Who would have thought that nonchalantly stuffing lemons into a jar and letting them marinate in a brine of their own juices would yield a product that is positively magical. I’m sure a food scientist could explain to me the chemical process (though salt is “neutral” and lemon juice is acidic, so I’ve been informed that no actual “reaction” takes place), but what I do know is that a transformation of flavor and texture occurs. The rind turns into the best version of itself and takes on beautiful floral notes, yet also becomes profoundly “citrusy” with a delicious umami flavor.
Every home cook needs a jar of preserved lemons at their beck and call. I have just discovered preserved lemons this past year and now I am obsessed with their taste and usefulness! You can add them to salads, salsas, or sauces… you can bake them with meat such as chicken or lamb. You can even substitute preserved lemon rind for your cocktail garnishes, or use them in a pasta or tagine. If you are vegan, preserved lemon can add depth to a dish that you might not otherwise be able to achieve (sans animal products). The best part is that all you need to do is stick them in a jar with salt and lemon juice and let the magic happen.
First, pick your jar size- 32 or 16 ounce with a wide mouth and a lid.
ingredients and supplies:
sterilized 32oz jar requires: 5-6 large organic* lemons plus 4-5 more for juicing
sterilized 16oz jar requires: 2.5 to 3 large organic* lemons plus 2-3 more for juicing
Lots of sea salt, at least 1 cup, without added iodine**
Wash your lemons well. Cut your “preserving” lemons (but not the “juicing” lemons) as shown in the pictures above (quartered but left attached at one end). Pour enough salt in your jar to cover the bottom surface. Rub copious amounts of salt over the inside and outside surfaces of the quartered lemons and pack the lemons firmly in the jar (until the jar is full). Juice the remaining lemons and pour in fresh lemon juice until it reaches the top of the jar and completely covers the lemons. Screw the lid on tightly.
Set the jar aside on your counter or on a shelf for 4 weeks (preferably not in direct sunlight). Check on them once a week, and if needed, give them a gentle shake or two to mix up the salt.
After 4 weeks (or more) of preserving, remove desired amount of lemon from the jar. Rinse the brine off with cold water, cut off the pulp***, and chop the peel to desired size. See my narrative (above) for ideas on how to use the preserved lemons!
A jar of preserved lemons should keep for up to a year, and you don’t have to use the whole jar at once. Just make sure that remaining lemons in the jar are at least covered with lemon juice and the lid sealed tightly.
*I recommend using organic lemons as you will be eating the rinds and probably don’t want to eat pesticides or other chemicals!
**iodine makes salt taste “metallic,” a flavor we want to avoid in this situation
***save that pulp! Use it in cocktails, sauces, salsas, stews, or dressings!