Preserved lemons are a beautiful and unusual gift to give, and so easy to make. Traditionally used in Moroccan and Middle Eastern cuisine, the unique flavor works well in many chicken, fish and lamb dishes, adding the brightness, acidity and salt from which most savory dishes really benefit. I add preserved lemon regularly to steamed or sauteed vegetables and orzo or couscous side dishes; they are the star of my favorite carrot salad. You can use Meyer lemons for a more traditional version, but regular old lemons are my favorite. At this time of the year, they are plentiful and juicy, ideal for making preserved lemons.
To get started, find a pretty food-safe container that will stay tightly sealed in the fridge. I prefer the swing-top, or clip-top, jars that can be purchased everywhere from the hardware or grocery store to Williams-Sonoma or Amazon.com. A screw-top Mason jar works well, too. I use a quart-size jar when making them for myself, though a pint-size jar would work, especially for gift-giving. Though preserved lemons will keep in the fridge for several months, a little goes a long way. This is more of a process than a recipe; it can be easily adapted to accommodate your container of choice.
You’ll need 5-7 lemons per jar, depending on their size and juiciness. Choose lemons that are attractive, not scarred or marked, and feel heavy for their size, an indication that they will be juicy. Err on the side of having more than you need on hand. Since you will be eating the rind, not necessarily the pulp, I strongly recommend organic lemons.
When you’re ready to start, sterilize your jar(s) in a hot water bath or in a dishwasher on the high-heat setting. Prepare the lemons by scrubbing them thoroughly and patting dry with a clean cloth. Pour about 1/2 c. of kosher salt into a bowl and have a clean tablespoon nearby; you won’t necessarily use all the salt, but it’s helpful to have it handy. Quarter 4 lemons to start, lengthwise. Put 2 T. salt into the bottom of your sterilized jar and add lemon quarters to the jar, pressing them down as you go; you want them to release some of their juice, so don’t be afraid to really push them down. Add about a tablespoon of salt to the jar between each layer. Continue building layers of lemon and salt until you reach the neck of the jar, about 1-2″ from the top depending on the shape of your vessel. Cut more lemons along the way if you need them to fill the jar. Squeeze the remaining cut lemons and add the juice to the jar until all lemon quarters are submerged in juice– do not use commercially prepared lemon juice from a bottle or water. Again, cut more lemons if you need more juice to fill the jar. When the lemon quarters are submerged in juice, you should have about 1″ of room between the level of juice and the top of your container. There may be visible salt on the bottom of the jar, and that’s just fine. It will dissolve in time.
Put the cover on your jar and “ripen” the lemons in a warm place, gently shaking or swirling the jar every day to distribute the salt and juice. After two to three weeks, move the preserved lemons to the refrigerator for storage. To use your lemons, remove a quarter or two from the jar, scoop out and discard the pulp, and mince or dice the rind to add to your dish.