Recipe: Preserved Lemons

Preserved Lemons
Preserved Lemons / Photo: Emily Han

If I were to compile a list of recipes that every Southern Californian should know, preserved lemons would be near the top. Whether you're dealing with an overabundance of fruit in your yard or simply want another way to enjoy the lemons from the farmers' market, preserving them is easy and delicious. Though Meyer lemons make particularly good preserves, Eureka and other tart varieties are also wonderful. The lemons take about a month to cure but wait patiently and you'll have a pantry staple that will last for months.

Unlike fresh lemons with their bracing tartness, preserved lemons have a savory, almost umami flavor. Chop up soft rinds and use them to add rich, citrusy flavor to Moroccan tagines and couscous, dressings, pesto, grain salads, lentil stews, sautéed greens, and more. Preserved lemons are also wonderful on focaccia or this gluten-free Socca with Olives, Rosemary, and Preserved Lemon.

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Preserved Lemons
Makes 1 quart or 1 liter

10 lemons, or more if needed
1/2 cup kosher salt (see Recipe Notes)

Optional spices:
bay leaf, cinnamon stick, dried chile pepper, 1 tablespoon cardamom pods, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves

Special equipment:
1-quart or 1-liter glass jar with lid

Sterilize the jar by submerging it in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the jar using canning jar lifters or tongs. Put 2 tablespoons of salt and any optional spices in the jar.

Wash and dry 5 of the lemons. Quarter the lemons lengthwise without cutting all the way through so they are intact at one end. Working over a bowl, rub a generous tablespoon of salt into each lemon, coating all the cut surfaces. Pack the lemons into the jar, pressing down on them to extract the juice. Add any remaining salt to the jar. Juice the remaining lemons and fill the jar with juice to within 1/2-inch of the top.

Cover the jar and shake it daily for 1 month. Make sure the lemons stay submerged under liquid; if necessary, press down on the fruit or add more lemon juice.

Store the preserved lemons in the refrigerator for up to 1 year. To use, rinse the lemons to remove excess salt and scrape out and discard the pith, if desired.

Recipe Notes:
• Salt: Use salt that is free of iodine and/or anti-caking agents, which can inhibit fermentation. Diamond Crystal is a good brand of kosher salt; avoid Morton.

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