The basic recipe for preserved lemons is dead simple. Just salt and lemon. You can spice it up, if you like. This is one time when I’d say not to bother. The plain lemons are so good, and you’ll probably be using them in recipes that already have their own seasoning. You can use them in almost any savory recipe that calls for lemons, like Greek lemon garlic chicken, tagine, or just as a marinade with olives.
Preserved lemons take a couple of weeks to finish. If you’re in a hurry there are “instant” preserve recipes for lemons. But there’s no reason not to have a constant supply of these in the fridge. They are excellent added to Greek Lemon Chicken, lemon pasta, tagine, or marinated olives. The salting seems to remove a lot of the bitterness, and the result is soft, fragrant and sour. It’s surprising if you aren’t expecting it—somehow I feel like the western palate associates lemon more with sweets than savouries.
There is a little art in choosing the lemons. Pick lemons that give slightly to the touch and that are bright and fragrant. I like them with thin peel, but not too thin. I think the pith adds to the taste and texture. If the lemons aren’t juicy enough, you might need to add the juice of another lemon to submerge the fruit. I usually use the typical Eureka lemon. But this recipe also works very well with other citrus fruits like Meyer Lemons, or limes (key limes, Bearss, or Persian).
I got this recipe is from my first cookbook (it’s still one of my favourites); “Worldfood Café”. I bought it when I was in Japan, and craving spicy flavours. The green curry, harissa and preserved lemon recipes revolutionised my cooking.
– 1lb of lemons
– (maybe extra juice if necessary)
– 6 tbsp (90 ml) salt
Optional (some combination of)
– Chilis (fresh, dried, red or green)
– A couple bay leaves
– A small cinnamon stick
– A few cloves
– Whole pepper (app 2 tsp)
– Fennel seed (app 2 tsp)
– A couple fried garlic cloves
Wash and cut the lemons into quarters or a little smaller. Toss with the salt, and let sit for a minute. Pack tightly into a jar. Try to exclude air from the lemons. I usually put cling wrap over the surface of lemons, and fill the gap between the lemons and the lids with corks. This keeps the lemons submerged in the brine.
Let the lemons sit out for 3 weeks. The salt will likely take a few days to completely, so turn the jar once a day or so, to mix. Making sure the lemons stay submerged. If the mixture starts bubbling, you might need to add a little more salt — you want them pickled, not fermented, otherwise they’ll taste like lemon floor cleaner. This happened to me once, and it was unpleasant.
You’ll notice, as the salt dissolves, the juice will start to thicken to a viscous syrup. The lemons will eventually start to look softer. After three weeks, the lemons will be tender. You can use them immediately, or keep them in the fridge for up to six months after this point. If they’ve lasted this long, I find the slightly fermented lemon smell off-putting (though as far as I can tell, they’re still fine to use), and just make another batch.