Preserved Lemons

It’s citrus season in the Bay Area and folks everywhere are harvesting their winter crops. Friends have gifted us bags of golden yellow Meyer lemons and we’re happy to accept. Meyer lemons are sweeter and more fragrant than their true lemon cousins. Their thin skins make them more delicate and their lower acidity makes for a more versatile flavoring agent. Raw or cooked, these beauties are a favorite in our kitchen.

A friend recently asked what to do with all the lemons on her tree and we suggested preserving. Typical of Mediterranean lemon preservation, we like salt packing lemons and their juice into jars where they are then left to ferment, transforming them into a savory condiment deliciously paired with a variety of dishes. They’re great chopped and added to fresh sauces for fish, or stewed with chicken, olives and fennel. Preserved lemons are commonly added to couscous and other grain dishes where they add rich complexity. However you use them, these lemons are best used as a condiment. That means a little will go a long way (remember, they’re preserved in salt and lemon juice). Taking a spin on the most obvious pun, “When life gives you a bag of Meyer lemons, preserve them.” They’ll last longer than lemonade and will flavor more dishes.

The following recipe comes from Chef Mourad Lahlou of Aziza in San Francisco who included it in his book – Mourad: New Moroccan. While the recipe is simple, preserved lemons aren’t a last-minute flavoring, so if you plan to add them to your pantry, you’ll have to wait a month before digging in. We think the wait is worth it!

As easy as cut, salt, juice, and pack.

Preserved Lemons

12-18 lemons (Meyer if you can get them)
½ cup kosher salt

Slice the 6-8 lemons lengthwise and in a cross shape ¾ of the way through the lemon. Generously add the kosher salt down the center of the lemon and pack it in a sterile jar. Continue with all the lemons. With the lemons you intend to juice, be sure to remove strips of lemon zest (use a veggie peeler). Make sure not to remove too much of the pith. Add the strips of zest to the jar. Juice the zested lemons either by hand or with a citrus juicer. Pour the lemon juice over the salted lemons in the jar, make sure the lemons are fully covered by the juice, seal tight. Allow to sit in a dark area of your kitchen, gently shaking the jar daily. After about a month the lemons will be ready to use.

Our Favorite Kitchen Tools: Masking Tape and a Sharpie!

A glimpse into our pantry. No labels, no calories. Ok, that's a lie.

Purchasing bulk items is great, but without proper labeling you can get lost, your kitchen becomes cluttered, and you end up with multiple bags of the same items. Two things that I utilize most in the kitchen are a roll of masking tape and my trusty Sharpie pen. I learned this lesson while attending college in Utah. At the time, I was working at Wildflour Bakery, where we kept a basket on the edge of the table with a roll of tape and a Sharpie. These tools were essential in a kitchen that relied on storing large quantities of ingredients that had to be stored in recycled containers.
The masking tape and Sharpie are like salt and pepper in our kitchen, they just go together. They share space in a drawer next to the silverware where they are easily at hand. They’re economical, easy to use, and, as long as your penmanship is legible, they keep your temporary labels looking nice. Using the system is simple enough; just write, tear off the piece of tape and stick it to the container of your choosing. The system works especially great for leftovers, just remember to include a date. It is one of those lessons that you only realize years later how valuable it really is, and like so many classic home economics lessons, it’s something you don’t learn in school but should.
So forget about the expensive labeling machines that can take hours to figure out how to use and cost more than they’re worth. For less than $3 you can buy a roll of masking tape and a Sharpie pen. No assembly or instructions required.