There is no Moroccan cooking without preserved lemons, and the store-bought variety doesn’t even begin to compare with homemade. Preserved lemons take minutes to prepare and two weeks to “incubate,” totally unassisted, and the result is a few months’ supply of the single element that will convert many of your dishes from plain to glorious. The fragrance of preserved lemons intoxicating: a pure lemon quintessence for lemon lovers only. Call this great condiment our secret weapon for countless tajines, soups, fish, beans and rice dishes.
When lemons are plentiful, buy a dozen or two, a box of coarse salt, and a couple of wide-mouth glass jars, and hunker down to a batch of preserved lemons. That is all you need, along with some elbow grease to cram the lemons into the jar and force the juices out. That is the secret of their swelling and pickling, as well as their heady aroma. Do not let the amount of salt daunt you. Much of it gets washed away, and you can reduce, or even eliminate, salt from the dish you are preparing with the preserved lemons.
- 8 to 10 large thick-skinned lemons
- Coarse sea salt
Wash and dry the lemons thoroughly. Remove any green points attached to the ends of the lemons. Cut them in quarters lengthwise. Place 2 to 3 pieces in a clean wide-mouth quart-sized glass jar, top with a thick layer of salt. Repeat: Lemon, salt, lemon, salt, and so on, all the way to the top, pressing down hard as you go to draw out the juice. Don’t worry if the juices don’t appear immediately; they soon will, with all that salt. The lemons should be totally submerged by their own juice, and reach all the way to the top of the jar. Top with an extra layer of salt to ensure that no lemon skin is exposed (or it will mold). You will need 2 jars. Place the jars in a dark cool place (I keep mine under the sink). They will be ready in two weeks, at which point they should be refrigerated. To use, take out a quarter of a lemon at a time. Discard the pulp, rinse the skin thoroughly, and mince. Add to fish and chicken dishes, bean soups, salads, and salsas. Makes about 2 quarts. After the two weeks of pickling at room temperature, store refrigerated.