Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Moroccan Preserved Lemons

For those of you who may not be familiar with Moroccan cuisine, or cooking with a tagine - which is popular throughout North Africa in general - the idea of preserving your own lemons has likely never crossed your mind. I must say, although allured while browsing the pages of my glossy William Sonoma catalog I've been intrigued in the past, but never quite taken the plunge...other than an odd Moroccan Chicken Stew via the slow-cooker here, or an exotic Tunisian couscous dish there. However, as stands true with most things in life, once you're introduced to something new it somehow seems to stare you in the face everywhere you go. Such is the case with preserved lemons and me.
Once the spark was lit, the desire to learn more about this important ingredient in many regions of the world, was suddenly stimulated. Although not always referred to by the same name, versions of what I'm calling preserved lemons here are prevalent in many cuisines. In India, they have something called 'lemon pickle', in which the lemons are diced and mixed with various ground spices. In some cultures, preserved lemons have uses beyond food and are considered helpful with medical ailments. Although most commonly considered a North African culinary ingredient, as is the case with many foods, it's crossed borders and made it's way into dishes from Italy to Cambodia and everywhere in between. I read up on the subject using many sources, but if you'd like to learn more, this post by Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook is really helpful.
Beyond using preserved lemons in tagine recipes, you might wonder what these little gems can be used for? With Summer on it's way, it's not necessarily an ideal time for thick, hearty Moroccan stews either. Personally, I'm looking forward to making this Grilled Salmon with Preserved Lemon and Green Olives and this recipe for Tomato, Feta & Preserved Lemon Salad very soon. I've always been a fan of polenta, or anything on the planet made with cornmeal, so I'm also planning to try this recipe for Preserved Lemon Polenta. Another Moroccan ingredient that sticks out in my mind, other than lamb, or couscous...is chickpeas. When Fall comes around again, I'd love to make a pot of this Chickpea Tomato Stew with Moroccan Flavors.
In addition to those ideas, preserved lemons are also great in salad dressings or work beautifully in marinades for grilled chicken, lamb or fish. Try using minced preserved lemon rind in any savory recipe that calls for grated lemon zest. Or - if you'd like to get gourmet, make a gremolata - an herb condiment typically made with lemon rind, garlic and parsley and substitute some preserved lemon for the standard lemon rind.
In Morocco, preserved lemons are made using 'citron beldi' - meaning the traditional Moroccan doqq or boussera lemon varieties. But because it's highly unlikely you'll find either of those here, I recommend using Meyer Lemons, which are available in my part of the U.S. in Late Winter/Early Spring. They're a deeper, almost orange color because they're actually a cross between a lemon and an orange (or mandarin). Because of this, they're also less acidic than standard supermarket lemons and have a thinner rind.
If you can't get your hands on some you can substitute regular lemons, but it may take longer for the thicker rind to soften. Regardless of which lemon variety you use, I highly recommend using exclusively organic for this purpose - mainly because the rind is the part you'll eventually be consuming.
If you'd like to try some other canning, or preserving recipes these might interest you - Giardiniera {Italian Pickled Vegetables} | Pickled Tomatoes | Fire Roasted Heirloom Salsa | Dill Pickles.

Moroccan Preserved Lemons

Adapted from Couscous & Other Good Food from Morocco, by Paula Wolfert
Makes 5 preserved lemons
{printable recipe}
For this recipe I used a 1 liter 'tulip' canning jar from Weck. Once the lemons began to break down they filled the jar about halfway full. So - you might try these quantities with a 1/2 liter canning jar or opt for doubling the amount of lemons. I recommend making these when Meyer lemons are in season and readily available as their thin skins and mild flavor make them an ideal choice. Regardless, because you'll be consuming the rinds, I highly recommend using only organic lemons.

7 Meyer lemons, scrubbed well, nubby ends removed
kosher salt
1 cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
5 whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
10 coriander seeds
extra fresh squeezed Meyer lemon juice {optional}

special equipment
: a 1/2 or 1 liter sterilized canning jar

Quarter each lemon, almost all the way through, leaving the bottom third of the lemon intact. Sprinkle some kosher salt over the exposed flesh of the lemon - I used about a tablespoon of kosher salt per lemon.

Cover the bottom of your canning jar with kosher salt and begin stacking in the lemons, salting the insides of each as you go, and pushing down as you fill the jar. This allows the lemons to begin releasing their juice.

When the jar is about halfway full, add in the optional spices.
If you'd like to keep the lemons simple you can skip this step.

Once you've finished adding in all your lemons, sprinkle a final coating of kosher salt over the top, pressing down one last time to extract as much juice from the lemons as possible. Depending on how juicy the lemons you're using are, you may or may not be able to completely cover them with juice. Ultimately, you'll need the lemons completely submerged. This can be remedied by simply adding in extra freshly squeezed lemon juice until they're completely covered, or by following the note below.

Seal the jar and leave it in a cool, dark spot
for about a week - a food pantry, or cabinet away from direct sunlight or a heat source would be ideal. During that time you should turn the jar upside down and shake it a bit daily. This helps redistribute any salt that will likely begin collecting at the bottom of the jar. After about a week, the lemon juice and salt will begin looking 'syrupy' and thick. Once you've reached this point, you won't need to worry about shaking the jar, as the salt will be held in the thick liquid.
Note: If you were unable to completely submerge the lemons with the juice and did not add in extra, you can still get them covered by pressing the lemons down daily. Open the jar and press down on the lemons, pushing them down as the juice rises up to cover them. It may require a few days, or even a week of doing this depending on how juicy your lemons were to begin with. Mine were completely submerged in two days.

The lemons will be ready to use in one month, at which point the rinds should be very soft. After the initial week at room temperature, while you're shaking and possibly pressing the lemons, I like to move mine to the fridge for the remaining three weeks. Supposedly, you can leave them out on the counter, or in a cabinet, for months - some say even years. But I feel strange about that, so I opted for the refrigerator.

To use the lemons for cooking, flavoring salads, dressings, desserts, or anything your heart desires - thouroughly rinse the lemon under running water to remove any excess salt. Remove any seeds and pulp and chop the preserved rinds according to your recipe. Most recipes that call for using preserved lemons recommend using the rind only, but you can use the pulp as well, if desired.


Joanne said...

I've seen so many recipes that include preserved lemons lately and every time I do, I end up kicking myself for not just sucking it up and making them. You've convinced me I need to get on it!

Laurie {Simply Scratch} said...

I just saw something similar on the Food Network the other day! I love the idea of preserved lemons... I bet the flavor is unreal!

Kris @ Munchin with Munchkin said...

You had me at lemon pickle! Think I'm going to give this a try real soon.

Post a Comment