Preserved Lemons and Preserved Lemon Purée — delicious and indispensible!

Preserved lemons -- and what remains of my New Year's tulips
Preserved lemons — and what remains of my New Year’s tulips

Salty, tangy, and lemony — preserved lemons make food come alive!

And there’s nothing difficult about making these gems! Just combine lemons, lemon juice, and salt — and let the fermentation process do its thing. When your preserved lemons are soft and flavorful, put them in the refrigerator where they will keep for at least six months — but at my house they never last that long!

The following recipe for preserved lemons is based on a recipe by Ernest Miller (the lead instructor for the Master Food Preserver program in Los Angeles County). And basically, you just purée the preserved lemons (without the pits), to make the purée.

This wonderful condiment will soon become indispesible — I can almost guarantee it!

INGREDIENTS (for a pint-size jar)
4 – 6 organic lemons (The quantity depends on size of lemons, and good to have extra just in case more is needed.)
Salt (Kosher, pickling, or sea salt) — without iodine or anti-caking agents)

In general, for each lemon, you need 1 tablespoon of salt. And for the entire lot in a one-pint jar, you need an additional 2 tablespoons of salt. Your lemons may be larger or smaller so this may vary, and that’s OK. This doesn’t have to be precise.

EQUIPMENT

These Ball canning jars with sloped sides work great.  Note: The Ball wide mouth (straight sided) jars will not work as well because the lemons will more easily bob up out of the liquid. These days, the underside of the Ball jar lids are BPA-free. If you have any old lids, just make sure they say “made in America,” and if they do, then they are BPA-free.

STEPS for MAKING PRESERVED LEMONS

Clean the lemons, the jars, and the lids:

  • Wash the lemons and then pour some boiling water over them.
  • Pour boiling water into a bowl and place your clean jar and its lid into the bowl.

Cut a small amount (1/8 – 1/4 inch) from the stem end of the lemon. Starting at the cut end, cut two of the lemons into quarters, leaving lemon pieces attached to each other at the other end.

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the salt over the bottom of the prepared jar.

Working over a bowl (to collect the salt that will fall), pack 1 heaping tablespoon of salt into one of the quartered lemons and then place it into the jar. Repeat with second lemon. And if some of your lemons are too big to fit into your jar, no worries! Just cut it in half. That’s fine too 🙂

Use something firm such as the pestle (from a mortal and pestle), and push down on the lemons in the jar to squish them just a bit. (Do not press down very hard because there needs to be room between the lemons for the lemon juice.) Now you probably have room for some more lemons. Prepare the lemons as described above, and then add them to the jar, and press gently on them with a pestle.

When the jar is almost full, sprinkle 1 tablespoon of salt over the top.

Juice the rest of the lemons and add enough lemon juice to cover the lemons. You will notice that one of the lemons may float to the top and the peel may stick out above the juice — and that’s not so good because mold can form more easily when a food surface is exposed to air. So I like to top each jar with a cork (natural cork from a wine bottle) like this:

cork on top of lemon helps to keep lemon from bobbing up out of the lemon juice
Cork on top of lemon gets wedged between lemon and lid — and keeps lemon from bobbing out of the lemon juice

Then when the lid is screwed on gently (which is how you should screw it on), the cork will be pushed down and the lemon juice will rise over the top of the lemon in the jar.  Note: I made this trick up myself, but before I tested it out, I asked a real food preservation expert, Ernest Miller, if this was a good idea and he said it was.

Place the jar with the lemons on a plate (to catch any liquid that may dribble out as it ferments) in a dark or sunny spot (either seems to be fine, though I prefer a sunny spot), and let it sit there for three weeks to a month or two.  Some lemons take longer than others to ferment. You see, lemons with thinner rinds, such as Meyer lemons, soften faster than lemons with thicker rinds.

At the beginning of the preserving process, you should shake the jars every day or so. This will help the salt dissolve and stay distributed. Once you can’t see any salt settling to the bottom, you don’t have to shake them anymore.

But check on your jar(s) every now and then to see if the lemons are still covered with lemon juice. And if not, add more fresh lemon juice.

When the peels are soft and it’s been at least 3 weeks (for thin skinned lemons) or more for thick skinned lemons, your lemons are preserved. Time to put into your refrigerator where they will keep for a long time — at least six months.

Alternative recipe for preserved lemon using lemons sliced into quarters.

STEPS FOR MAKING PRESERVED LEMON PURÉE

Preserved lemon purée
Preserved lemon purée. Time to make some more!

To make preserved lemon purée, I follow the process that Marisa McClellan, the author of the blog, Food in Jars, offers: Just take the seeds out of the preserved lemons, and dump the lemons and their juice into a high-speed blender (such as a VitaMix or Blendtec) or into a food processor — and purée. Note: I do not top my jars of preserved lemon purée with olive oil (a suggestion offered in the post my McClellan).

Store your preserved lemon purée in the refrigerator or freezer. Even straight from the freezer, it’s spoonable! It stays soft because it’s high in salt!

And just one more thing. I have found that little 4-ounce jars of preserved lemon make great gifts!

WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH PRESERVED LEMON AND PRESERVED LEMON PURÉE?

  • Use it in homemade salad dressings.
  • Mix it into homemade pestos.
  • Mix it with yogurt and spread the mixture on fish before baking.
  • Or use it to kind of salt cure fish before you cook it. Just let spread this mixture over the fish and let the fish marinate in it for an hour or so before cooking with some butter or olive oil.
  • Mix it with steamed veggies such as green beans or asparagus.
  • Mix it with roasted Brussels sprouts. (Takes the place of bacon in recipes such as this one.)
  • Mix it with melted butter to make a dip for lobster or artichokes.
  • Mix it with room temperature butter and fresh herbs to make a compound butter you can store in your freezer and use anytime.
  • Add to homemade no-salt added (or low-sodium) chicken broth or stock.
  • Use in making guacamole or hummus.
  • Mix it with natto to make this healthy (vitamin K2 rich food) palatable and even delicious 🙂
  • More ideas:
    A very nice collection of recipes that use preserved lemon.
    My small collection of recipes using preserved lemon on my Pinterest board for lemons.
  • Your ideas?
    If you wish to share some ideas, just add a comment here!

Enjoy and be healthy!
~ Leni

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