Moroccan preserved lemons
Moroccan preserved lemons are condiments that are used for cooking in Moroccan and other cuisines. Whole lemons are cured with salt and are left to ferment in their own juice for about a month, which results in an intense, unique and lemony taste.
Preserved lemons are sometimes called salted lemons which is not strictly correct. Even though lemons are cured with salt, the fermenting process cooks them over time and therefore calling them salted is not precise.
Preserved lemons can be made at home, or bought ready-made. Here, at Mina, we will soon start offering authentic Moroccan preserved lemons.
How are Moroccan preserved lemons made?
Moroccan preserved lemons are extremely simple to make and they will store for a long time too. Just spend a couple of minutes making them and then you can enjoy the delicious condiment and enhance your dishes for at least a couple of months.
Whole lemons are cut half way, rubbed with salt and tightly stuffed into a jar so that they are soaked in their own juice. Then they are left for a couple of days to start the fermentation process, with a couple of shakes during the process so that all the lemons are evenly covered with salt and juice. Some add a lemon or two on the second day when the lemons have shrunk in size to make a jar even fuller.
After that, lemons are left for at least 3 weeks before being transferred to a fridge for storing. So in around a month’s time you would be able to make your dishes even better with this stunning chunky condiment. Some cooks put lemons through a blender after the initial 3-4 weeks and therefore end up having a savoury lemony purée that can be added by spoonfuls to the dishes you are cooking. This puree can be stored for months, however it is not authentic at all.
Which lemons should you use?
As with any cooking – fresh high quality produce can completely change the taste of the dish.
As preserved lemons consist of just a couple of ingredients the quality of each of those is extremely important.
The best lemons are the ones that you have just picked from your lemon tree, however we do appreciate that not everyone has got their own tree. Organic lemons would be your best choice, as you want to avoid lemons that have been treated with chemicals as the rind is the part that will be eaten here. While shopping for lemons, try to find the unwaxed ones. If you are struggling to find them, ensure that you scrub the wax off the lemon completely. The process of fermentation happens due to bacteria that is found on a lemon rind, slightly similar to the wine making process. So if you go for a waxed lemon, bacteria would be dead by the moment you start cooking and therefore instead of fermented lemons you would end up having salt cured lemons, which while a tasty condiment on its own, is not completely authentic to Moroccan cuisine.
If you're in Morocco, try to select doqq or boussera lemons (sold as "citron beldi" or ‘beldi lemons”). They are smaller and rounder than usual lemons. If those are not available to you, Eureka or Meyer lemons are favored for preserving, but any variety will work.
Which salt to use?
Different recipes call for different types of salts such as kosher salt, pickling salt or coarse salt. Feel free to use any of those, however avoid iodized salt and sea salt, as they may have anti-caking additives or traces of minerals in them, that may affect the taste of the lemons when they are ready.
Uses for preserved lemons
are thousands of possible uses for preserved lemons in cooking and there are no limits on using them. With its unique and complex taste, this condiment can make any stew, any meat or especially fish taste better and more pronounced. Normally you would discard the pulp and use only the rind for cooking. Once preserved, the entire rind including the pith becomes edible.
However, the pulp can be used, as well as the juice too. A small addition of curing liquid to the salad dressing would make it shine and sparkle with new rainbows of taste.
Chicken and fish dishes do always work well with lemon. Add a bit of chopped lemon rind to the chicken marinade or prepare a lovely dressing for the fish using blended lemons and some fresh herbs.
Classical tagine dishes call for using preserved lemons, whether it’s lamb, chicken or a fish one – the added flavour would enhance the aroma palette of this dish.
You can also add a preserved lemon puree to dips, such as hummus, baba ganoush or even a guacamole.
You can even slice up the lemon and put on on a smashed avocado toast with some freshly cracked black pepper to make a delicious and healthy breakfast.
Substitutes for preserved lemon
It may seem that preserved lemons can be easily substituted with fresh lemons and some salt, however the taste is completely different to the real thing. Instead of that try a “quick pickle” method to make a decent, though not ideal substitute.
You need two lemons, 1 cup of water and 2 tablespoons of water. Slice up the lemons, put them into the water with salt and bring to boil. Then cover and simmer for another 30 minutes. Take them out of the water and use as usual, however, please keep in mind that they will be quite salty, so adjust the seasoning for the rest of the dish.
Preserved lemon recipe
- Coarse salt
- Clean jar, rinsed with boiling water
- Slice lemons to quarters, cutting them only half way, so that they still hold their shapes well.
- Generously add salt into the cuts
- Add lemons to the jar, pressing them so that they release some juice.
- Close the lid and move the jar to a dark cool place for a day.
- The next day the lemons would will have shrunk and released more juice. Add another 1-2 salt rubbed lemons to the jar.
- Continue adding lemons each day until all the lemons are be covered in lemon juice completely.
- In 10 days time they will be ready! (However they taste even better if you leave them for 3-4 weeks)
- When eating them, ensure that lemons are always covered with juice as otherwise they can go mouldy.