Preserved lemons are very easy to make and add a complex flavor to many North African and Middle Eastern dishes. They are lemony, but so much deeper in flavor in ways that only fermentation and preservation can achieve. It’s lemon umami!
Diced preserved lemon peel is terrific used in every day dishes, as well. For example, couscous and other pastas, grain dishes, white fish, poultry, and lamb and beef braises or stews, and many types of beans. They also perk up vegetables like sautéed spinach, roasted potatoes, and eggplant.
With the simple act of using Kosher salt to preserve and the patience of waiting about three weeks, you’ll be rewarded with a versatile “condiment” to add to your arsenal. If they are refrigerated and packed under dry Kosher salt, preserved lemons last a good year. They are available at many markets, but they are so easy (and less expensive) to make, why not try it? Many preserved lemons found on market shelves have dissolved kosher salt and other added, unwanted ingredients. Some liquid (lemon juice that’s been extracted from the salt) in the jar is fine. But I prefer to keep at least a dry “cap” of Kosher salt on the top to ensure they don’t spoil.
Here’s the recipe:
- 3-4 small, or 2-3 medium organic lemons
- 1 box Kosher Salt (I use regular Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, which is about $3/box. This is also the salt I cook with.)
- Wash and dry each lemon.
- Line the base of a clean, empty jar with Kosher salt. (about half an inch)
- From the stem end of each lemon cut the lemon crosswise until nearly toward the tip end of the lemon. (The lemon will nearly be quartered)
- Gently pry open each lemon and stuff with Kosher salt.
- Place the lemon in the jar and force as much additional Kosher salt into the lemon as it will hold. Surround the lemon with additional Kosher salt.
- Repeat with each remaining lemon.
- Pack down the lemons in the jar tightly.
- Pour additional Kosher salt about half an inch above the highest lemon.
- Leave at room temperature for several days. It’s ok if the salt begins to liquify,
- Top off the jar with dry salt, if needed and then refrigerate and wait three weeks for the magical transformation of the salt to break down the lemons.
When ready to use:
- Remove a lemon from the jar. Add extra salt to the remaining jar if the other lemons are exposed.
- Rinse the salt from the lemon.
- With a paring knife, scrape and discard the lemon flesh and as much white pith as you can without damaging the peel. (You want the peel, not the fruit flesh.)
- Soak the lemon peel in fresh water for at least an hour to desalinate the peel. Change out the water once or twice.
- Dice the peel and add to whatever dish you are making (Couscous, a poultry or meat sauce, etc.)
Note: Even with desalination, the preserved lemon peel will still be a salty. Keep that in mind ans use less salt than you normally would when seasoning your dish. Taste along the way to adjust seasonings as needed.
Bonus: When your preserved lemons are gone, save the salt. A farmer’s market trend in the last few years is smoked and flavored salts. Why pay top dollar when you have unwittingly already made it yourself?! Air dry your lemon-flavored salt on a baking sheet. Once completely dry, transfer to a sealable container and mark it as “lemon salt.” Use for any dish that requires salt that would also benefit from a lemony boost.