One of the delights of attending retreats is the opportunity to taste new, healthy food at every meal. While I love to cook, I also enjoy being surprised. Last summer my favorite new ingredient that appeared in all sorts of main and side dishes was a traditional North African condiment: preserved lemon.
Preserved lemons are simple to make. The main challenge is to remain patient. Like most pickled condiments, they take a while to mature. You can buy lemons already preserved at Middle Eastern grocery stores or online, but they’re usually not organic. While I was initially anxious to put preserved lemon in lots of different foods and considered buying them, I decided making them myself would be worth the wait.
A month ago, I prepared some preserved lemons, and as soon as they were ready I began adding them to lots of meals, anything that could benefit from a sweet lemon lift—quinoa salad; chickpea salad; blanched wax beans; pasta salad with fresh tomatoes, basil and olives; and steamed or sautéed broccoli and cauliflower.
Here’s what I did:
- 6-8 organic lemons
- clean pint-sized jar and lid
- Submerge a pint jar for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Pour boiling water over the jar’s lid and let sit for 10 minutes. Use tongs to pull the jar out of the boiling water bath. Drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, cut the stem ends off 4 lemons, then cut lengthwise in quarters, but leave them an 1/2 to one inch attached at the opposite end.
- Rub the cut surfaces of each section with salt. Each lemon will contain 8 cut surfaces.
- Press the lemons tightly into a jar. Don’t be afraid to squish them. I was able to squeeze four cut lemons into a pint jar. Cover with fresh lemon juice and screw on the lid.
- Place in a cool dark place or in the fridge for at least 30 days.
After 30 days, you can add them—just the peel—to steamed, blanched or sautéed vegetables. I like to use small bits of the peel (about 1/8 inch cubes). You can replace lemon zest with preserved lemon in any recipe for a less astringent, more lemony flavor. You can keep preserved lemons in your fridge for up to 6 months.
In the coming weeks, I’ll share a few simple ways to use your preserved lemons!