For Arabic people, lemons are always abundant given the ease in which they grow, and hence the numerous uses this wonderfully versatile citrus fruit has. For many cooks in the Middle East, adding a squeeze of lemon to most dishes comes naturally, so preserving lemons allows for this regardless of the precise season! It’s all about the smell of lemons, garlic and sesame seeds for Syrians and Lebanese cooks.
So, here below is our guide to preserving lemons for whatever dishes you fancy making. This is a slow transformation of lemons using salt and their juices. The process is straightforward but quite magical! For this time-honoured process allow at least three weeks, and then you have a taste test! Similar to having a jar of olives or some homemade jam, the great thing is that this will happily keep for months in the fridge, if it lasts that long!
Preparation and sourcing
So, to make a scrumptious batch of preserved lemons, you need to buy a few glass jars with seal tops. The best type are those with rubber seals and latch closings. In terms of size, allow for eight to ten lemons per jar. The vital thing is that whatever jar you decide to use has a wide opening so that it is easy enough to fill with medium-sized lemons.
The other top recommendation is to buy the best lemons available, as the rich flavours from bio or organic lemons will add to the end result. If you can’t, then not to worry it will still be full of the right zesty flavours.
- 8-10 medium-sized lemons
- 1 cup kosher salt or coarse salt
- Extra lemon juice
- Make sure your glass preserving jar is thoroughly washed and sterile.
- Add two tablespoons of kosher or coarse salt to the glass jar.
- Scrub the lemons thoroughly.
- Carefully cut the top off the lemons and then quarter without cutting all the way. In other words, we want the lemons to be in one piece to hold the salt. Do not cut all the way through!
- Now gently open the lemons and generously sprinkle them with the coarse salt inside and outside.
- Now add the lemons one by one to the jar, pressing the lemons so that the juice is released.
- Finally, when you have pressed as many lemons as can fit in the jar add extra lemon juice, if required to cover up to the top of the jar.
The final touch is to sprinkle a little more salt on top, which will help to soften all the lemon rinds over the next few weeks.
When pressing the lemons, do not worry if there are any breakages as it will not affect the flavour or outcome.
Let Rest and Refrigerate
Now you need to be patient and leave your jar of preserved lemons to rest for a few days at room temperature as this will kick start the process of softening. Every so often, turn the jar upside down as this will encourage the preserving process. After a couple of days in the kitchen, place your jar in the refrigerator for a minimum of 3 weeks. Give the jar a turn from time to time.
The wonderful thing about this process is that the lemons will keep stored for up to 6 months in this way.
Adding Spice to the Lemons
Yes, you can really produce some exotic flavours by adding vanilla, cardamon or cloves to the jar. You’ll now have to be very patient to wait and taste these wonderful combinations.
Maybe find a small jar and experiment with this first before using too many lemons.
There are lots of ways to use these zest bombs! Just wash off any excess salt and remove the pulp. Then just chop or thinly slice the rind and add it to your favourite recipes!
Why not add a little lemon to a Tagine dish, this will add a touch of magic to a Moroccan chicken dish. Or, how about accompanying fresh parsley and garlic to grilled fish for a mouth-watering flavour. You can also add this into natural yoghurt and this will make an excellent side dish to counter anything chilli hot!