How to Preserve Lemons

How to Preserve Lemons ~ Moroccan preserved lemons is a unique condiment that brightens up a lot of Middle Eastern recipes but can be hard to find in stores ~ I’ll show you how to make them right at home, it’s easy!

preserved lemons in a mason jar

In parts of the country where citrus grows naturally, the trees are practically groaning with fruit right now. Some trees topple over or lose branches from the weight of so much bounty. And the fruit has to be picked in order for the trees to set buds for next year’s crop. Here in California charities will come and pick your fruit for you in exchange for the harvest. In stores all over the country this will be the last week or two that citrus will take center stage, before the early strawberries and other spring crops start to come in. Pretty soon the unusual varieties like Meyer lemons, Cara Cara oranges, and pomelos will be a distant memory.

preserved lemons in a jar with spices

There aren’t many foods that match the versatility of citrus—we eat it raw, and use it as an ingredient in sweets, meats, fish, vegetables, drinks, and endless condiments. Every last part of the citrus fruit is valuable in the culinary world. Citrus can actually do the ‘cooking’ too—the acids in citrus will transform raw fish in ceviche. And because of the powerful essential oils in their rinds, citrus fruits are a huge source of flavorings 

As Ina Garten will tell you, a squeeze of lemon adds that special something to just about every dish imaginable. There are endless recipes I could have chosen for my week long celebration of citrus, but I decided to focus on ones that feature the glorious fruit as the main ingredient.

a salted lemon

Preserved lemons are best known as a Middle Eastern and North African condiment, but the concept of preserving lemons in some sort of brine is an ancient technique in lots of cultures.

Preserved lemons are lemons that are pickled in a brine of salt and their own juice. You can add a few spices if you want to, or leave them plain. The fruit ferments at room temperature for a month, and at the end you’ll have an authentic ingredient for Moroccan stews, tagines, salad and couscous. But, really, you can use them in anywhere you’d normally use lemons. 

What do preserved lemons taste like?

Basically the flavor is like lemon on steroids. Intensely ‘lemony’, and silky textured.

spices for preserved lemons

The prized part of the preserved lemon is the rind, but you can use the flesh in cooking as well, just remember to remove the seeds.

salting lemons for preserving, Moroccan style

How long do preserved lemons last?

Preserved lemons will last about 6 months to a year in the refrigerator. Keep them covered in the brine, which is what preserved them. Traditionally preserved lemons are shelf stable, but I like to err on the safe side and keep them chilled.

a jar of preserved lemons

Your preserved lemons will be ready in a month and you’ll be using them with spring lamb, vegetable couscous, chicken, salads, and anywhere you’d use regular lemons. They’ll be your new secret ingredient!

How do you use preserved lemons?

  • To use your lemons just remove one from the jar, and rinse it off to remove the salt. Then you can thinly slice the rind and use it in your recipes. The flesh is great to use, too, just remove the seeds. 
  • Preserved lemons can be used in Moroccan and Middle Eastern recipes like tagines, couscous, hummus, etc.
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3.29 from 28 votes

Moroccan Preserved Lemons

How to Preserve Lemons ~ Moroccan preserved lemons is a unique condiment that brightens up a lot of Middle Eastern recipes but can be hard to find in stores ~ I'll show you how to make them right at home, it's easy!
Course condiment
Cuisine Moroccan
Prep Time 20 minutes
Author Sue Moran

Ingredients

  • 1 sterilized qt jar with a wide mouth
  • 6 or 7 Meyer lemons you can use regular lemons, choose small ones
  • kosher salt
  • extra fresh lemon juice if needed (I needed the juice from 2 extra lemons)
  • optional spices:
  • 1 star anise
  • 6 or 7 cardamom pods cracked
  • 3 pieces of cinnamon stick
  • several cloves
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp white peppercorns
  • 3 bay leaves

Instructions

  • Slice a bit off the stem end of the lemons, and then slice them in half, lengthwise, leaving about 1/2 inch at the bottom, in other words do not slice all the way through to the end. Then slice it in quarters the same way, so the lemon is still whole at the bottom. (see above photos)
  • Sprinkle salt on all the exposed lemon flesh.
  • Coat the bottom of the jar with salt, and put the lemons in,push them down and squish them a bit to fit them in. Layer more salt and the spices in between the lemons.
  • Fit as many lemons as you can into the jar, and then add more lemon juice to insure that all the lemons are covered in juice.
  • Let the jar sit at room temperature for about a month, shaking the jar every day to redistribute the juices. A cupboard is a good place. Then refrigerate. The preserved lemons should keep for a year in the fridge.
  • When you want to use one of the lemons, take it out with clean tongs and rinse the salt off. Scrape off the flesh, seeds and pith and then slice or dice the rinds.
The nutritional information for recipes on this site is provided as a courtesy and although theviewfromgreatisland.com tries to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures are only estimates.

preserved lemons pin

 

*If you want to read further about preserved lemons this post from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook is very thorough.

 

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44 Comments

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  • Reply
    Julie Lee
    August 13, 2021 at 5:40 am

    Wanting to preserve lemons. When using the preserved lemon can the flesh and zest be used. How do you zest a preserved lemon that has lost its solid structure? Or does it not?

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      August 13, 2021 at 5:56 am

      Yes, you can use both the flesh and peel. You can’t zest them, though, they’re way too soft.

  • Reply
    Jennifer
    February 24, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    I made some very basic preserved lemons about 6 months ago. I’m the sole human in the house, so I don’t use them up at a rapid pace. Any advice about how long the keep or when they should be tossed? They’re staring at me every time I open the refrigerator, but I’m a bit wary about using them.
    Also, what exactly do you use in a recipe? Rind only? Rind and pith? Rind, pith and pulp?
    Yours look beautiful, and I can smell them through the screen. I’ll make yours and toss mine anyway, but I would like to know how to keep a batch.

    • Reply
      Sue
      August 11, 2019 at 3:35 pm

      The lemons should keep about a year, refrigerated, Jennifer. Just be sure they are always covered with brine. The whole lemon can be used, rind and flesh.

  • Reply
    Georgie
    January 7, 2018 at 4:36 pm

    5 stars
    Wow! You are a lady after my own heart. I stumbled across your site after looking for porcini salt recipes and am staying for the preserved lemons, hot pepper honey, and hotpot recipes

    • Reply
      Sue
      January 7, 2018 at 5:47 pm

      Welcome in!

  • Reply
    Chrissy
    August 10, 2016 at 11:53 am

    Is it recommended that you use a canning method to do this? You know, with the boiling water and tongs and all that jazz?

    • Reply
      Sue
      August 10, 2016 at 11:54 am

      No, I don’t think most people can these, Chrissy.

  • Reply
    Rob
    March 1, 2016 at 11:48 am

    greta contribution salute !

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