Can I safely assume that everyone is done enjoying winter by now? I'm good with snow and bitter cold until about Valentine's Day, but after that the cabin fever starts to set in. The view outside my window is grey (again) and everything seems “blah”, even cooking.
This can only mean one thing: it's time to make a big jar of preserved lemons.
Preserved, or pickled, lemons are a popular condiment in Moroccan cuisine. Lemons are packed in salt and their own juices and left to marinate for a month or more. The resulting lemons are intensely flavored and will keep almost indefinitely.
With citrus in season, this is a good time of year to make a jar of preserved lemons for yourself. With a half-dozen lemons and a jar of salt, you'll be well on your way to defeating the winter blahs. Just one important note―since you'll eventually be eating the lemon rind, this is one instance where it's probably better to use organic lemons if you can. For a real treat, you can also spring for mellow flavored Meyer lemons. You won't be sorry!
But what do you use preserved lemons for? Everything! A tablespoon of the diced rind will sunshine-up any dish. I stir them into risotto. I scatter them over roasted chickpeas. I toss them in vinaigrette for salad or with wilted greens like kale and chard. Preserved lemons are truly the secret ingredient of late winter cooking.
Here's how to make them.
- About 6 organic lemons
- About 2 cups salt
- 2 bottles lemon juice
- 1 gallon glass jar (or similar sized container with lid)
Sprinkle a few tablespoons of salt into the bottom of the glass jar. Quarter the first lemon, without cutting all the way through―i.e., you should have four lemon quarters that are still attached together at the base of the lemon. Pack the inside of the lemon with another tablespoon or two of salt, then smush it into the bottom of the glass jar. Sprinkle another tablespoon of salt on top. Repeat this process for the remaining lemons.
When all the lemons are in the jar, sprinkle on a tablespoon or two more of salt and give them one last good press from the top. By now, the lemons should be giving up some of their juices to make a brine but, unless you have extremely juicy lemons, you'll need to add bottled lemon juice to completely submerge the fruit.
Put the lid on the glass jar and give it a good shake to help dissolve the salt. Then pop the jar in the fridge. You'll need to continue to shake it every few days. The lemons will be best if you can leave them for at least a month, but they're not bad even after a few weeks.
To use, fish out one quarter of a lemon, discard the pulp and rinse the rind under cold water for about 30 seconds. Dice the rind up finely and toss it into anything and everything that needs a sunny flavor boost.
[This originally appeared in my Cooking from Scratch column in the Lawrence Journal World--local peeps, be sure and check it out every other Wednesday!]