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just be patient

Recipe: preserved lemons

Good grief it feels so good to get things done again! Baking, candy making, and assorted projects are underway and in full swing. After candying a double batch of orange peels, I had a good bit of orange sugar syrup left. I’ve had several people ask me what to do with the sugar syrup and so I’m gonna tell you (I also edited the post on making orangettes to include these suggestions). If the syrup is thick or starting to solidify, you can stir some water into the leftover sugar syrup over high heat to get it to a uniform distribution. Let it come to a boil then turn off the heat and let it cool. Pour it into a glass jar and store it in the refrigerator. You can use it as an orange (or citrus) flavored simple syrup for fruity cocktails, add it to fresh lemon or lime juice and seltzer water for a fizzy fruity cordial, add it to hot tea, use it to soak tea cakes, eat it with pancakes, waffles, or French toast. You get the idea…


orange sugar syrup



So in my last post, I mentioned that I would tell you how to make preserved lemons. I wouldn’t have made these except for the fact that 1) I really wanted to make that Moroccan butternut squash and chickpea stew and 2) I couldn’t find preserved lemons. After a few weeks, I said to myself, “To hell with it! I’ll make my OWN preserved lemons!” I went to the store in search of organic Meyer lemons and found zippo… for two weeks straight. In early November, after I had dragged Jeremy to Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, we passed the Bi-Rite Market just down the street. I popped in to look for organic Meyer lemons. I found them. I bought them. All of them.

yup, that’s all of them



Why organic? I try to buy organic in general, but I’m insistent when it comes to something like citrus if you plan to eat the peel. And the peel is the the big deal in preserved lemons. You don’t have to use Meyer lemons. Regular lemons work fine too, but Meyers are so fragrant and sweet. They are a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. That’s awesome crossed with awesomer as far as I’m concerned. Oh, and Meyers are super juicy.

lop the end off

quarter them, leaving the base intact



Some folks cut the lemons into quarters, others quarter them but keep the lemon connected at the base, and I’ve also seen whole preserved lemons in stores. Cutting them into quarters makes it much easier to pack them into a jar, but keeping them intact at the base or whole is prettier in my opinion. It’s that geometry issue with elliptical spheroids in a finite volume. Make sure you have a good deal of kosher salt on hand.

kosher salt

pack the lemons with salt



In case you were wondering if you had any cuts or scrapes on your hand, this is a GREAT way to find out… lemon juice, salt. Disposable gloves can help prevent screams of pain when you preserve the lemons. Once the lemons are ready, put some salt in the bottom of your sterilized jar and start packing the lemons in (alternating with more salt). You’re going to have to manhandle the lemons and squish them around. Juice will squeeze out – that’s okay. I tore a few accidentally, but most of them survived the process.

a little salt

squash them down



If your lemons don’t squeeze out enough juice to top the jar, then juice a couple of extra lemons (you have extras, right?) and add liquid until they cover the lemons. Sprinkle salt on top and seal that jar. I had extra lemons still because I had doubled the recipe, so I popped them into a spare Weck jar I had on hand. It’s so darn cute.

sprinkle salt on top

seal and let them sit about the house for a few days



Let the jar sit in a warm room for about three days, occasionally turning it upside down. After three days, move it to the refrigerator for three weeks – still turning it over every other day or so. After the first week of refrigeration, I found some preserved lemons at Peppercorn in downtown Boulder. Of course I would! Paying an arm and a leg for that jar only makes my stash of organic homemade preserved lemons EVEN MORE precious. Not to mention, mine taste better than the expensive store-bought jar of lemons.

ready to use



For my next batch (oh yes, there will be more!), I plan to add spices and chili peppers for a zingy version. I know preserved lemon is an acquired taste for some, but I think I’m addicted to it. It’s fantastic in this charred savoy cabbage salad from Delancey in Seattle. It’s always good to learn how to do things…

lemons, salt, and a little patience is all you need



Preserved Lemons
[print recipe]
from the lovely Elise of Simply Recipes

8-10 organic Meyer lemons, scrubbed very clean (you can use regular lemons, but Meyers are kind of super awesome)
1/2 cup kosher salt, more as needed
additional fresh squeezed lemon juice, as needed

sterilized quart canning jar

Put a couple of tablespoons of salt in the bottom of the jar. Trim any stems off the lemons and cut 1/4 inch from the tip of each lemon. You can either quarter the lemons lengthwise or cut them into quarters without cutting through the end – leaving the four quarters intact at the base. Gently open the lemons like a flower and sprinkle a generous amount of salt on the inside of each lemon and then sprinkle more on the outsides. Pack the lemons into the jar, pressing down so that the juice spills out and fills the jar. Keep adding lemons until the jar is full. The lemons should be covered with juice, but if they aren’t, you can add some of that extra lemon juice to top it off. Sprinkle a final couple of tablespoons of salt over the lemons before sealing the jar shut. Let it sit at room temperature for three days, periodically (like once or twice a day) flipping the jar upside down. Move the jar to the refrigerator for three weeks, still flipping the jar upside down ever couple of days. It will be ready when the rinds are soft. When you are ready to use a lemon, rinse off the salt with water and pick out any seeds. Some folks like the scrape out the pulp, but I leave it in. Store for up to 6 months.

25 nibbles at “just be patient”

  1. Twila Moon says:

    Two wonderful things…After hearing (and seeing!) all the wonderful things you eat at Tartine, I finally got to go there yesterday – AND – today for lunch. It was just as heavenly as you say. I never had a better croissant or chocolate e’clair. Amazing! And then we still ate more dessert from bi-rite creamery :)

    Second, since you are mentioning sugar syrup, you might want to try ginger syrup — peel and slice up a good chunk or two of fresh ginger and simmer it with 2 cups sugar and 1 cup water. Makes amazing syrup for pancakes, vanilla ice cream, or your favorite fizzy drink. And the ginger chunks are a spicy surprise to eat separate or keep in the syrup.

    Your blog continues to be the best!
    - Twila

  2. Nan says:

    I adore preserved lemons too! I add cinnamon stick to mine. I keep a jar of home preserved lemons in the fridge at all times as you never know when a craving will hit. Gotta be prepared…

    I think you’re right about not cutting them so deeply.

    And, I think I’m going to try Twila’s Ginger Syrup suggestion above. That sounds heavenly too. Adore the ginger, for sure!

    Thanks — as always!

  3. Linda says:

    Ooooooohhhhh….I’m going to make the preserved lemons this weekend, but I’m going to try and buy some at Wegman’s (a 45 drive!)so that I can make the Butternut Squash & Chickpea stew from your last post for our family gathering next weekend. Then I can give gifts of preserved lemons and the recipe!! So excited!! I might try Nan’s suggestion of a cinnamon stick since I just bought some Vietnamese cinnamon sticks. yummmm.

  4. Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar says:

    These are beautiful. Lovely idea!

  5. Heather says:

    Or preserved lemons *with* ginger? Yes please. But that might just be me.

  6. Julie says:

    To Do List: make preserved lemons

  7. Andrea says:

    I’ve never made preserved lemons your way before but I agree, home made ones are so much better than store bought.
    I use this very quick recipe which was given to me by Tom Kime, a British chef who loves fusion food and now runs his own restaurant in Sydney.

    Put the required amount of whole organic unwaxed lemons in a pot, add water and lots of salt, cover the lemons with a plate (weigh down with a tin or similar) to keep the lemons submerged in the salt solution. Bring to a boil, then simmer for around 30 minutes until the lemons are soft and squishy. Remove from the pot, let cool, the cut into quartes and scrape out all the flesh and white pith. The thin salty, tangy yellow skin is then ready to be used.
    The preserved lemons can be kept in the brine in the fridge for a while until they are needed.

  8. Margie says:

    Sunshine in a jar….I’ve got to try these!

  9. Sally - My Custard Pie says:

    The lemony, salty, juice in the jar alone is addictive. I’ve just made a big batch of these – they are fantastic in salads.

  10. jo-lyn@jo-lyn's cup cakes n' candies says:

    i have never even heard of this…i feel neglected! they sound divine! :)

  11. Ashley says:

    I just made some too! Giving them away as gifts this year. After just returning from Morocco I can’t believe I’ve lived so much of my life without these gems. Such an incredible flavor.

  12. Jane M says:

    My parents sent me a 3rd batch of Meyer Lemons from Palm Beach so I made the preserved lemons last week. I’m limited on fridge (and jar) space so I quartered mine. I whirl them up in my food processor for salad dressing. Might use them in my chicken tonight – we’ll see . Oh and the other 2 batches of meyer lemons – I make the best lemon curd for my Greek yogurt breakfast!

  13. Add A Little Love says:

    Beautiful, beautiful picture. Love the yellow color.

  14. Mel (Sharky Oven Gloves) says:

    I keep coming across recipes that call for preserved lemons, but haven’t been able to find any in the shops. It looks like this recipe may well solve that problem! I can’t wait to try it out!

  15. na says:

    I love preserved lemons in soo many things, but two of my favorites are a whole braised chicken with olives and two preserved lemons in a dutch oven. The second dish has lamb meatballs that are simmered in an onion-preserved lemon sauce. The preserved lemon TOTALLY makes any dish special :-)

  16. Tony says:

    “elliptical spheroids in a finite volume” — that made my day!
    I made a jar of these a while back. It’s incredible how much flavor they add to a dish. In Morocco they’re called Hamod M’raqqad (حامض مرقّد), which literally translates into “sleeping lemons.” :)

  17. Cathy @ Savory Notes says:

    Having never tried preserved lemons, I feel like a fool. And when I read salt and lemon juice, instantly all of my fingers started twitching. The pain will be worth it though ;)

  18. Cooking Rookie says:

    I had used a slightly different method for preserving lemons before, but I think I like yours better. Will try it next time :-). Thanks for sharing!

  19. Dianna says:

    I have run across several recipes that called for preserved lemons and live in an area where they are not available. I am looking foward to trying your recipe. Throwing a cinnamon stick or ginger in it also sounds amazing. My taste buds are having a party just thinking about it. Thanks for sharing.

  20. jenyu says:

    Twila Moon – Isn’t Tartine the best? I *love* that bakery. So glad you enjoyed it too. Thanks for the tip on ginger syrup. I’m mostly just pointing out what people can do with the leftover syrup after candying citrus :)

    Nan – That’s what I want to do next if I could get my grubby little hands on more organic meyers!

    Linda – Sounds great (and Wegman’s was my goto grocery store for any special or fancy ingredients).

    Katrina – thanks!

    Heather – I haven’t tried that :)

    Julie – yes!!

    Andrea – Oh, that’s interesting and fast – although I quite love using the entire lemon. I’d love to learn to preserve them whole.

    Margie – shouldn’t be too hard to procure those lemons where you are, right?

    Sally – I also love them in salads!

    jo-lyn – sooo good.

    Ashley – wow, you must have some super foodie friends because I can only think of a handful of people around here that would be excited to receive these as a gift :)

    Jane – Never thought to purée them for dressing, but it totally makes sense.

    Add a Little Love – thanks!

    Mel – yeah, it may be hard to find in some locations. But to be honest, these taste soooo much better than store bought preserved lemons anyway.

    Na – I’m going to have to do that chicken recipe (the lamb meatballs sound amazing too)

    Tony – that is SO awesome! Thanks for the little cultural lesson, Tony. I love that!

    Cathy – they’re lovely. Really lovely.

    Cooking Rookie – thanks!

    Dianna – yay! I hope it works for ya!

  21. Romy says:

    You can also make a terrific little lemonade with preserved lemons, which from memory is a very Vietnamese drink. I don’t know anyone else who would drink it but I’ve drank preserved lemon lemonade since I was a kid. When i force people to drink it, much like avocado sinh to, they always remark that it tastes like cumquats though? The basic recipe goes something like, mash/blend the preserved lemon in enough sugar to cover the preserved lemon, once happy with the texture of mush, dissolve with a small amount of hot water, add lime/lemon juice to taste and top with cold water and ice. The preserved lemon adds a fantastic tang to the lemonade.

  22. jenyu says:

    Romy – thanks for the tip. I will have to try that some day.

  23. Donna Purcell says:

    Can you tell me if anyone has ever made presrved limes? Can you do the same thing as the preserved lemons? Thanks.

  24. jenyu says:

    Donna – I don’t know, I’ve never tried it nor seen it. Sounds good though, doesn’t it?

  25. Robbie White says:

    I used to make these about 20 years ago. I kept some of the jars for 3 – 4 years and eventually the lemons turned an amber colour and the juice set into a beautiful clear amber-coloured jelly. I only ever kept them in a cupboard in the dark; I didn’t refrigerate and they only tasted better and better with the passing of time.
    So my tips are to never throw them out, never refrigerate and enjoy.

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