Lemons that Last
Preserved citrus enlivens dishes with a pungent kick
Written by Lia Grabowski | Photos by Stacy Howell
Between gifts with friends, office swaps, and host presents, having a stockpile of homemade treats can be a lifesaver around the holidays. Break away from the usual jams, cookies, and candies, and try your hand at packing jars of preserved lemons. Lemons pickled in a brine of salt and their own juice—sometimes with added spices—are a staple in Moroccan and Middle Eastern kitchens. The flavor is like lemon zest dialed up to the max (a little goes a long way) and they’re super simple to make; most of the magic happens when they’re left alone. Here, we add cinnamon, garlic, and black peppercorns to amp up the flavor, but feel free to substitute any other whole spices. Don’t stress about exact amounts in this recipe: Pack the lemons with a healthy dose of salt, then fill a jar with enough salt and juice to completely submerge the fruit.
Most important is knowing what part of the lemon you’re ultimately using. While they’re preserved whole, the flesh and pith will become salty and bitter; the peel is the end goal—it’s a good idea to scrub the ones you’ll be preserving before you get started. During their month-long soak, the lemons will begin to break down, making them easy to separate. Set the jar away from direct sunlight or heat, and give it a shake every few days. Now all you have to do is exercise patience. After thirty days, use a paring knife to separate the lemon from its peel, then cut the peel into slivers to scatter throughout a dish. If you really can’t wait, try the quick method: Boil the lemons in intensely salty water, then let them cool and cut the peel from the pith. (They won’t break down like the jarred version, so you’ll have to do a bit more work to scrape the bitter piths away.) Preserved lemons can brighten up rich stews, vegetable sautés, and baked fish.