift!
- 4-6 Meyer lemons (if you can't find any Meyer lemons, regular lemons will do)
- Coarse sea salt
- Herbs (I used bay leaf and whole cloves; see above for additional suggestions)
- Cut each of the lemons in half and juice them firmly, getting as much juice from the fruit as possible. Cut each of the juiced halves in half again so each lemon has been cut into quarters.
- Cover the bottom of a quart-sized mason jar with a generous layer of sea salt. Add four of the lemon quarters and cover with a layer of sea salt. Add a bit of your herbs. Continue with the remaining lemon quarters, layering lemon wedges, sea salt, and herbs until you've filled the jar. Make sure that the last layer of lemon is sprinkled with a heavy layer of sea salt.
- Pour the lemon juice over the contents of the jar until the lemon wedges are covered with lemon juice. Press the wedges to pack them down into the jar if necessary to submerge. (Add additional fresh squeezed lemon juice if necessary to cover, but you shouldn't need more juice than what you squeezed.)
- Screw the lid on tightly and place the jar in a cool, dark area for 2-4 weeks. When the lemon wedges are done pickling, refrigerate. They will last refrigerated for about a year. To use, remove a lemon wedge from the jar. Peel off the flesh, rinse off the extra salt, and dice or puree the peel to add to your recipe.