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Preserved lemons (Recipe: Couscous salad with herbs) {vegan}


In the deep recesses of my pantry, large wire racks hold the cookware I don't use every day: three stacks of dim-sum size bamboo steamers, two orange mini coquettes, a plastic box of sushi-making gear, a handful of Bundt pans, three paella pans, one red cast iron karahi, and six conical-topped tagines.

Before the day I bought, on super-dooper sale, my first tagine in a tiny store that was going out of business, I knew nothing about Moroccan cooking. The shop owner included one of her favorite recipes for a traditional chicken and olive stew.

One of the ingredients listed was preserved lemons. I had no idea what they were and asked whether I could substitute fresh lemons instead.

No, no! she replied. The preserved lemons are absolutely essential.

One taste, and I knew just what she meant.


A fundamental ingredient in North African cooking, preserved lemons have a mild, pickled, caper-like flavor, not at all like raw lemons. They're sold loose in the markets in Morocco, where they are used in tagines of chicken, lamb, and vegetables.

Preserved lemons are super-easy to make, with lemons, lots of salt, a clean glass jar, and a bit of patience. Once you've made a jar or two, store them in the refrigerator. As long as the lemons are submerged in the salty lemon water, they'll keep for six months or more.

Experts differ on whether to use the flesh of the preserved lemons, or just the rind. I cook with the rind only. To prepare your preserved lemons for cooking, use a teaspoon to scrape out (and discard) the flesh and pith. Rinse the lemon rind under cold water. Dry, and chop or mince as your recipe directs.

Preserved lemon adds a tart, tangy flavor to fennel and preserved lemon salad, tuna tartare, chicken, haloumi and preserved lemon skewers, chicken with cardamom, kabocha beef tagine with chickpeas.

You can substitute capers, in a pinch, but not fresh lemon. The shop owner was right: preserved lemons are absolutely essential.


Couscous salad with herbs

Serves 6 as a side dish.


1 cup orange juice
1 cup water
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 10-oz box plain instant couscous
1/2 cup golden raisins
3 ripe tomatoes, diced
Rind of 1/4 of a preserved lemon, diced
3 Tbsp roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 Tbsp roughly chopped fresh mint or basil (or some of each)
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Grated zest of one lemon


In a sauce pan, bring orange juice, water, cinnamon and coriander to a boil. Stir in the couscous, cover the pot, and remove from heat. Let stand, covered, for ten minutes.

In the meantime, combine raisins, tomatoes, preserved lemon, fresh herbs and olive oil in a mixing bowl. Fluff the couscous with a fork, and add to the bowl. Stir to combine, season with salt and pepper, and add the lemon zest. Let cool to room temperature and serve, or refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Sweet couscous with pistachios
Couscous with orange and dried fruit
Fregula sarda with leeks and sausage
Sweet couscous for a crowd
Tagine of chicken with prunes and almonds
Tagine of chicken with preserved lemons and olives

Need more ideas for how to create salads with pizzazz? Get Dress Up Your Salad, my e-book packed with easy mix-and-match recipes, full-color photos and a few fun videos. Exciting salad recipes from everyday ingredients can be just one click away, on any computer, tablet or smart phone, with the FREE Kindle Reading app. Click here to learn more.

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


Just made a fresh batch of the preserved lemons two months ago, they are just perfect now. Beautiful idea with the couscous.

I'm glad that I'm not the only person who would have asked to substitute fresh lemons!

Shall I presume that you mean 1/4 cup of the preserved lemon rind?

MyKitchen, don't you just love having a jar in the fridge? I am happy every time I see my lemons sitting there!

Maris, you're surely not the only one. The only way to know is to taste the two, fresh and preserved, and then you'll see that the preserved lemons are more like a pickle.

Mary-Rose, thanks for pointing out the confusion -- I've clarified in the recipe -- 1/4 of a lemon.

What good advice, I live in Mexico and only Limes are sold here, once in a great while if I get to a larger city I can find one. This will help me to have a lemon whenever a recipe calls for it. There is nothing like fresh lemon flavor. Thanks again.
Sherry from Mexico

This sounds so great. I've yet to make preserved lemons, although they've been on my list for years now.

I am definitely going to try cooking my couscous in orange juice with cinnamon the next time I make salad. I've never tried preserved lemon, but I adore capers. Definitely a little culinary adventure that I need to embark on!

I keep meaning to make preserved lemons.

Perfect timing. I have had a major renovation and I am just unpacking my boxed-up pantry contents. I had stumbled across a jar of preserved lemons for sale in the midst of all this and snapped it up. Now it has surfaced and I will have ways to use it!!

So funny...I JUST heard these mentioned on a podcast of The Splendid Table. I think it may be a sign. ;)

Sherry, these lemons won't taste like fresh ones; they'll taste like capers, or lemon pickles. But they are quite delicious and you'll love having them. Of course you can preserve limes the same way.

Kalyn, they're so easy to make, and one jar (4-5 lemons) will last for months.

Janel, you can cook the couscous in OJ, or cook in water and then toss in OJ. The juice gives great flavor.

Pam, and so you must!

Janet, what fun, to discover something deep in the pantry. Check the list of recipes at the end of this post for some ideas of how to use preserved lemons, or use the search box at the top of this page for even more ideas.

Bridget, I'm a big believer in signs...

Finally - commenting ability is back! I'm going to have to try making preserved lemons, or die of curiousity!

I love preserved lemon. I have a recipe with lamb that uses it. I need to make some, they do keep well, like you said. I just never think of it until I want them right then and there. :)

Your remind me of the pickled or preserved limes in Little Women. I wish I knew what those are and how those were made. Seems unlikely that New Englanders would be eating Moroccan inspired foods, but why not? Do you think your process for preserved lemons is similar to the one for pickled limes?

I currently have a glut of lemons so am going to try preserving them. The jars will look so pretty on the shelf, and I can give some away as gifts too, with a pretty ribbon tied around the top :-)

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