Saints Preserve Us!

Back from New Orleans, where the Saints are the team of choice, we made it to Tucson just in time to pick all the lemons off our tree before The Big Freeze. All our neighbors did the same and, together, we ended up with a slew of lemons that had to be used quickly! Yvonne is making marmalade with hers. My first project is making Moroccan preserved lemons.

Moroccan preserved lemons are a great condiment to keep in your refrigerator to brighten all variety of dishes year-round. Mostly, you use only the preserved pith and zest, but there are a few recipes that call for the flesh, as well.

Aside from the Moroccan recipes that call for them - tagines, mostly - they are wonderful used with fish, seafood, chicken, lamb, vegetable dishes and salads. They add a sour-salty quality to things (akin to a pickle) but with a bit more sweetness, zing, and lot of flavor!

The best part? They are really simple to make. I don't recommend buying commercially-preserved lemons, as they often have preservatives other than salt that give the lemons a harsh fizziness. When making them, I always use organic, untreated, unwaxed lemons.

To make a quart-sized jar of four preserved lemons, you will also need to use a lot of lemon juice. Before juicing them, take off the zest in long, wide strips using a vegetable peeler to make limoncello (recipe coming next week). This means no part of the lemon was wasted.

The only other ingredient for our Moroccan lemons is salt. Some recipes have you top your lemons with olive oil, while others mix the lemon juice with water. I think the water is for those who don’t have enough lemons to make enough juice. And the oil? Well, I am not sure… but, by adding oil, you add the possibility of the lemons becoming rancid.

Right now, the whole house smells of lemons from making both limoncello and preserved lemons.

In addition to lemons, we picked more than five dozen oranges, and all our chile peppers. The peppers (habañero, chiletepin and Thai) are all drying on racks and screens so we can use them during the winter. I cooked two pounds of oranges to make citrus almond cake. I've given some away, and now am looking for other uses. Any ideas?

I can't wait for the month to fly by, so I can start using the preserved lemons! I imagine my tagine of chicken, olives and preserved lemons will be first on the menu. Luckily, the limoncello wll be done and ready to drink next week while I wait for the preserved lemons.

So, pucker up, cyber friends, and make yourself some of these wonderful preserved lemons.

~ David

Moroccan Preserved Lemons

8-12 organic lemons, washed and dried
3/4 cup kosher salt, approximately

Wash lemons well and dry them. Cut 4 lemons into quarters from the top (blossom end), being careful not to cut all the way through. Pack 2 tablespoons salt into the cuts of each lemon and place them, packed as tightly as possible, into a 1-quart sterilized jar with non-metallic lid.

Zest the remaining lemons and reserve for limoncello or another use.

Squeeze juice from the zested lemons, removing the seeds or pips as you go. Add another 2 tablespoons of salt to the jar and top off with the lemon juice, making sure the lemons are completely covered. Close the jar with and set aside in a cool, dark place (the refrigerator works fine) for one month. Shake the lemon jars a couple of times a week during the month to distribute the salt. 

Preserved lemons will keep for 1 year. Refrigerate after opening.

Makes 4 preserved lemons.

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