Spiced Preserved Lemons

The Recipe: How to make preserved lemons, a cornerstone ingredient in Moroccan cuisine and an easy way to jazz up everything from salad dressings to stews. The salty-sour essence of preserved lemons, it's truly special.

You could call preserved lemons "pickled lemons" because they're preserved in a simple brine of salt and spices. They're so-so simple to make and there's a good chance you already have all the ingredients on hand.

My next recipe will show you how to use Spiced Preserved Lemons in a "concept recipe" stew that we've made every couple of weeks since last fall, swapping out different proteins and vegetables. The single constant? Preserved lemons. Here's that recipe, Spiced Chicken with Roasted Cauliflower Tagine but I've also made it with beef and butternut squash .

Spiced Preserved Lemons ♥ KitchenParade.com, just lemons, salt and pantry spices but so handy to have on hand.

Good cooks keep odds and ends around, more "ingredient" than "dinner" but somehow, once they're around, just convert something so-so to something extravagant.

In my kitchen, on the sweet side it's Brown Sugar Lemon Curd (stir it with Greek yogurt or sour cream, instant sauce for fruit or cake) and Homemade Chocolate Sauce In-a-Flash (need an explanation? I thought not). For a quick appetizer, it's Easy Almond Crackers. In the fall, I put away a few bags of Homemade Kabocha Squash "Pumpkin" Purée for breads and stews.

Like other "homemade pantry" ingredients, Spiced Preserved Lemons would fall into that often-so-interesting chapter called "other" at the end of cookbooks. You don't eat them on their own. And even when you make them, you can't use them for at least five days (this recipe) or even longer (some preserved lemons take months to fully cure). They don't really "fit" anywhere. But really? These oddball odds and ends, they up a good cook's game, a sort of secret weapon hidden in the fridge.

As an aside, I've learned to check this "other" chapter in cookbooks first thing. It often includes the very best of homemade kitchen staples! I just checked my own "other" category – it's here – and same holds true, it's full of oddball but (what I hope you find intriguing) recipes.

So I hope you'll spend a few minutes to preserve some lemons, then put the jar in the back of your fridge until next week. Because next week? I'll share a season-crossing concept recipe, so many variations with protein and vegetables, here it is now, Spiced Chicken with Roasted Cauliflower Tagine. The recipe has only one required ingredient, preserved lemons.

And yes, like many "homemade pantry" recipes, you can some times find preserved lemons in specialty food shops and international groceries. But they're pricey-pricey. Putting them up at home? All it takes is lemons, salt and a few spices you probably already have. That's it.

ALANNA's TIPS Be sure to scrub the lemons well, many have a waxy coating. The slightly sweeter Meyer lemons work great, so do regular lemons but do try to find lemons whose skins aren't too thick. I love this idea from Bon Appetit that adds a little turmeric (for color) and sugar (to balance the salt). I'll make those changes to this recipe the next time I make Spiced Preserved Lemons, just one left in my jar right now!
HOW TO USE PRESERVED LEMONS Ideas from The Kitchn, Huffington Post and NPR.


Hands-on time: 15 minutes over 30 minutes
Time to table: 5 days
Makes 8 preserved lemons
  • 8 lemons
  • 10 cups water
  • 3/4 cup (190g) kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons coriander seed, toasted
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick

WORK THAT KNIFE With a sharp knife, make pole to pole length-wise incisions in each lemon's skin, about a half inch apart, cutting through the skin but not into the interior flesh. (Confused? Check the upper right photo in the collage, above.)

JUST SIMMER Combine the lemons, water and salt in a large saucepan. Place a plate on top of the lemons to keep them submerged, then bring the water to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to maintain a slow simmer and let simmer about 20 minutes until the lemon skins become soft and tender.

JAR, BABY, JAR Use a slotted spoon to lift the lemons out of the water and pack the lemons loosely in a glass container (I use a quart jar). With the back of the spoon, press the lemons to release some juices. Drop in the spices, then cover with the hot cooking water. Place a lid on the container, let cool to room temperature.

NOW WAIT (BUT NOT LONG) Refrigerate the preserved lemons, they'll be ready to use in about five days.

AND PRESERVED LEMONS LAST, UM, HOW LONG? How long will they keep? Well. Let's just say I'm using lemons preserved three years ago this week. Three.Years. No.Kidding.

SKIN ONLY? SKIN & FLESH? I go back and forth. Some times I cut the skin into slivers and discard the lemon flesh. Other times, I mash the whole lemon with the back of a spoon (or run it through a mini food processor).

NUTRITION INFORMATION Honestly? I have no idea how to calculate the nutrition data for preserved lemons, especially the sodium. Start off with the idea that one whole lemon adds up to a total of 21 calories, then is divided umpteen ways in a recipe. Aside from the sodium, which would be considerable, I'm calling it "zero".
Adapted from Insalata's Mediterranean Table, a much unexpected and appreciated gift from the good folks at O Olive Oil some years back.

Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail via recipes@kitchen-parade.com. How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. Follow Kitchen Parade on Facebook!

Let's Talk ... About Your Homemade Pantry

Spiced Preserved Lemons ♥ KitchenParade.com, just lemons, salt and pantry spices but so handy to have on hand.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? Do you have a secret weapon or two or three that you make that's more "ingredient" than dinner? I'd love to know what's in your arsenal!

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Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.