If you have ever grocery shopped with me, you know it's not like the average grocery shopping experience. Oh sure, I usually go to the normal supermarket like everyone else but you won't find me picking out a Hamburger Helper variety or a box of mac and cheese. Not likely to see me perusing the frozen dinners and fish sticks. Instead, look for the unusual foods and there you will find me. Different grains. Imported olives and pickled vegetables, oils and unique vinegars. Browsing over tropical produce from far away places. Searching for new and interesting spices to cook with. Because I love all these unusual ingredients I'm always looking for ways to recreate them at home. Whether I'm trying to grow a new herb I've never tried before or pickling something unusual, I'm always looking for a new flavor and a new way to make it myself.
Pursuing my "eat the world" philosophy led me to preserved lemons and Moroccan/Middle Eastern cooking. In tagines and similar dishes preserved lemons are a vital part of the recipe and overall flavor of the dish, as well as many chickpea dishes. Many cultures use these flavorful lemons in savory and sweet recipes, so today we're going to explore making our own preserved lemons, and after the required maturing period, we will make something fabulous. Let's do this!
There is no real "recipe" for reserved lemons. All you need are fresh lemons, kosher salt, a couple bay leaves and a few peppercorns with a clean airtight jar and you're in business.
Begin by THOROUGHLY scrubbing the lemons. The interesting thing about preserved lemons is that you remove any existing pulp from the lemons and discard that. The rind is what we are preserving and using to flavor other dishes, so you want to make sure it's clean. If you live in a warm climate and have a lemon tree or a friend who does, you have access to wax-free lemons and I am so envious! So for the rest of us, scrub the lemons. I used a sponge with a touch of dish liquid and then thoroughly rinsed my lemons. You can also use a produce cleaner spray. Rinse them very well and dry the outside.
On a wooden board cut the lemons into segments ALMOST all the way through. Spread the lemon open like a flower and sprinkle the cut surfaces with kosher salt. Place the lemon in the clean glass jar cut sides up. Continue with enough lemons to fill the jar, covering each layer with kosher salt as you go and pressing down well to release the lemon juice. Use a chopstick to make sure the pockets are filled with salt. You CAN cut the lemons into separate wedges if you prefer. If you pack the lemons in nice and tight and get as much juice released as possible you will probably use about 1/2 to 2/3 cup salt. If you need additional liquid add FRESH SQUEEZED lemon juice, NOT bottled store bought. It's a good idea to buy an extra couple lemons just for this purpose.
Tuck a couple bays leaves and a few peppercorns in the jar, if you like. Seal up the jar, date it, and allow it to mature for one month before using. Just leave it on the kitchen counter away from heat and away from sunlight. Shake the jar every day. After one month, store in the fridge for up to one year.
Now that we've got preserved lemons, what in the world do we do with them? First of all, you want to rinse the excess salt off. Rinse under cold running water and scrape out the flesh and seeds. Chop it up or cut into julienne strips and use in all kinds of delicious things. I'm a huge fan of grain salads, like farro, bulgur and barley tossed with fresh vegetables and a lemony vinaigrette- amp up the lemon flavor with julienne strips of preserved lemon for a big boost. You can make relishes and salsas and add to pesto for serving with fish or roast chicken. Many lamb dishes benefit from a little hint of lemon as well. Of course, Moroccan and Middle Eastern recipes often rely on preserved lemon for their flavor base component. I can't wait to use these is some really delicious dishes very soon!