Recently, you may have noticed oranges and lemons invading my recipes; I’ve become addicted to citrus. Though honey-lemon-ginger tea (often with a dash of whiskey) has been a frequent ritual for fighting off menacing pathogens and fresh-squeezed citrus juice is a staple in my dressings and sauces, I’ve found new ways to get these tart delicacies into my food. I suspect it’s also a yearning for the fresh, bright color and flavor of spring and summer gardens. I always go for organic, and as close to home as possible; often Florida. Thankfully, the tough outer skin of oranges and lemons lends more protection from unwanted pesticide residue, but take an extra step to source “organically” or “fair trade”.
I read an article in the New York Times about Preserved Lemons, which immediately peaked my interest. Melissa Clark describes how to make preserved lemons the traditional way (a test of patience) and the quick way(for eating now!). I gravitated towards David Lebovitz’s blog, knowing he would have already crafted this recipe. I took the traditional route, which naturally, involves fermentation-preservation.
Adapted directly from David Lebovitz’s “Moroccan Preserved Lemons”
- Scrub the lemons with a vegetable brush or sponge (using mild soap) and dry them off.
- Cut off the little rounded bit at the stem end if there’s a hard little piece of the stem attached. From the other end of the lemon, make a large cut by slicing lengthwise downward, stopping about 1-inch (3 cm) from the bottom, then making another downward slice, so you’ve incised the lemon with an X shape.
- Pack coarse salt into the lemon where you made the incisions. Don’t be skimpy with the salt: use about 1 tablespoon per lemon.
- Put the salt-filled lemons in a clean, large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add a few coriander seeds, a bay leaf, a dried chili, and a cinnamon stick if you want. (Or a combination of any of them, or add other spices!)
- With a bottle that fits in the mouth of the lid or a wooden spoon, press the lemons very firmly in the jar to get the juices flowing. Cover with a lid and let stand overnight on a counter top.
- The next day do the same, pressing the lemons down, encouraging them to release more juice as they start to soften. Repeat for a 2-3 days until the lemons are completely covered with liquid. If your lemons aren’t too juicy, add more freshly-squeezed lemon juice until their submerged, as I generally have to do.
- Store for one month in a dark spot, where air can freely move. After one month, when the preserved lemons are soft, they’re ready to use. Store the lemons in the refrigerator, where they’ll keep for at least 6 months. Rinse before using to remove excess salt.
- To use: Remove lemons from the liquid and rinse. Split in half and scrape out the pulp. Slice the lemon peels into thin strips or cut into small dices. You may wish to press the pulp through a sieve to obtain the flavorful juice, which can be used for flavoring as well, then discard the innards.
“Always use organic or unsprayed lemons, since you’re going to be eating the exterior (and I don’t want to lose any of my readers prematurely.) I generally do 8-10 lemons at a time, but be sure to buy a few extra lemons for juicing a couple of days later, in case you need to add additional liquid to keep the lemons in the jar submerged while they ‘do their thing’. And never use ordinary table salt, which has a harsh, chemical taste. (Check the ingredients to make sure your salt is pure and plain.) As always, I recommend sea salt or kosher salt.”