This time of year in California, the temperatures finally start to dip, rains come, trees are almost bare and I steel myself mentally for the winter ahead. I’ve only ever lived in California, so don’t laugh if you live in a truly cold or snowy climate. I’d rather be roasting in the sun, sticky sweat beading on my neck, than feel the nip of cold at my toes.
Even though winter is my least favorite season, I’ve learned to embrace the seasonal pleasures that come with it- a steaming cup of hot tea, big pots of soups, cozying up inside, taking a cue from nature and doing less + going inward. The pitter patter soft drumming of heavy rain on the roof. And the citrus, oh the citrus! These gorgeous beauties carry me through the rest of the season with their bright colors, invigorating scent and acidic bite. A friend came over the other day and brought some lemons from her backyard tree. I rolled them over in my hand and they had the most beautiful, thin skin and floral scent- almost like a Meyer but not quite the same. I thought about the preserved lemons I had made a few years ago, and how they were such a lovely addition to have on hand for adding a pop of bright flavor to tagines, couscous, winter pesto, and vinaigrettes.
Last night it rained, a deep, long rain- and this morning I woke up to a big patch of sunlight flooding through my kitchen window. There, in that golden patch, I set up to make the lemons, which only took me about 10 minutes- and stuffed them with salt, packing them down into a jar and popping them in the cupboard. They will be ready in a few weeks or so. I thought I’d share here because they’d make such a treat of an edible gift to give to someone on your holiday list, or to bring as a hostess gift to a party. They’re absolutely gorgeous in a nice jar, perhaps tied up in a bit of string, with a fresh bay, thyme, or rosemary sprig tucked underneath the bow. (more gift ideas HERE)
6 lemons, preferably Meyer or fresh, thin skinned types
6 tablespoons kosher salt (I like THIS one which is harvested from the sea in Oregon, or Diamond which is very economical and easy to source)
Pour boiling water into a quart sized jar (or a smaller/bigger/multiple jars if using less or more lemons). Let sit a few minutes and then pour out- do not dry the jar. Cut the lemons vertically into quarters, not cutting all the way through- leave the bottom a bit attached so the lemon stays together. Working with one lemon at a time, gently open up the center a bit and sprinkle about a tablespoon of salt in each one. Try to get the salt covering each cut area of the lemon. Pack tightly into your jar, pressing down to release enough juice to cover the lemons (alternatively, you can squeeze more lemons and pour over the top if you need more liquid). Let sit in a dark, cool place for a 3 or more weeks. To use, remove the amount you need from the jar and rinse the peel under running water. Most recipes use just the peel, but sometimes the flesh is used too. The brine can be reused and eaten as well (although a little goes a LONG way- it’s very salty). Keeps about a year or so- you can store them in the pantry or the fridge- they will just keep getting softer, but won’t spoil.
optional: add herbs and/or spices to your lemons, including but not limited to: bay leaves, dried chiles, rosemary sprigs, thyme sprigs, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, whole allspice, whole peppercorns. Remove these spices after a few weeks, as they can make the lemons bitter if left in too long.
ideas for using preserved lemons | chop finely and mix into avocado mash on toast
chop finely and throw into the food processor when you make hummus
make a creamy pasta with them like THIS recipe– sub Miyoko’s vegan butter.
fold them into THIS spiced bulgur + eggplant dreamy recipe from Ottolenghi (sub quinoa or millet for GF)
make a tagging with them, like THIS recipe
make THIS excellent winter couscous
finely mince 1/2 of the peel of one, whisk with minced shallot, thyme, olive oil, and fresh lemon juice. Especially excellent on hearty, deep greens, or bitter greens like escarole or frisee.
Have you made preserved lemons before? What’s your favorite way to use them?