Alibi V.27 No.51 • Dec 20-26, 2018 

Know Your Ingredients

What Are Preserved Lemons?

Not just for tagine anymore

You’ve probably seen them on cooking shows and in glamorous cookbook photos. Preserved lemons look pretty in their jar all packed down with salt, and the color they add to your kitchen is paralleled by the brightness they can add to your dishes. The attractiveness and the salty-tartness of this traditional North African ingredient have made it something of an “it” food over the past few years, and more cooks are starting to use it in dishes outside of its usual culinary background. If you’d like to add some more dishes and flavor notes to your cooking repertoire, read on to see how preserved lemons can fit into your kitchen.

What is it and how is it made?

Preserved lemons consist of two ingredients: lemons and salt. That’s it. Well, OK, if you consider time an ingredient, that’s three. Lemons are sliced into quarters and packed into a jar or other container with plenty of salt to preserve them and draw out their juice. In Morocco it’s doqq or boussera lemons that are typically used, but the more readily available meyer lemons work fine as well.

How do I use it?

Generally it’s only the peel of the preserved lemons that’s used in dishes—the flesh is discarded (it soaks up all the salt, making it pretty unbearably salty). There are all sorts of delicious Moroccan recipes that call for preserved lemon like chicken tagine (a kind of stew) and slow-cooked chickpeas. Outside of these obvious ones though, you can also blend or mash up preserved lemon peel into dressings, marinades and spreads, add it in strips on top of salads and soups or cook it into your pasta and rice dishes. Check out Traditional Moroccan Cooking: Recipes from Fez by Zette Guinaudeau-Franc for more recipes and inspiration on how to use this tangy ingredient.

Where can I get it?

Preserved Moroccan lemons are hard to come by in Albuquerque—online purveyors might be your only bet. That said, they’re absurdly easy to make at home. Which leads us to our next question …

Can I make it at home?

Yes! This isn’t an exact recipe, but the general method that we’ve found works best: Get as many lemons as will fit snugly in whatever vessel you’re using to pack them in, and plenty of coarse kosher salt. Snip the ends off each lemon, then cut them into quarters while leaving the quarters attached at one end, so your lemons look a little like opening flowers. Add a teaspoon of kosher salt to the bottom of your vessel, then a teaspoon in the middle of one of the lemons. Pack the lemon into the bottom of the jar, squishing it down hard so it gives up some of its juice. Put a teaspoon of salt on top of this lemon, then repeat the process with all the remaining lemons. Add a teaspoon of salt on top of it all when the jar is full, and top it off with a little bit of water if the lemons aren’t completely submerged in juice. Seal the jar up and let it sit on your counter for three days, turning it once or twice each day. After this, stash the jar in your fridge and let it sit for at least three weeks before you start using the lemons. When you pull out a lemon to use in a recipe, wash it off first to get rid of the excess salt.