Here’s a recipe to make now and set aside for a month or so. It’ll be ready for you (and you for it, trust me) once the holidays have passed. Chances are you won’t want to think of another heavy meal or of holiday sweets by then, so these preserved lemons are a perfect addition to lighter fare. Preserved lemons have a wonderfully pickled flavor and silky texture. While they’re often found in Moroccan and Middle Eastern cooking, they’re so versitile that you can use them in most anything. Officially, these little gems should be ready to use in about four weeks (though, I usually never wait quite that long). Even better, since preserved lemons cost a fair amount at the market, when you make these at home you’ll not only get better flavors, but you’ll save money.
The entire lemon is used– rind and all. Here are a few ideas for using their wonderful zing to brighten up your typtical meals. They are wonderful finely chopped and mixed into sautéed vegetables, like green beans. Mix them into couscous or rice and create a wonderful side dish. Or, add thin strips to meats that are braising during the last few minutes of cooking. They also pair wonderfully with roasted chicken or chicken salad, and are amazing with steamed fish. You can even put them on a pizza with chicken and arugula for a change of pace.
However you choose to use them, make sure to not over-salt the original dish as the lemons will add a fair amount. You may see a white substance develop on the lemons, but don’t be concerned. This film is normal, and should simply be rinsed off with cool water. Another thing to keep in mind is to use kosher or sea salt– table salt can add a harsh chemical flavor. While I have yet to try it, I’ve read that the liquid the lemons are preserved in makes wonderful cocktails. Bloody Mary, anyone? Plan ahead and make these lemons now– by mid-January with its Winter darkness, they’ll be ready to brighten your meals.
The Recipe: Preserved Lemons
(Makes 1 quart)
About 1 – 1 1/2 pounds of organic lemons (make sure your lemons are wax-free)
2-3 quarts water, plus 2 cups
3 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
1 cinnamon stick
1 dried bay leaf
sprinkle of black peppercorns
sprinkle of coriander seeds
A few tablespoons of mild-flavored olive oil
Bring 2-3 quarts of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the lemons and simmer for about 4 minutes to soften the skin. Drain and rinse in cold water. Pack tightly into a sterilized quart jar. You may need to cut them into halves or quarter to fit them all in.
In a small saucepan, combine the 2 cups of water, salt, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, coriander, and bay leaf together and bring to a boil. Cool slightly.
Pour brine over the lemons and cover completely. You will probably have brine leftover. Coat the surface with olive oil and screw on the lid. Age the lemons for about 4 weeks in a cool, dark spot. Always use clean tongs or a fork (not your fingers) to remove the citrus from the jar. Taste a piece and rinse under cool water if it seems too salty. Refrigerate after opening. Preserved lemons can be kept for up to a year, or more.
Source: Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers
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