Preserved lemons are a common condiment from South Asian and North African cuisine. It is also known as “country lemon” or leems. They provide an intense punch of lemon flavour that lemon juice and lemon zest just can’t provide. The preservation process does take time, but it is worth it I promise.
What can you use preserved lemons for?
You can swap out regular lemons for preserved ones in any of your recipes. Some of the best ideas are with roast chickens, fish, and grilled meats. When using preserved lemons, it is most common to only use the rind. However, the pulp can be added to sauces, stews and other dishes to help develop a bright flavour. Don’t toss the preserving liquid!! This liquid can be used to flavour your dishes as well! Use preserved lemons to brighten up your salad dressings, hummus, other dips, grain salads, or even martinis! Here are some links to some fantastic recipes using your preserved lemons:
Williams Sonoma Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons and Olives
Food 52‘s Preserved Lemon Ice Cream
Little Sugar Snap’s Preserved Lemon & Mint Hummus
Donna Hay’s Roasted Cauliflower & Fennel Salad w/ preserved lemon and almond dressing
Preserving, very simply- is treating a food in a particular way so that it can be kept for a long time without going bad. Preserved food is usually “treated” by soaking something in something. The three most common “things” are:
1- Vinegar. This process is also known as pickling. This is a very popular preservation method, usually in the form of pickled cucumbers. Pickled fruits or vegetables usually last about 5-6 months in a jar.
2- Sugar. This process is called candying. Candied fruits usually last about 24 months when kept in a cool, dry place.
3- Salt. This process is also known as curing.
Therefore, we could call this recipe or process “Cured Lemons.”
The salt in the curing process creates an environment that is deadly to harmful bacteria. The harmful bacteria cannot grow in a concentrated, salty environment. One good bacteria thrives in this sort of environment. This bacteria is called Lactobacillus. Lactobacillus is good for maintaining our gut health, and regulating our gastrointestinal environment in our bodies.
The only way for bad bacteria to grow is with the presence of oxygen. When we preserve lemons, we put them in a sterilized jar and seal it. This prevents any oxygen from entering the environment and therefore causing bacteria to grow. It is impossible to place the lemons in the jar without getting any oxygen in as well. This is where the lactobacillus plays a big role. As time passes, the Lactobacillus “eats” the lemon rind, and produces lactic acid and carbon dioxide. It absorbs the remaining oxygen and this helps with the production of the carbon dioxide.
Preserving lemons has been around for many many years. Citrus fruits are winter crops and therefore, people needed to discover a way to be able to have these fruits all year round. Being able to preserve the lemons did this.
After the lemons have preserved for at least two weeks, you can open the jar. I would recommend waiting closer to two months, but if you just can’t wait- I don’t blame you. The aroma of the jar after you open it for the first time is an intensely sweet, lemon smell. The liquid has a nice balance of salt and sour, with a slight sweetness to it. When you take a lemon out of the jar, you will feel how soft the rind has become. If you are choosing to use the lemons the traditional way by using the rind, it is very easy to just peel the pulp away. Remember to think before you throw the pulp out! You can use it to flavour many different dishes. The lemon has lost a lot of it’s structure but it is still able to hold up to a fine dice. The colour is just as vibrant, but it has become a deeper yellow than it was at the beginning. Preserved lemons are a beautiful thing- I highly recommend you try them out.
I had never made preserved lemons before this experience. It was very easy, with very little ingredients which made it very budget-friendly. When you go to look to buy preserved lemons at the grocery store, they are usually quite pricey. After this experience I will always attempt to make my own preserved food to save some money!
Next time, I will add some spices to the jar with the lemons. I have found quite a few recipes that add peppercorns, bay leaves, star anise, cloves…etc. to the liquid to add flavour. I think it was important to try and get the very basic recipe right first, and then after I have some experience, adapt the recipe to my own taste!
What do you like to preserve? Let me know in the comments down below!
- 12 lemons
- 1/2 cup coarse kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Cut off a little bit of the ends of the lemons. Slice each lemon lengthwise down but do not cut all the way through.
- Open each lemon and sprinkle salt generously over each open lemon.
- Place a tablespoon of salt in a clean mason jar. Next, add the salted lemons into the mason jar. One you put one lemon in a jar, put another spoonful of salt on top.
- Press each lemon down to extract some juice out of each one.
- It’s fine if you have to pack them in, as they will shrink.
- Leave 1″ from top of jar, be sure all lemons are pushed down into the juice.
- Let your jar sit for a day, lightly covered with a clean towel or cheesecloth.
- The next day, pour a thin layer of olive oil over the lemons and their juice. Close up your jar. This will help keep them sealed while they preserve. Keep in a cool, dry place and preserve for at least 2 weeks. They are best used after 2 months.