I always like to keep a constant supply of what I call my must-have store cupboard essentials, like home-made vanilla products, dried tomatoes, preserves etc. Even though I refer to them as store cupboard items, some need refrigeration, as living in the middle east does not allow for a cool enough pantry or store cupboard.
Used in Moroccan and North African cooking, preserved lemons are an indispensable and wonderful item to have… at a moments notice food can take on a new dimension both in flavour and taste by adding small amounts of preserved lemons to salad dressings, salads, stews, relishes, pizza toppings, stuffings, marinades and so much more.
When I started preserving lemons I remember following a recipe that used so much salt that I found them inedible and quite horrible, throwing the whole lot in the bin and not thinking much of preserved lemons.
Before satellite TV came to Bahrain my parents would record cookery programs for me and send them by post. Dad was usually in charge of editing but I could always tell when he had nodded off on the job, leaving me to watch cookery programs along with long TV commercials and bits of other programs. And it was in one of those recorded cookery programs I gave preserved lemons another chance… and if you have never tried making them before, it is so worth the effort!
A little goes a long way with preserved lemons, which are salty, tart and intensely flavoursome and when it comes to slicing and dicing the preserved lemons, a good sharp knife is a must, obtaining the finest results.
With a lemon tree (two years) growing in the garden I would so like to tell you that I am using my own organic lemons, but will have to wait until next year… all my lovely little lemons this year turned black and fell off 😦 I am still not giving up… so fingers crossed for next year.
- 5 lemons, (see note below if not using organic or un-waxed lemons)
- 5 rounded tablespoons of sea salt
- 1/8 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 5 cloves
- 1 small cinnamon stick
- 2 fresh or dried bay leaf
- extra juice of 3 or 4 lemon (zest beforehand and use in another recipe or dry the peel)
- olive oil
You will need a suitable preserving jar with a tight fitting lid.
How to make: Using a sharp knife cut the lemons lengthways into 4 quarters, stopping just about 1/2cm before the stem, keeping the lemon quarters intact. Open the lemons up a little and place a rounded tablespoon of salt into the middle of each lemon. Tightly pack all the lemons into a clean sterilized jar, adding the mustard seeds, black peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Cover the jar with a lid and set aside for several hours, by this time the lemons will start to release a little of their juices.
Open up the jar and using the back of a small ladle, push the lemons down into the jar, helping to release more juice. Pour in the extra lemon juice to fully cover the lemons. Pour a thin layer of olive oil over the surface of the lemon juice and cover with a lid.
Store in the refrigerator for one month before using! When using the preserved lemons remove the pulp and dice or slice the required amount. The pulp can be liquidized and used sparingly in marinades, stews or discarded if wished. Use lemons within six months.
Tip: To help remove and melt the wax from lemons; place lemons into a heatproof bowl and pour over some very hot (not boiling) water. Leave the lemons to sit for a minute or two. Remove the lemons using a slotted spoon or tongs and immediately dry the warm lemons by rubbing them with some kitchen paper or a clean lint free tea towel.
Try using different whole spices like, fennel seeds, cumin, coriander seeds, cardamon pods allspice and star anise, you could also add whole dried chilli.
Have you made or used preserved lemons before? What is your favourite way of using them?