For me just the thought of preserved lemons evokes images of foreign places, exotic spices, minarets, tagines, spice markets, and couscous. Oh hey! I live in that place.....I keep forgetting that.
Preserving citrus isn't unique to North Africa. Preserving citrus, preserving any food for that matter, is a practical and affordable way to keep food long after it's season has passed. Many cultures have their own versions for preserved lemons and limes. Some older English recipes add cinnamon and ginger or bay leaves and juniper berries. In parts of Asia the lemons are boiled until they split open then they are packed with salt and brined in vinegar.
However you choose to make them, preserved lemons have a very bright lemon flavor, they can also be powerfully acidic and very salty. I use them wherever I would use a fresh lemon. A little bit goes a long way.
Preserved lemons are not technically difficult to make, just good fruit and salt. Well, that and patience.
North African Preserved Lemons
Adapted from the Joy of Cooking
First things first, clean the lemons really well. Use a vegetable brush to give them a good scrub, and then dry them thoroughly.
Cut a little bit off from each end of the lemon, and then cut the lemons into quarters, stopping about ½ inch from the bottom.
Pack coarse salt, about a tablespoon, into the center of the cut lemon. Don’t be shy with the salt.
Put the salt-filled lemons in a clean, large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, pressing the lemons very firmly into the jar to get the juices flowing.
If your lemons don’t give off much juice you’ll need to juice a few lemons to make sure that the lemons in the jar are covered with lemon juice, leaving ½ inch head space.
Make sure there are no air bubbles in your jar, wipe the rim of the jar clean and seal tightly.
Place the lemons in a cool dark place and turn them daily for 4 weeks. After this the lemons will be soft and ready to use. Store them after opening in the refrigerator for 6 months.
Before using them rinse well to remove the salt and with a spoon scrape out the pulp.