Sunday, February 13, 2011

Creating ingredients (1 of many) Preserved Lemons

I like food from the Mediterranean region, whether it's from Greece, Italy, Turkey or the north of Africa. In some of my web browsing I've seen some Moroccan recipes that look interesting, and several of them call for preserved lemons like these.

If you have an Arab market in your neighborhood, you may be able to find them there. After doing some reading and finding David Lebovitz, I decided to give it a try and make some of my own:

  • Scrub the lemons with a vegetable brush and dry them off.
  • Cut off the little rounded bit at the stem end if there’s a hard little piece of the stem attached. From the other end of the lemon, make a large cut by slicing lengthwise downward, stopping about 1-inch (3 cm) from the bottom, then making another downward slice, so you’ve incised the lemon with an X shape.
  • Pack coarse salt into the lemon where you made the incisions. Don’t be skimpy with the salt: use about 1 tablespoon per lemon.
  • Put the salt-filled lemons in a clean, large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add a few coriander seeds, a bay leaf, a dried chili, and a cinnamon stick if you want. (Or a combination of any of them.)
  • Press the lemons very firmly in the jar to get the juices flowing. Cover and let stand overnight.
  • The next day do the same, pressing the lemons down, encouraging them to release more juice as they start to soften. Repeat for a 2-3 days until the lemons are completely covered with liquid. If your lemons aren’t too juicy, add more freshly-squeezed lemon juice until their submerged, as I generally have to do.
  • After one month, when the preserved lemons are soft, they’re ready to use. Store the lemons in the refrigerator, where they’ll keep for at least 6 months. Rinse before using to remove excess salt.
To use: Remove lemons from the liquid and rinse. Split in half and scrape out the pulp. Slice the lemon peels into thin strips or cut into small dices. You may wish to press the pulp through a sieve to obtain the flavorful juice, which can be used for flavoring as well, then discard the innards.
This was so easy to do, it's almost embarassing. I didn't have a glass jar--I don't have storage space for a dozen quart jars which seems to be the only way you can buy them, so I used a plastic container that had a wide top and held three lemons comfortably. For spices, I chose a cinnamon stick, some coriander seeds and several grinds of red pepper. To smush (it's a technical term) them down to get the juices flowing, I used a potato masher.
So far, it seems to be working. On the second day, the lemons were already softer and when I applied the potato masher, I got a lot more juice. I did end up squeezing another lemon to get enough juice to cover. The juice (I suppose since it's full of salt, I should technically call it a brine) tastes fabulous. They should be completely ready at the beginning of March. I'm excited to use them in recipes. I have a pasta recipe picked out and there's also a lot of Moroccan chicken out there!

Ideas for preserved lemons? Questions? Comments? Death threats? Let me hear from you!

1 comment:

  1. I make them at home fairly often. You can almost always get canning jars at Goodwill. You'd need to get the rings and the flat tops at the regular store. I sterilize the jars first. If you don't have a dishwasher that does this, you can boil the jars in a pot of hot water.

    That being said, I don't do the whole smoosh thing. I generally cut mine into quarters or eights depending on how huge they are. I stuff the lemons in a jar with a cinnamon stick and a by leaf at bare minimum. Sometimes I stick other stuff in the jar too. It depends on what I have handy. Cover the whole thing liberally with salt and pour in water, cap them and let them sit in the refrigerator turning the jars upside down every couple of days for a week or two.