Some of my favorite dishes originated in the Middle East and Morocco. I love the smell and taste of the spices commonly used in that part of the world — tumeric, saffron, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, and the like. Preserved lemons — lemons pickled in salt and their own juices — are just as indispensible to authentic Middle Eastern cookery. Pickling mellows the tartness of the lemon, ridding the rind of its bitter taste, and accentuating its lemon flavor.
I doubt that there is a recipe for chicken tagine that doesn’t call for the concentrated taste and velvety texture of preserved lemon. Many specialty stores carry jars of it, but it is simple to make and great to have on hand in your refrigerator. Its uses are endless, not limited to tagines alone. Substitute preserved lemon for lemon zest or a squeeze of lemon. It pairs well with fish, lamb, stews, salads, dips, and sauces. Add some chopped rinds to grain and pasta dishes for an added zing.
The following recipe fills one 1-pint Mason jar and will keep in your refrigerator for at least a year. Lemons and salt are the only necessary ingredients, but optional spices, listed below, will enhance the flavor.
5 lemons (Meyer lemons, preferred)
1/4 cup salt
1 cinnamon stick
5-6 coriander seeds
3-4 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
- Sterilize a one-pint Mason jar.
- Soak lemons in a solution of vinegar and water for a few minutes to clean the outer peels.
- Quarter the lemons about 3/4 of the way from one end, leaving them intact at the other end. Sprinkle the exposed flesh with salt.
- Cover the bottom of a one-pint jar with salt. Then pack the salted lemons into the jar, cut side first. Squeeze them in, one on top of the other, adding additional salt and optional spices between each layer. If their own juices do not cover the lemons, add some freshly-squeezed lemon juice to cover.
- Seal the jar, making sure there is a bit of air space at the top. Let the jar sit at room temperature for three days, shaking and turning the jar a few times each day. After three days, place the lemons in the refrigerator for three weeks before using.
- After three weeks, the lemon is ready to add distinctive flavor to your dishes. Use a sterile spoon to remove only as much lemon as you need. Thoroughly rinse the salt from the lemon. The rind is commonly chopped for recipes. Some people discard the pulp, but that is personal preference. You may use both the rind and the pulp. The pickling juice may be used again and again or added to other dishes at will.