Preserved Lemons

Preserved lemons are a Middle Eastern specialty, lending an ineffable flavor to anything they're put in. Savory, tart, and briney sweet, they're a major compliment to tangines, cous cous, hummus, and lamb. When they're done, you can liquify them with some onion and parsley to make a delicious relish.

If you start these little babies now, you can prepare salmon tangine with me later in May. The 'recipe' (it's so simple that it can be barely be called one) that I used is modified from the Chez Panisse cookbook, but some variations add cloves, peppercorns, bay leaves . . . whatever spice you fancy. I left them out for this first go-around.

Preserved Lemons

6 Meyer Lemons (regular lemons can be used, but the sweet, thin skinned Meyer lemon is better for preserving)
2 regular lemons
Quantity of additive free Kosher or sea salt (ordinary table salt is far too harsh)
Cloves, coriander seeds, peppercorns, bay leaf (optional)

1 quart canning jar

Start by sterilizing the jar you are to use by using canning sterilizer or a mixture of 1:1 bleach and hot water. Fill jar with sterilizer and let sit; swish and rinse thoroughly. This step is important for warding off contamination which will create mold.

On a plate, make 4 longitudinal (top to bottom) slices in each Meyer lemon, without cutting into the ends, so the lemon is still attached versus quartered into 4 separate pieces. Pack sterilized canning jar with a thick layer of salt in the bottom (about 1 inch). Pack your sliced lemons with plenty of salt, pushing the salt inside the lemon and coating it. Place all lemons inside jar, with the juices collected on the plate. With a clean, large spoon, push the lemons vigorously into the jar, pressing to release juices. If you are using Meyer lemons, you will need the extra acidity of regular lemon juice, since their own juice is a bit sweet; cut 2 regular lemons and squeeze their juices into the jar. The juice should mostly cover the lemons; as the lemons sit, they will eventually release more juice. If you are adding spice, add it now. Dump a generous amount of salt on top of the lemons, like a little snowstorm on top. Close tightly and place in an undisturbed spot at room temperature. As the lemons sit, they will be submerged in liquid after a few days. Monitor the liquid level, and if they're not submerged in 3 or 4 days, add more lemon juice and another dose of salt, trying to not touch the jar mouth too much (again, to not introduce any extra bacteria!). After a few weeks (around 2-3), they will be ready. At this point, you can refrigerate them for future use and they will keep for a year.

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