Tuesday, December 18, 2007

More Fun with Preserved Lemons

Oh, how I love preserved lemons.

I'm not even sure how to describe their amazingly fragrant, sweet and tart and salty and super-lemony flavor. If you made lemon perfume, it might smell the way these taste. I find them to be a complete delight to the senses. Preserved lemons are frequently used in Moroccan cooking, and contrary to what your intuition might tell you, it's only the rind that is used.

It isn't that difficult to preserve lemons; just takes a little advance planning and some patience!

First, get yourself a nice sized jar with a tightly fitting lid; I like to use a jar that's about the size of a big mayonnaise jar. You'll want to boil a big pot of water and very carefully use tongs to drop both the jar and the lid into it to sterilize them for a minute or two. Using the tongs, pull them out and set them onto a clean rack to dry.

Now you'll need to prep your lemons. You'll need not only enough lemons to fit into the jar, but you'll need a whole bunch of extra lemons to juice, because you'll need enough juice to completely cover the lemons.

Start by scoring several slices into the rind of each lemon, being careful to only slice into the skin and not go all the way into the flesh. You want the whole lemon to remain intact.

Next, you'll want to take some nice coarse kosher or sea salt, and pack it into the spaces where you just made the scores. Pack in as much salt as you can, and place each lemon into the jar.

At this point, I like to add a cinnamon stick, a smattering of whole cloves, a few whole black peppercorns, and a few coriander pods. Perhaps you'll like to add these spices also, but you could just as easily leave them out, or improvise with different spices.

Next, you'll want to use a clean utensil to press the lemons down so that they release some of their juices, and then you'll need to pour fresh lemon juice over the whole lot of it, so that the juice completely covers the lemons. You can also add another generous sprinkling of salt at this point.

Now, seal the jar tightly, place it in a cool, dry place, and be patient! It should take about 3 weeks until your lemons are completely preserved. During this time, you should pick up the jar every couple days and turn it and shake it gently.

Don't be surprised it there's pressure build up when you remove the lid, and do use a clean utensil to remove each lemon before you use it. And, make sure to replace the lid tightly when you're done!

These beauties will last a long, loooooooong time in your fridge if left to do so, but duh... they won't last because you'll be using them all the time!

To use preserved lemons, remove a lemon and rinse it gently. Cut off the rind and discard the flesh. Chop the rind finely. It adds dazzling flavor to any dish, and here are a few suggestions:

Add a sprinkling of preserved lemon to a salad of steamed beets with olive oil, lemon juice and goat cheese. Add some to a stew with chic peas and chard. Make a Moroccan tagine with chicken or lamb, and add preserved lemons and green olives. Stir a little bit into some basmati rice and top with a sprinkling of fresh mint....get the picture??

How sad is it that I'm writing this posting with NO preserved lemons in my kitchen?? I guess I know what I need to do this week!

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