Now is when lemons are plentiful and cheap, so take advantage and put some up. That was Hamutal’s advice earlier this year when she gave us a recipe for fresh lemon curd.
A jarful of preserved lemon quarters comes in handy for those times when you’ve run out of fresh. But the truth is that cooks in the Middle East like preserved lemons because their taste has softened and mellowed, giving a good acidic balance to mild, pungent, or bland flavors in a dish.
The first of the following recipes was taken from Elizabeth David’s Spices, Salt, and Aromatics in the English Kitchen.
The second comes from Claudia Roden’s Book of Middle Eastern Food (1974). This book has an updated version from 2004, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.
Lemons Preserved in Salt
From Elizabeth David
1. Steep four whole lemons in cold water for 3 days. Change the water daily.
2. Cut the lemons into quarters or eighths and pack them in a glass jar. Add 1 level tablespoon of coarse salt to each lemon. Put two layers of baking parchment directly over them, and weigh them down with something heavy. Ms. David recommended a clean smooth stone. In warm weather, keep the jar in the fridge.
3. At the end of the week, the lemons will have released their juice, forming a brine. Remove the paper and the weight, cover the jar, and keep in in the fridge. Wait 2-3 weeks to use.
Lemons preserved this way will keep one year.
Pickled Lemons (Lamoun Makbouss)
From Claudia Roden
Ms. Roden recommends preserving limes this way, too.
1. Scrub lemons well and slice them thinly.
2. Sprinkle generously with salt and leave them to drain in a colander at least 24 hours. This will dissipate their bitterness and “cook” them soft.
3. Put them in layers in a glass jar, sprinkling paprika between the layers.
4. Cover them with a neutral-flavored oil. According to Mrs. Roden, olive oil is too strongly flavored and may dominate the lemons.
5. Close the jar tightly and wait 3 weeks before using. They are best kept in the fridge.
They will be soft and “a beautiful orange color.”
Alternately, you may freeze the lemon slices and proceed to salt them while they’re still frozen. They will release much of their juice and become soft. Proceed as above; the lemons will be ready in only a few days.
How do you cook with these yellow gems? The flavor of lemon and salt is very intense. Rinse the piece before cooking with it. The best part is the peel – some cooks scoop the pulp out and discard it. I use the whole thing.
Consider these ideas:
- Chop a little piece fine and mash it into a vinaigrette dressing.
- Gently mix a few fine slices into steamed broccoli; drizzle some olive oil over everything.
- Add a teaspoon of chopped preserved lemon to pea soup.
- Put a little bowl of those bright yellow lemon quarters on the table to accompany lamb chops.
- Prepare a fillet of fish with a drizzle of olive oil, some chopped basil or green onion, and a few thin slices of preserved lemon. Bake or pan-fry.