DIY Pantry

How to preserve lemons in 6 easy steps

15th May 2018

Preserved lemons will add a punchy new dimension to your cooking. Food writer, Malou Herkes, shows you how to make them.

Preserved lemons

Photo: Natalé Towell.

Bright, fragrant and packing a punch, preserved lemons are a staple of Moroccan and Middle Eastern cooking. They add depth to tagines and stews, brighten up salads and elevate sides of bulgur wheat or couscous. Try them chopped up with fresh herbs, garlic and olive oil and drizzled over grilled fish, packed into a sandwich or stirred through last night’s stew to liven it up. Pound them into butter, then stir your butter through plain rice, melt it onto steak or slather it under the skin of a whole chicken before roasting.

Preserved lemons add intense flavour and a totally new dimension to your cooking, and may just become one of those storecupboard ingredients that you come to rely on. You can buy preserved lemons relatively easy these days, but you can preserve them yourself very simply.

Why unwaxed lemons?

You’ll need about eight unwaxed lemons per 1-litre jar (although this depends on the size of your lemons) and a generous amount of salt. Buying lemons that are unwaxed is important because it’s the rind that you’ll end up eating. If you can’t get hold of them, scrub your lemons thoroughly with hot soapy water to get rid of the wax.

And what about the salt?

The salt is what will preserve your lemons. Many recipes call for coarse salt, and as you use so much, it makes sense to source quality stuff. Still, in practise any salt will work. Just make sure you use slightly less if preserving with table salt as it’s so finely ground. If you want to add spices or herbs, poke them into the jar as you layer up the lemons; chillies, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, peppercorns, crushed coriander seeds and cloves are a few ideas to get you started.

How to preserve lemons

Step 1

Preserved lemons

Photo: Natalé Towell.

Scrub the lemons, remove any stems and cut off the woody stubs.

Step 2

Preserved lemons

Photo: Natalé Towell.

Quarter each lemon lengthwise, being careful not to cut all the way through so they remain attached at the base.

Step 3

Preserved lemons

Photo: Natalé Towell.

Push a tablespoon of salt into each lemon, placing them into a 1-litre sterilised jar as you go. It’s best to work over a bowl as you do this to collect any juices.

Step 4

Preserved lemons

Photo: Natalé Towell.

Firmly push the lemons down into the jar as you go so their juices release and they’re packed in as tightly as possible.

Step 5

Preserved lemons

Photo: Natalé Towell.

As you get to the top, push the lemons down again and make sure there are no air bubbles. Pour in any juices that have collected in the bowl. If the lemons are not yet submerged in their own juices, add more lemon juice along with a generous tablespoon of salt.

Step 6

Preserved lemons

Photo: Natalé Towell.

Seal the jar and leave in a cool dark place for two to three months before using, turning it when you think of it. During the first week, keep pushing the lemons down in the jar every couple of days. Add another lemon if there’s room so that they’re as compressed as possible.

Once opened, store your lemons in the fridge. They’ll keep for at least several months and up to a year.

How do I eat preserved lemons?

Eat the whole lemon, rind and all. Just chop it up and away you go. Stir through salads and couscous, add to spiced stews, sprinkle over labneh or hummus, chop them into a chimichurri sauce and serve on steak… the possibilities! 

For more DIY pantry ideas, check out Malou’s guides to DIY dairy-free milks and homemade almond milk as well as how to make apple cider vinegar, an easy mayonnaise, gut-friendly kombucha, a traditional buttercreamy yoghurt, hummus and icing sugar.

Enjoy preserving? Try fermenting rainbow chard, the Polish way.

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