How to preserve lemons, a savory Moroccan staple
What is preserved lemon?
Preserved lemon is a common ingredient in Moroccan cooking and has long been used in cuisines across India, the Middle East and South Asia. What differentiates them from regular fresh lemons is the process they go through before they’re ready to use. Lemons are packed—peeled and all—with salt in an airtight container for a long time. This process not only prolongs the life of the lemons, but also gives them a unique flavor that is loved today as well as it was in the past.
What does preserved lemon taste like?
The taste of preserved lemon is salty and slightly sweet with a strong lemon flavor. “But it’s not the lemon flavor we’re used to,” says Nargisse Benkabbou, head chef at L’Mida Marrakech, author and owner of the culinary blog My Moroccan Food. “It’s a taste with more character.” They are acidic and fragrant, but not as bright as fresh lemons. In addition to the soothing effect of the lemon bite, the preservation process also softens the peel and pulp until they become as soft as butter. While salt is all you need to completely transform the flavor of a lemon, other types of recipes incorporate aromatics, such as herbs, spices, and onions, to bring out the spice. .
What are the health benefits of preserved lemons?
First, lemons are full of healthful properties, like vitamin C, are rich in antioxidants and have long been claimed to help boost immunity. Lemon peels also have health benefits, and since the whole fruit is edible when stored, you can reap these benefits too. “The peel provides fiber and [additional] It is rich in vitamin C and rich in d-Limonene, an aromatic compound with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, says Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD.
In addition, preserved lemons may also contain beneficial bacteria thanks to the magic of lacto-fermentation. “This is a fermentation process involving lactic acid bacteria, which is potentially beneficial,” says Justine Dees, PhD, microbiologist and founder of the blog and podcast Joyful Microbe. According to Dr. Dees, it’s hard to say whether people eat beneficial bacteria and reap the benefits when they eat preserved lemons, but that shouldn’t stop you from including them in your diet. . “It doesn’t hurt to expose your body to beneficial bacteria, so why not?” she speaks. While more research is needed on the health benefits of fermented foods, a recent study conducted by researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine shows promise. Researchers found that eating fermented foods can increase the diversity of gut bacteria, which in turn leads to lower levels of inflammation. One thing Dr. Dees can say with certainty is that making fermented foods is a “life-enhancing pastime” is certainly delicious and fun to do at home.
How to make preserved lemon
If you want to learn how to make preserved lemons, Benkabbou shares her grandmother’s recipe, which stays true to the traditional Moroccan method. It only requires a handful of lemons, a generous amount of salt, and an airtight glass jar. Benkabbou also says you can add lemon juice or water, though that’s not necessary — the salt will slowly draw the juice from the lemon over time, she says.
In addition to choosing organic or wax-free lemons, Benkabbou recommends choosing lemons that aren’t too large so you can fit more than a few into the jar and have thin peels (like Meyer lemons).
You can also choose to add aromatics to the recipe. While Benkabbou likes it the “classic way,” she encourages people to experiment. Take a page from Paula Wolfert, who introduced preserved lemons—and the wonderful world of Moroccan cooking—to America through her cookbook Couscous and other delicious Moroccan dishes. Her preserved lemon recipe incorporates warming spices, like cardamom, pepper, cinnamon, and bay leaf.
Organic or Unwaxed Meyer Lemons
Aromatic substances such as herbs, spices, onions and pepper (optional)
Airtight glass container/jar
1. Place the lemon upright on the cutting board. Using a knife, cut each lemon from the top, stopping a few inches from the stem. Make a similar cut on the other end of the lemon, again being careful not to cut the whole fruit.
2. Pour a teaspoon of kosher salt into the cut parts of each lemon. Place the lemons in a clean, airtight glass container, trying to squeeze as many lemons into the box as possible. You can choose to add lemon juice or water or additional aromatics, although as mentioned, all are optional.
3. Cover the jar and store in a cool, dark place to ferment the lemons for at least a month. Shake the vial occasionally to ensure the salt is evenly distributed. After a month, you can transfer the vial to the refrigerator.
More chef-approved tips
1. Make sure your container is airtight.
Containers with tight-fitting lids prevent excess air from hindering fermentation. Plus, it keeps pesky kitchen pests out of the vessel. Consider using a Mason jar or an option with a locking lid.
2. Choose the right size lemon for the jar you have available.
If you’re going to buy lemons for preservation, make sure you’re choosing ones that fit in the jars you have at home. “When you are picking lemons, think about what jars you have,” says Benkabbou. That way, you can use most, if not, all of the lemons you buy.
3. Avoid storing lemons in the refrigerator while they are fermenting.
While it’s important to store lemons in a cool, dark place as they ferment, you also want to avoid storing them in too cool, says Benkabbou—“just room temperature somewhere,” says Benkabbou. dark is good,” she said.
How to use preserved lemon in your cooking
Preserved lemons are very versatile. “You can use them the same way you would use any fragrance oil,” says Benkabbou. Although traditionally used in stews, like tagine and salads in Morocco, they go well with most savory dishes. You can pair them with meat and seafood, and they can also add pepper to rice and pasta. And if you really If you want to explore the preservation power of lemons, you can try incorporating them into sweet dishes. In other words, “there are no limits” when it comes to preserved lemons.
4 preserved lemon recipes to try
Obviously there are many, if not endless, ways to incorporate preserved lemon into both savory and sweet dishes, but if you’re looking for inspiration, consider trying one of these four recipes. They are easy to make and some are inspired by Moroccan cuisine.
Cauliflower with lemon and green beans
This recipe from My Moorish Plate is a vegan take on tagine, North Africa’s famous aromatic stew. Cauliflower and chickpeas are stewed in a broth, fortified with preserved lemon and a mixture of warm spices, such as cardamom, ginger, and cumin, plus cayenne pepper for a spicy kick, in order to create a spicy taste. capture the essence of traditional Moroccan food.
Get the formula: Lemon Cauliflower and Green Bean Tagine
Green bean quinoa salad with lemon
This colorful salad recipe from Home party come together in a pinch. Cucumber, tomato, and kalamata olives are tossed with preserved lemon vinegar—and with chickpeas and protein-rich quinoa in the mix, it can be a mainstay salad. You can also add butter, radish, and feta cheese to enhance the flavor and texture of the recipe.
Get the formula: Quinoa Salad with Lemon Green Beans
In this potato salad recipe from by Salima Kitchen, preserved lemon, traditional Moroccan seasoning—paprika and harissa (or cayenne powder or hot chili sauce, if the latter is not available)—plus soft cooked potatoes combine to form the dish. with salt. Salads are the perfect accompaniment to a hearty main course.
Get the formula: spicy potato
Lemon jam with preserved lemon
If you want to explore the sweet power of preserved lemons, check out this recipe from Benkabbou’s food blog. My Moroccan Food. In his blog, Benkabbou describes the flavor of the jam as being like “lemon caramel” that “had been around for a while in the Middle East or North Africa”. Serve on toast with cream cheese, or enjoy with yogurt or ice cream.
Get the formula: Lemon jam with preserved lemon
frequently asked Questions
How should you store preserved lemons?
It’s important to let stored lemons ferment in a cool, dark place at room temperature, such as a cupboard or pantry. After a month, or when the lemons are mushy and soft, you can choose to store them in the refrigerator.
How long do lemons keep for?
Benkabbou says preserved lemons can last for years. In fact, she shares that, at home, she’s had the same jar of preserved lemons for over 10 years — and like a good wine, they only get better with time. “With time they become sweeter [and] A bit bitter, but also more fragrant.”
Do preserved lemon spoil?
Preserved lemons won’t spoil, says Benkabbou, but you may notice they develop a white film on the surface over time, which is a normal part of the fermentation process. “You can remove it or wash it off,” she says.
Are there preserved lemon substitutes you can use?
Benkkabou says there’s no flavor equivalent to that of preserved lemon, but if you’re having a hard time, she recommends using lemon zest. “Use a vegetable peeler and remove the skin, not the skin. [pith],” she said. “It will have a different flavor, but it will add a delicious flavor.”
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