Published: September 7, 2011
I initially set out to learn how to make these because I recently got a tagine, the North African cooking pot, and nearly every recipe I found to use it with called for preserved lemons as a garnish. I found a small jar of them at a specialty grocery store for $7.99—which seemed sort of steep to me for what were essentially pickled lemons. I read the ingredients on the back of the jar and found they contained nothing more than lemons, lemon juice, and salt. Back on the shelf they went and home I went to try to figure out how to make them myself.
Turns out, it’s easy. All you need is Meyer lemons (regular lemons will work but the peels won’t be as tender or sweet as with Meyer lemons) and kosher salt. And patience, because it’s at least three weeks until they’re ready (they’re really better after four though).
I’ve been using them all week—sliced thinly in tagines or curries; chopped and mixed with a little mayonnaise, cilantro, garlic, salt, and pepper for a flavorful aioli; or sliced very thinly and stirred into Greek yogurt with a little honey. They’re great—I’ll be making a much bigger batch immediately so I’ll always have some on hand.
8 Meyer lemons (choose carefully—you don’t want any with brown spots) $4
Kosher or sea salt pantry
Total cost of ingredients: $4
Sterilize a pint-size mason jar with a fitted lid by dunking it, lid and ring unscrewed, in boiling water for a few minutes. Remove carefully and do not touch until it’s time to pack in the lemons.
Slice about a quarter-inch off of the end of each lemon.
Juice three of the lemons and set juice aside.
Score the remaining lemons into quarters lengthwise, through their skin, but don’t cut through the flesh inside. Do the same thing around the circumference of the lemon, so that there are eight attached segments.
Rub the lemons generously with salt inside the skin you can touch without pulling the lemons apart (be careful if you have any open cuts on your hands, as lemons plus salt equals ouch!).
Place a couple of lemons into the bottom of the prepared jar. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the salt and one-third of the lemon juice.
Add two more lemons to the jar, using your hands to squish them down over the first two tightly. Top with 2 tablespoons salt and another one-third of the lemon juice.
Add the final lemon, squishing again, and topping with 2 more tablespoons salt and the remaining lemon juice.
Cover with the lid and ring and screw tightly and give the jar a good shake to distribute the pickling liquid. Place out of sunlight (my pantry worked well for this) for three days. Once or twice per day, pick up the jar and turn it over or give it a shake to redistribute liquid.
After the three days, place it in the refrigerator for at least three weeks (four is better), continuing to give the jar a shake every couple of days.
Once the lemons have been preserved, gently remove the peels from the flesh in the increments in which you would like to use them, leaving the remaining lemons in the jar (they’ll keep for up to six months).
Once you have used up all the lemons, the syrupy liquid left in the jar can be used as a delicious flavoring agent in soups, curries, tagines, etc.
Makes 1 pint preserved lemons.
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