Behold: my secret ingredient! If you want to elevate your meals to another level, consider the preserved lemon. Aromatic and full of lemony flavour, preserved lemons give your dish a citrus punch without making it overly sour.
I love lemon as an ingredient and use it in most of my cooking – especially savoury dishes, possibly something you’ve noticed. Often I use it to “lift” the flavours of a dish through its acidic properties, rather than make the dish actually taste like lemons. You use preserved lemons in the opposite way: to give a heady and aromatic lemon note to food (much like using a spice), rather than as an acid ingredient to lift other flavours.
Store-bought preserved lemons are rarely worth picking up (unless they are from a small company, preservative-free and reasonably fresh). To make them yourself you’ll need a bunch of preferably organic, unwaxed lemons (or you can also use limes). The best place to look is in your neighbour’s backyard or your local farmers market. Organic lemons are generally unwaxed, so buy up at your farmers market next time you see them on special. Remember that you’re eating the rinds, so it’s best to avoid conventional supermarket lemons.
This is one of the easiest preserves I know, it takes little time and gives back to you in plenty of wonderful meals. It really elevates a good meal into something amazing! I’ve also made some Algerian preserved limes (made the same way but with the addition of cinnamon sticks and coriander seeds), which are pictured above. They also make sweet gifts for your food loving friends! This is the time for preserving citrus and you will love yourself for the next year if you make some this winter! xx
Use organic, unwaxed lemons. Unwaxed is the more important of the two as you’ll be eating the rinds.
Makes 8-10 (about 30-40 serves, depending on use)
8-10 lemons or limes
Rock sea salt
Whole spices such as bay leaves, coriander seeds, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, dried chillies (optional, to taste)
Using hot water, wash and sterilise a jar approximately 1 litre in capacity. Place a heaped teaspoon of salt at the bottom of the jar. Wash your hands thoroughly.
Wash and dry your lemons. Cut the ends off each, and then quarter them lengthways, leaving 1cm uncut at the base so that they are still attached together (see picture above for example).
Place a heaped teaspoon of rock salt inside a lemon cavity, and then put it in the jar. Repeat with remaining lemons, pushing down on them in the jar to release their juices. You should be able to fill the jar at least 80% with their juice by pressing firmly with your hands or with a wooden spoon. If they seem a bit less juicy, squeeze a few extra lemons and add their juice to the jar. It is okay if the lemons detach into segments when you are pressing them in.
Add the spices now, if using, and push these into the sides of the jar. Pour a final tablespoon of salt on top of the lemons and fill the remaining 20% of the jar with water, making sure all the lemon pieces are submerged.
Close the jar, date it, and store at room temperature. Invert the jars every few days to redistribute the salt. The lemons will be ready to use in 3 weeks, and should then be stored in the fridge for up to a year. I think they are best after a month, and they’ll continue to soften and go more delicious over time.
To use, take one quarter piece of preserved lemon, discard flesh and wash the rind under cold water to remove excess salt. Finely slice or dice the rind and add to Moroccan-style stews, beans and tagines, soups, dips, on avocado on toast, etc!