Every cook has those things that she (or he) love to do. Things they make to relax, to de-stress. Things that bring them peace in everyday life. For many, this comes in the form of baking. Baking is an exact and scientific process and the procedures can give great comfort to those wishing to escape from reality for an hour or two. While I love to make breads and such, I don’t derive similar pleasures from making cupcakes or anything similar. That kind of thing feels like work to me and, as you can imagine, I like to keep my home cooking feeling as little like work as possible. Make no mistake, however, I do have my “things”. I love cooking projects – things that take a little effort and a little time before the payoff. I love to pickle, can and preserve. I love making homemade treats that one doesn’t usually think of making at home (look for an upcoming post on homemade candy corn). So about a month ago on a day off, I was reading about preserved lemons and decided to give them a try. I wanted to tell you all about them then but I really wanted to wait and see if the payoff was worth the time and effort. Let me assure you, it was. These things are delicious and every one of you should make them – TODAY!
Preserved lemons have been a staple of Moroccan Cuisine. My goal, however, is to find alternative ways to enjoy them. While I do plan to make a traditional dish with them at some point, I don’t plan to serve tagine on a regular basis. Last night I opened my first jar of preserved lemons and used it in a pasta dish that everyone agreed was amazing. The lemons added a brightness and a bit of acidity that made ordinary fettucini delicious. And the entire dinner took less than 15 minutes to make.
For my preserved lemons, I went to the blog of David Lebovitz (www.davidlebovitz.com) If you don’t follow him, you should. An American in Paris who (I think) is incapable of making anything that isn’t completely perfect. Every recipe I’ve tried from him has been incredible. I did something a little different with the spices and it worked but the heart of this recipe is his.
On his suggestion, I used organic lemons. Since you’ll be eating the actual peel of the lemon, it’s really best. He puts his lemons in a large jar but I used several smaller jars and it worked great. So here you go… your life is about to get a bit more tasty:
- Cut off the little rounded bit at the stem end if there’s a hard little piece of the stem attached. From the other end of the lemon, make a large cut by slicing lengthwise downward, stopping about 1-inch from the bottom, then making another downward slice, so you’ve incised the lemon with an X shape.
- Pack Kosher salt into the lemon where you made the incisions. Be generous with the salt – it’s the key. Use at least a tablespoon per lemon.
- Put the salt-filled lemons in clean glass jars with a tight-fitting lid. Add a few coriander seeds, a few allspice berries, a couple of cloves, a bay leaf, a dried chili, and a cinnamon stick to each jar.
- Press the lemons very firmly in the jar to get the juices flowing. Cover and let stand overnight.
- The next day do the same, pressing the lemons down, encouraging them to release more juice as they start to soften. Repeat for a 2-3 days until the lemons are completely covered with liquid. If your lemons aren’t too juicy, add more freshly-squeezed lemon juice until they are submerged. I had to actually add quite a bit of extra lemon juice.
- After one month, when the preserved lemons are soft, they’re ready to use. Store the lemons in the refrigerator, where they’ll keep for at least 6 months. Rinse before using to remove excess salt.
- To use: Remove lemons from the liquid and rinse. Split in half and scrape out the pulp. Slice the lemon peels into thin strips or cut into a small dice. You may wish to press the pulp through a sieve to obtain the flavorful juice, which can be used for flavoring as well, then discard the innards.