Preserved lemons

In Morocco preserved (salted) lemons are added to dishes as a “secret” ingredient in order to achieve better taste and unforgettable aroma. I also use salted lemons, when I need to save experimental dish that tastes not good enough – in 95% it works. It’s a long-read recipe, but it’s very easy.

Choosing lemons

Maybe you’ve seen hundreds of recipes across the web, where authors state that one needs the only Moroccan lemon specie to make preserved lemons – I assure you – these are lies. You are free to use any lemons that are for sale in the nearby shop. Just be sure that you understand difference between lemon and lime – limes (green ones) won’t go.

I live in north-west of Russia, so I’ve got a very limited choice on lemons. So this is the list of qualities of lemons that you will need, if there’s choice in a shop. If there’s no choice – take any, but they should be fresh. Lemons should be:

  • the most thin-skinned (in Morocco it’s ~2 mm., in Russia – ~8 mm.),
  • ripe (=less sour),
  • fresh (=fragrant),
  • of yellow/yellow-orange colour,
  • of one size (one jar = one size), upon your choice from extra small to medium.
Salted lemons in Morocco
Preserved lemons in olive souk in Casablanca. Our lemons will look different (pictures in the end of recipe)

Recipe

In Moroccan markets you may have seen whole salted lemons in heaps. To achieve such beautiful lemons, one makes 2-3 deep cuts with thin knife next to the tip. In this case the preservation should last at least 1 month longer + it should be a thin-skinned variety (with ~2 mm. skin). I will give you the quicker method of preserving lemons.

Ingredients:

  • Lemons
  • Coarse salt

Per 1 lemon (150 g) you should take 25 g of any coarse salt. The amount of ingredients depends on the size of your jar.

Equipment:

  • Glass or plastic jar with screw cap
  • Sphere- or cube-shaped stone or smth else for pressing

Instructions

1. Wash the lemons well (better with brush). Wash the jar and the cap and fill them with boiling water for 5 min. to avoid any mold issues in future.

2. Cut lemons, leaving at least 1 cm uncut (in order to save lemons from falling apart). See the 2 methods in pics:

How to cut lemons for preservation var. 1
Method #1

3. Put salt in cuts and put lemons in a jar. Press lemons, so it will fit as much lemons as possible.

During the process + later, the juice will come out of lemons – watch: the juice should cover lemons. If there is not enough juice, you will need to squeeze it out of new fresh lemon, adding the salt proportionally. Salted lemons shouldn’t contact the air.

I was preserving lemons in a glass jar with screw cap. From one hand, a screw cap can hold lemons from jumping out itself, from the other hand, I had another issue: my lemons had filled the whole jar and during preservation their juice was leaking out; so where the juice touched the air (edge of cap, outside), the mold began to appear + metal cap began to corrode. I’ve succeeded in preventing the mold from coming inside the jar, but it was very unpleasant experience.

That’s why I highly recommend using a stone or smth else, to make it separate lemon juice from jar’s cap.

Freshly preserved lemons
My first experience – use a stone to make lemons not touch the cap

4. Close the jar and leave it on a table (room temperature) for several days (3-5)

5. Lemons will soften and you’ll be able to fit there some more. Start with 1 lemon – cut it like in Step 2, put salt in it and press it into the jar. My jar was 0,7 l, I could put 1 whole lemon (medium size, ~150 g). Put the stone and the screw cap back. Leave the jar at room temperature for several days.

New lemon will push salted juice out of the jar. That’s why I would recommend:

a) Put the jar in a bowl prior to pushing a lemon in.

b) Save the brine – pour salted lemon juice in a clean jar (bottle) and store it in a fridge. You can add it to preserved lemons later, or if there stays the excess quantity of juice, you can use it instead of salt while cooking.

Juice from salted lemons
Juice from salted lemons

6. The idea is to put as more lemons in a jar as it is possible. So repeat Steps 4 and 5 as long as you still can fit any lemons in the jar. Then sprinkle some salt over lemons.

If there’s not enough juice to cover lemons – squeeze some from fresh ones.

Put the stone, close the jar and put it in a dark place at room temperature for 1-10 months. The time of preservation consists of 2 factors:

a) Time needed to make lemons salty:

– Thin-skinned lemons (with rind ~2 mm) require 1 month.

– Thick-skinned lemons require more time, from 2 to 3 months.

b) The rest of time affects the colour of preserved lemons (they become darker) and the texture (they become softer). So this is up to your taste.

The total time should not exceed 10 months. My lemons (see pictures) had a skin ~8-10 mm thick, and I was preserving them for 4 months. I didn’t put them in dark place – I was too curious to watch the process, but sun rays didn’t reach them.

7. As soon as you’re satisfied with texture (4 months, if we’re talking about me), place the jar with preserved lemons to a fridge, to stop the process.

Preserved lemons are ready to be eaten
Ready salted lemons, yep, I’ve already eaten some
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