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Preserved Lemons

So I was waiting for the lemons to come from San Francisco, then they came, and this morning I preserved about a pound of them. In case you are not familiar with preserved lemons (which are basically pickled) they are a sort of sweet-sour-salty and quite lemony sort of spice/condiment that can be used in the same way one would use garlic or any other strong flavoring. You can slice them thin and use them to top fish before broiling, add to soups or stews to sharpen the flavor, cut into tiny pieces to brighten cous cous or other grains or small pastas…I am actually wondering what ice cream would be like with maybe ginger and little pieces of preserved lemon. If you want to more about preserved lemons, look here or here.

After deciding to preserve about half my lemons, I found a recipe in Judy Roger’s The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. It was a little more complex in terms of spices than some recipes I had found (which really only call for lemons and brine) which intrigued me, in addition to which I have never made anything using that particular cookbook that was not superb. Labor intensive, but superb.

So here’s the recipe:

Preserved Lemons

(Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rogers)

  1. 1 1/2 pounds lemons
  2. 2-3 quarts plus 2 cups water
  3. 3 tablespoons salt
  4. 1 cinnamon stick
  5. a few whole, black, peppercorns
  6. a few coriander seeds
  7. 1 bay leaf
  8. a few tablespoons mild tasting olive oil

Bring the 2-3 quarts boiling water to a boil and add lemons. Let simmer for about 4 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water.  Pack into jars that have “shoulders” to keep the fruit submerged. You can cut the lemons into wedges to make an easier fit. (Note: I put all of my lemons in the same jar, because the brine mixture contains only one bay leaf and one Cinnamon stick, and I thought I would get very uneven flavor results if some lemons were in the jar with only one or the other, or neither. Also, I did quite a lot of cutting of the lemons, both to make them fit into the jar and to allow the brine to permeate every possible surface I could create).

Combine the 2 cups water, salt, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, coriander, and bay leaf in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Cool slightly.

Pour over prepared lemons to cover completely. (Mine didn’t and I had to do a bit more cutting to allow the lemon pieces to compact below the surface of the brine). Coat the surface with olive oil, and screw on the lid(s).

Age lemons for about 4 weeks in a cool, dark spot.

Note: Always use clean tongs or a fork, not your fingers to remove the lemons from the jar. Taste a sliver. Rinse briefly under cool water if they seem intolerably salty. Refrigerate after opening.


About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

14 responses »

  1. Hey-you know we can go to Zuni Cafe, too, when you come to SF. Last time I was there for a quick lunch-break during a demonstration that went right by Zuni Cafe (Dale & I ducked out for lunch and rejoined the march later) I did see Judy Rogers holding court in the open kitchen, hair piled high on her head wearing a long peasant skirt (it’s like she’s a hands-on queen at Zuni). Lunch was superb. It’s a great spot and not as expensive as you might expect. You could be like a high-brow Rachael Ray and blog about the San Francisco restaurants you visit when you come.(I know you don’t like Rachael, so I hope you’re not insulted by my comment). I think your readers would just instinctively trust you more than Rachael anyway.

  2. i have that book and love it. i guess when i suggested preserved lemons yours were already done!

    i just used the last of mine and need to make some again soon.

    great job!

  3. What exactly do you do with them? Do you eat them or use them in cooking?

  4. Thanks for the recipe. I know what I’m doing tomorrow!!!

  5. Wow! the taste combination of sweet-sour-salty sounds divine!! I want to taste a sliver or two or three or… Are you keeping them in the fridge as the cool dark place or do you have a veggie cellar? Now I want to make some. Although something has gone totally awry with my culinary abilities these past few months. Almost everything I try to cook turns out not so good. I hope that trend stops any minute now. Meanwhile, I’ll covet such great taste delights such as your gorgeous preserved lemons 🙂 junemoon

  6. Oh, wow, these sound amazing. I’d never heard of them, but I’m intrigued and dying to try them myself. Definitely let us know when you use them.

    (Oh, and just in case the contest isn’t already decided, I’m here ’cause of Jayedee)

  7. Oops. That came out wrong.

    I’m here because I’m fascinated by what you write. But Jayedee is the person who told me about you in the first place.

  8. Eric, I could only be a more highbrow Rachel Ray – I don’t think the brow goes lower. That being said, I would love to go to Zuni; I often fantasize about sitting around chatting with Judy and Alice Waters in our Bohemian garb, eating roast chicken and organic lettuce.

    claudia, I’d share if I could, but I don’t know how they’d make the trip. I think you’d better make yourself some more, and we can compare notes.

    beckbeck, you can do all kinds of things with them. You can eat them like pickles, you can add slivers of them to chicken salad, rice pilaf, soup, and they are a natural complement to most Morroccan and many Mediterranean dishes. A tiny bit packs quite a wallop, flavor-wise, so if you have some in your arsenal, and something is tasting a little flat, they are a great thing to throw in to perk things up.

    Mary, you are so welcome; let me know how they turn out?

    junemoon, you can do this; its not even really cooking, so the curse will not come into play. I have them high in a cupboard which is dark and (at this time of year) cool.

    katrina, I knew what you meant. 🙂 No worries, but yes, score one for jayedee…and please keep coming back!

  9. The preserved lemons look lovely!

    At long last! Another person who dislikes Rachel Ray! At first it was her voice…. I couldn’t stand it! And then the public response to this odd non-cook, non-chef unnerved me. A Rachel Ray cookbook?? What business does she have writing a cookbook? She endorsed Burger King, doesn’t bake, and says she cannot make coffee — goodness!

    I posted a recipe for you over at Life in the Lost World. It’s for Montgomery Pie and it includes a box cake cheat — feel free to use your favorite yellow cake recipe instead.

    Wow! reading back over this comment — I sound like such a snob. I’m not! I promise!


  10. Lacy, I know LOTS of people who don’t like Rachel Ray. Lots of ’em. Doesn’t she also now endorse crackers and doughnuts? A veritable whirlwind of health. I can’t find the recipe on jayedee’s blog – can you give me directions about where to find it? I’m very interested.

  11. Sounds yummy…. Will Florida lemons do? I am on the east coast!

  12. Yes, Rachel Ray now endorses Dunkin’ Donuts and Nabisco. Nabisco proudly displays a Rachel Ray original recipe on the back of each box (where she teaches Americans how to blow snot on a cracker and call it words like, “Delish” and “Yummo.”

    Gasp! Shudder. Gag.

    Here’s the recipe and the cheat to use up two of those gorgeous lemons:

    Montgomery Pie

    2 whole lemons, grated, with seeds removed
    1 egg
    1 cup sugar
    1/2 cup dark corn syrup
    1 cup boiling water
    3 unbaked pie shells (recipe is on my site if you’d like)
    white or yellow cake mix (follow package directions but use butter not oil OR use your favorite yellow cake recipe)

    Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
    Mix grated lemons, egg, sugar, syrup, and boiling water together. Cool. Pour into the three shells. Top each pie with cake batter. Bake for 30 minutes and check the top of the cake for doneness. Bake longer as needed.

    This is a tried-and-true recipe — straight from my stack of favorites. Enjoy!


  13. Jayedee hasn’t approved my post yet, I guess. I just checked.

    Are you a pie fan? I prefer pie over cake ANY given day of the week. I posted a recipe for Shoo-fly Pie on my blog today having made it for my husband to enjoy before taking off for the field (military camping). I try to pamper him before the suffering begins. Poor guy!

    Boy, am I ever glad to have found your blog. This is great!


  14. Chris, I think any lemons will do. I have never seen a recipe that specified, so I think you’re okay with Florida lemons.

    Lacy, thank you so much!!!!! As I wrote somewhere else, I have used up THE lemons, but now I’ll have to get more and make this, because I am dying to know what it tastes like. I am a pie fan, but I like cake too…I would, however, pick key lime pie over any cake I’ve ever seen, and its what I have for my birthday every year. I’m so glad you like it here; I’ve gained a friend and a good recipe!


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