My latest fermentation project is Moroccan preserved lemons, and I’m obsessed. They add a touch of the exotic to regular everyday dishes, and let’s be honest, who doesn’t need more exotic in the dead of winter?
Winter is citrus season to be sure. One of my favorite February treats is the fresh Meyer lemons that recently started appearing in the grocery store. Meyer lemons are originally from China and are a hybrid between a traditional lemon and an orange. They have a tangy, sweet taste and a wonderfully vibrant yellow exterior. They make virtually everything taste better, so pick up a bag and start experimenting (a few years ago I made a Meyer Lemon and Brussels Sprout Pizza). Meyer lemons are perfect for making preserved lemons because their flavor is very similar to the lemons used in Morocco. Plus, by preserving the Meyer lemons you extend their season well beyond February.
Moroccan Preserved Lemons Ingredients:
10 lemons (ideally Meyer lemons)
1/4 cup sea salt (I like mineral-rich Celtic sea salt)
1 bay leaf
4 black peppercorns
pinch of fennel seeds
1 cinnamon stick
1 quart-size, wide mouth ball jar (boil/steam the empty jar and lid for 10 minutes to sterilize)
Begin by washing your lemons well. Since you’ll be eating the rind it’s important to get them really clean (it’s also great to use organic lemons if possible). Slice off the small nub of stem and then begin to slice as if you are quartering the lemons. Instead of cutting all the way through, leave the rind in tact at the top and bottom of the lemon. Each lemon should have four large slices, but still hold the original shape.
Squeeze the lemons to open up each slice and fill it with a scoop of salt. Make sure you fill all four slices on each lemon. Don’t be stingy on the salt – it is crucial to successful fermentation and preservation.
Load your salted lemons into a sterilized ball jar and begin to smoosh. I used the back of a wooden spoon and it worked well. Push down hard and don’t be surprised when the lemons split apart along your quarter marks. You want to squeeze as many lemons as possible into your jar and cover each completely with the salty lemon juice brine. If needed, you can squeeze an extra lemon and add the juice to the jar.
Cover the jar with the lid and let it sit out on the counter overnight. The rinds will soften and should be even more pliable the following day. Squish them again! Make sure you really get them down and covered with liquid. Close the jar again and transfer it to a safe spot out of direct sunlight. Let the jar sit at room temperature for one month and then transfer it to the fridge. Preserved lemons should keep nearly indefinitely in the fridge, but I’d probably toss them after a year or so. Also, if you notice that any lemons have a delicate white mold on them, simply rinse them in water before using. The mold is harmless.
All the lemons should be rinsed before eating to remove the excess salt. Once rinsed, they can be chopped up and added to all sorts of tagines, salads, pastas, and sauces. They add a bright, salty flavor – kind of similar to a caper. This is my first batch of homemade preserved lemons, but I’ll be sure to share my future recipes highlighting them. In the meantime, I’m already thinking about adding them to this Carrot and Squash Tagine.