You may have come across a recipe at some point that called for preserved lemons but didn't have a clue as to what they were. Preserved lemons, also known in various parts of the world as country lemons, lemon pickles and leems, are widely used in Middle Eastern, Indian and Moroccan cuisines. In Morocco, in particular, they are called Hamad m’rakhad, L'hamb Mssayr and most affectionately as Lim mraqqed, which means "lemons put to sleep." Preserved in a brine of lemon juice, salt and spices, the lemony flavor of the fruit is wildly enhanced while its tartness on the tongue is tamed.
Preserved lemons are extremely versatile! Add them whole or chopped to tagines, chicken and seafood dishes, stews, roasted vegetables, couscous, risotto, hummus, salsas, salad dressings and any other dish compatible with intense lemony flavor.
Some grocery stores and specialty markets carry preserved lemons in a jar, but they are usually quite pricey. Fortunately, they are extremely simple and satisfying to make at home in minutes with just a handful of ingredients. They also have a long shelf life.
6 organic Meyer lemons
1/2 cup fine sea salt
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
2 whole bay leaves
6 whole green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 one-inch whole cinnamon sticks (or one large broken)
4 whole cloves
6 coriander seeds
Sterilize two pint canning jars and their lids; set aside until thoroughly dry.
Scrub lemons well and dry with a towel. Trim the ends off each lemon. Working with one at a time, stand each lemon on one end on a cutting board. Starting at the top, cut an "X" into the length of the fruit, stopping short of cutting all the way down so that the other end remains intact. The idea here is to make a cavity to hold the salt and spices.
Add 1 teaspoon of salt in the bottom of each prepared canning jar. Add 1 teaspoon of salt into the cavity of each lemon. Place 3 salted lemons into each jar. It’s okay if they overlap or if you have to squish them in.
Using a wooden spoon or a small kitchen mallet, press down on the lemons to release their juice. It's important that the lemons be completely covered in juice to preserve them. If necessary, add the juice of freshly squeeze lemons until they are submerged.
Replace the lids on the jars and give each a gentle shake. Store in a cool, dark place for 6 weeks, giving the jars an occasional turn. Once opened, store in the refrigerator and use within 12 months.
Label each jar with the date of preparation.
Be mindful that preserved lemons will add salty flavor to foods, so you may want to hold back on adding additional salt to your dishes.
Any variety of lemon will do (organic is preferred since the rind is consumed), but Meyer lemons are traditional.
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