Now Is the Time to Make Preserved Lemons — Here's How to Do It

Melissa d'Arabian's trick for adding bright flavor to fall recipes: preserved lemons. It's easier than you think to make them at home.
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Photo by: jjpoole ©jjpoole

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Fall is almost here, and the time for braises, roasts and slow-cooker stews is just around the corner. One of my favorite secret weapons for adding flavor and depth with nary an extra calorie is preserved lemon. Preserved lemon, or “lemon confit,” is essentially a pickled lemon that gets chopped up and used as a condiment. The flavor is intensely lemony, bordering on sweet, and it's more briny than citrus-acidic. You’ll see preserved lemon in many North African recipes, and once you try them, you’ll find a hundred ways to add them into your cooking.

Here is the problem: Preserved lemons are usually available only at gourmet markets or online from specialty sites, and they are expensive, about $10 a jar and up. But the good news is that you can DIY preserved lemons for about a buck or so a jar. (Told you it was good news.) The catch? You need to think a little ahead, since they take a few weeks of sitting in the fridge. This is why now is the perfect time to grab a bunch of inexpensive lemons (I suggest getting organic lemons) in the produce aisle and get stocked up for fall recipes.

Here’s how to make preserved lemons:

Scrub 3 organic lemons clean and pop them (whole or sliced) into a large jar. Pour on about 1/4 cup of kosher salt and a few tablespoons of lemon juice (from another lemon, not the ones in the jar).

Add a few black peppercorns and a stick of cinnamon if you want a little extra flavor. Cover completely with cold water, put on the lid, shake to mix, and place in the fridge.

Give the jar a shake every day or two for the first week if you think of it. And in three weeks, you’ll have preserved lemon!

Just slice or cube up a lemon and use in recipes. (The rind is really the magical part; the flesh is just along for the ride.) As long as you keep the lemons completely submerged in water, they will keep for a couple of months in the fridge. Perfect for fall cooking and even for gifts!

Once you try preserved lemons, you’ll find a million ways to use them: stirred into iced tea or sangria, spooned into yogurt, tossed into pasta with nutty Parmesan, added to pound cake or scone batter, whipped into a pesto or sour cream-based veggie dip, mixed into butter with herbs for a compound butter, and added to salads, soups, stews, mayo and vinaigrettes. And of course, you can use them in recipes — start with my Chicken Tagine recipe.

Photo courtesy of iStock

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