About this Recipe
A mainstay of North African and Asian cooking, preserved lemons add a sublime depth of flavor to stews, roasts, and even salads. Their soft texture makes them great for blending into pastes, rubs, and dressings of all sorts — anything that wants a burst of bright citric acidity enriched by a contrasting note of warm, dark spices. When you smell preserved lemons, they seem candied. That’s because salt, like sugar, exerts powerful osmotic pressure on a plant’s cells, pulling moisture out as it penetrates. And because there are spices in the mix, it infuses the cells with those additional flavors.
Lemons are famously high in vitamin C and other powerful antioxidants, as well as fiber. Citric acid can help your body absorb iron from other sources. Additional compounds in lemons may promote heart health and prevent anemia, kidney stones, and some cancers.
Note: Many people make these without spices, using only salt or salt and a little sugar. Try it both ways and decide which you prefer; the spices definitely add depth and complexity. Once they’re ready, you can use the peel and the pulp, though the peel is generally considered superior. They will darken over time, but that’s nothing to worry about. Between the salt and the acidity, these really can’t go bad.
Special equipment: 1 qt (950 ml) wide-mouth Mason jar
1 quart Yield
- 6 lemons
- Sea salt
Optional spices, in any combination
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 star anise
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cloves
- 6 coriander seeds
- 6 peppercorns
Step 1Cut the lemons into quarters lengthwise, but stop short of going all the way through; leave the four quarters attached at one end with an inch or so to spare. Rub salt generously over all the cut surfaces, really working it in, and then close the lemon back up into its original shape.
Step 2Sprinkle a layer of salt into the bottom of the jar and push the first lemon in firmly, mashing it down. Repeat this with three more lemons, and possibly a fourth if there’s room, sprinkling in a little salt and some of the spices between them. Do your best to pack them in as tightly as you can. Juice the remaining lemon(s) and pour their juice into the jar so that the liquid fills in the voids between the fruit.
Step 3Let the jar sit for a day or two and see how much more liquid the salt pulls out of the fruit. If it covers the lemons, great — if not, add enough lemon juice to cover them and move the jar to a cool, dark place like a cupboard. Leave the jar alone for at least a month before digging in.
Substitutions: Any other citrus, alone or in combination (be advised that pithy types like grapefruit are very bitter)
Zero Waste: Dehydrate and grind the lemon-spice salt slurry (left in the jar after the lemons are used up) for an insanely useful lemon salt
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