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March 18, 2007

Preserved lemons (Recipes: lentils with spinach and preserved lemon)

Preservedlemons

When the universe conspires to teach you about something, you have to learn to ... well, learn.

That's what happened with preserved lemons, which are now a permanent fixture in my pantry.

I can't remember which came first: Bob's desire to create some tagines in his pottery studio, or Jessica volunteering to teach The #1 Cooking Group how to make preserved lemons, or the going-out-of-business sale at a small Moroccan shop down the street from our house.

No matter. I bought three clay tagines at the sale, brought them to Bob's studio where we designed new tagines based on traditional forms, and took Jessica up on her offer to teach us to make our own preserved lemons and to use them in some interesting recipes.

A fundamental ingredient in North African cooking, preserved lemons have a mild, pickled, almost caper-like flavor, not at all like raw lemons. They're sold loose in the markets in Morocco, where they are used in tagines (stews) of chicken, lamb, and vegetables. Don't substitute fresh lemons for preserved; the taste and texture are completely different, and preserved lemons are super-easy to make. All you need is patience, a clean glass jar, and lots of salt.

If you're not the patient type, try Paula Wolfert's five-day preserved lemons. Not quite the same as the long-cured ones, and they won't keep, but they'll get you through any recipe.

You can keep the juice after you've used the lemons, and start a new batch of lemons in the same jar, or just toss in leftover chunks of lemon as I've done here. The pickling juice can be used two or three times over the course of a year, and then should be discarded. You might see a kind of lacy white substance in the jar as the lemons mature. This is harmless and should be rinsed off for aesthetic reasons before you use the lemons. You'll be rinsing the lemons anyway, to remove the loose salt.

Experts differ on whether to use the flesh of the preserved lemons, or just the rind. I cook with the rind only.


JESSICA'S PRESERVED LEMONS

These take just 10 minutes to make, and last for six months or more. Adapted from Paula Wolfert. Use a plastic jar lid, so you can mark the date on it.

4 large lemons (preferably fairly thin-skinned), scrubbed (about 6 oz each)
2/3 cup kosher salt
1 cup fresh lemon juice (from 5 large lemons)
Olive oil

Dry lemons well and cut each into 8 wedges. In a bowl toss wedges with salt (it will seem like a lot of salt), and pack them into a sterilized glass wide-mouth canning jar (with a plastic replacement lid, available in the grocery or hardware store where you buy canning jars). Once the jar is full, add enough lemon juice to cover the lemons (don't use bottled lemon juice, or water). Make sure the rim is free of salt or juice, and that the lid closes tightly. Let lemons stand at room temperature for seven days, shaking the jar each day to redistribute the salt and lemon juice. Then, add oil to cover lemons and store in the refrigerator, covered. The lemons will ripen in 30 days and can be stored up to six months.

Jessica adds: "No surprise — I have never weighed my lemons or measured the salt and lemon juice... I just toss a bunch of lemon chunks in the salt and start packing them into a pint jar. Once the jar is full, I fill with enough fresh lemon juice to cover. The plastic tops for wide-mouth canning jars are excellent. They are much less likely to corrode from all the salt and acid."

Use a wooden spoon to remove lemons from the jar.

Lentils with spinach and preserved lemon

My adaptation of Jessica’s adaptation of a recipe from Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Cooking. Serves 6.

Ingredients

1 turkey kielbasa
1/2 lb brown or black lentils
1 cup sliced onion
1/4 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander or parsley
10 oz frozen spinach leaves, completely thawed and roughly chopped (or fresh baby spinach)
2 medium Yukon Gold or red-skinned potatoes, peeled and sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup chopped rind of preserved lemons

Directions

In a frying pan, brown the kielbasa until very brown. Set aside.

Wash and pick over the lentils. Place in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil. Cook, covered, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, brown the onion in oil in a large casserole or Dutch oven. Stir in the garlic and coriander/parsley. Add the spinach and sauté 5-6 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the potatoes, lentils, and enough cooking liquid to cover. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, lower the heat, and cook at the simmer for 1 hour, or until thick and soupy, about 20 minutes. Stir in the chopped preserved lemons and the sausage. Serve hot, lukewarm, or cold.

[Printer-friendly recipes.]

Comments

I'm ready for a new recipe to use my preserved lemons. This sounds ideal.

Note to Self: Make some preserved lemons! Thank you for that simpler recipe

Ooh, I love this recipe Lydia! It has all of my favorite ingredients in it. Thanks so much!

Let's see: I can use the Hot Italian Turkey Sausage I have but I'll need some potatoes but then I'm good to go with this one. Lentils are just my favorite.

I really have to try these. And yes, that is a nice approach, it suits my simple kitchen philosophy.

Pauline, I know you're always looking for potluck dishes. This is a great one.

Sher, so easy, a few minutes of work and they last for month.

Susan, I love to make this on very cold Rhode Island Sundays, like today.

Tanna, hot/spicy sausage makes this even better!

Mimi, you'll find lots of uses for these lemons once you have a jar in your fridge. They taste a bit like capers.

Lydia,
What a great recipe!! I have seen some recipes calling for preserved lemons and had no idea how to get some.

You're right, they are so easy.

Plus it's a crime to let lemons rot. A tree we had in the past produced literally thousands of lemons a year. Preserve, preserve, preserve!

great! I made a jar last month, and now was wondering what to use it for, other than chicken tagine. thanks.

A great leftover idea -- I'm going to fix up a small bowl of lemons that I cut up to eat with (but have never touched) fish! Love Jessica's simple way of using them with pasta and a few pine nuts too.

If these are going to last for six months I think I'll wait and preserve some Meyer lemons for Thanksgiving!! Thank you!

Patricia, you can see how easy they are to make -- and they last for months and months. Hope you'll try it.

Kitchen Hand, you have a lemon tree? I'm green with envy.

Ximena, I've been collecting preserved lemon recipes too. They are particularly great with fish.

Mary, pasta and preserved lemons with asparagus is one of my favorite dishes.

Tom, the only thing better than preserved lemons would be preserved Meyer lemons. Oh boy....

I still have my preserved lemons that I made over a year ago in my fridge. I haven't used them yet though...I wonder if they're still OK???!!

I've never preserved lemons before, but you make it sound so easy!

I can almost taste how tangy and flavorful these lemons must be! I've never preserved anything in my life, and this recipe looks like it could be my first attempt. Most Indian dishes call for a tangy flavor component, so I can think of many uses for these.

Freya, I'd definitely try them -- I have some that are close to a year old also, and as long as they've been covered with oil and not exposed to air, they should be fine. After all, they're really just pickles!

Lisa, it's easy, believe me!

Link, I've seen many variations on the preserved lemon recipe that call for the addition of spices, particularly cinnamon. I find that making this version, without the spices, gives me more flexibility in how I use them in my cooking. What do you do with the flavored ones?

Nupur, the secret is to use lots and lots of kosher salt. It will seem like too much, but you rinse it off before you use the lemon rinds. And just pack the jar tightly. You'll love these with your Indian vegetable dishes.

Can't wait to try making preserved lemons!

I have just gotten a cookbook on foods of Morocco and wondered if preserved lemons were as easy as they claim -- I am going to take your endorsement and give it a try!

Link, grilled fish and your preserved lemon salsas sounds to-die-for. Maybe preserved lemons and some of the berries you grow on your farm....now, I'm thinking....

Veron, please try this. So easy, really.

TW, there are a few good books on Moroccan and North African cooking (one on each topic by Tess Mallos), and of course anything by Paula Wolfert or Claudia Roden. I started getting into tagine cooking when my potter friend Bob started testing designs for clay tagines. I have lots of pots now -- and it turns out that they're not too easy to stack in the cupboard!

Thank you so much Lydia- nothing like something flavorful and fool proof. And the lentil/kielbasa recipe sounds wonderful.

What a timely post. Some Pesach recipes I'm eyeballing call for preserved lemons, and since I've got a late start, I'm wondering where I can buy these. There's gotta be a place in LA...
I've wanted to try my own hand at these things for years. Maybe now's the time.

Callipygia, if you love lentils, you'll really like the combination with a bit of preserved lemon. And yes, it's foolproof!

Bad Home Cook (I'm sure you're not!), welcome to The Perfect Pantry. You can try making the five-day preserved lemons (follow the link above) -- they won't keep for long, but they simulate the taste of the long-preserved ones. I do find them in jars in my local middle east market, too.

oh! i will have to try these lemons!

Thanks for the recipe. I bought 1 preserved lemon and it had a very floral/funny taste so I decided I should make me own....now I can!
And I've been eying the tagines at the local market...maybe next week.
Wish I could see yours!

Connie, please try these lemons -- so easy, and so delicious!

Katie, if you're going to buy a tagine....my favorite (other than the ones Bob and I made in his studio) is made by Staub. It has a cast iron base and a ceramic conical top. The cast iron base can go directly on the stovetop, and it works very well. Emile Henry also makes a stovetop ceramic model that works very well. (I'm embarrassed to admit that I have one of each, along with the ones Bob and I designed, and several from Morocco...)

You're right about the ease in making preserved lemons. And it's agreat thing to have in the pantry. I find it really versatile, great for Moroccan cooking but also stews and seafood in general.

Steven, same here -- ever since I started keeping these in the pantry, I've found dozens of uses for them. Welcome to The Perfect Pantry!

This sounds interesting not only for the preserved lemons (and what one can do with the abundance from the lemon tree), but for homemade tagines! Perhaps you could expand on the pantry theme now and then, and talk about equipment?!

Jeanne, you've been reading my mind. I do plan to explore the farther reaches of my pantry. There are the six tagine pots... the 200+ wooden spoons... bowls of every conceivable size, shape and material... oh, and the woks... Stay tuned!

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