How to Preserve Lemons with Salt
Fermented lemons are one of my favorite condiments in my kitchen that I use, and I absolutely love them!
Preserved lemons are rich in flavor. They bring bright citrus notes, rich saltiness, and gentle yet complex tartness to your cooking. They achieve their characteristic flavor through slow fermentation, which breaks down the lemon's rind. The fermentation helps remove its bitterness and delivers you a beautiful complex, bright flavor that pairs beautifully with fish, chicken, vegetables, and drinks.
An additional plus of preserved lemons is that they are very quick and easy to make. They last a long time that you can use them all year round, even when the citrus season is over. In this recipe, I only use salt and the lemon's own juices. These delights are a yummy way to keep lemons ready for use in cooking when you need them.
What are Fermented Lemons?
Preserved lemons seem fancy and are considered a delicacy, but they are very easy to make. Preserved lemons are lemons that have been salted and packed into jars and left for fermentation for several weeks to several months. Fermentation is a natural process of preserving the lemons, and it results in a mouthwatering condiment that's burst with the beneficial bacteria that are amazing for your gut. I come from Poland, and fermenting is my absolute favorite way to preserve food, and these lemons are no exception!
Preserved lemons are abundant in the culinary traditions of North Africa, in Moroccan cooking added to slowly cooked deeply flavorful tagines.
What do they taste like?
You will be able to use the flesh as well as the rind for your cooking. The flesh is light and tastes salty and citrusy. I use it to make drinks, sauces, and dressings. The gold of flavor comes from the rind, though. During fermentation, the rind loses bitterness, leaving a delicate tart, floral, salty taste well-suited to various dishes.
What are the health benefits of preserved lemons?
- They provide beneficial bacteria for the gut.
- They are high in Vitamin C (potent antioxidant) and potassium.
- The peel contains d-limonene, a type of phytochemical that helps detoxify the liver and helps detoxify metabolized estrogens.
- They have anti-cancer properties.
- Lemons prevent rickets, support healthy bones, and strengthen teeth because of their high calcium content.
- The peel is alkalizing for the body.
- Lemons are used for many healing flok recipes and help heal up a sore throat soothe heartburn.
What do you need to make preserved lemons?
It is all effortless; you will need just lemons, salt, a jar, and a fermentation weight. Then time will be your best friend!
Wash and scrub the lemons so they will be clean. Cut the top and bottom of the lemons by about ¼ inch off on each end. Slice the lemons lengthwise into quarters. Make sure that you don't slice completely through so they can stay connected at the base.
Open the lemons and put salt inside the flesh with about a teaspoon of salt. Place one tablespoon of salt on the bottom of a 1-quart jar.
Pack the lemons into the jar tightly using a wood muddler, but you can also do it by hand if you don't have it. Press the lemons down to release their juices, add salt, add more lemon and press them again until they emerge in their juice - brine).
I like to add some black peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, or a couple of bay leaves.
You can add a fermentation weight on top to keep the lemons submerged while they ferment, but it is also not necessary if you do an excellent job with pressing the lemons down.
They should ferment at room temperature for 3-4 weeks. Within the first two weeks, you should turn the jar upside down every so often to ensure that the juice is distributed to all lemons.
The lemons will become soft and mellow as they sit in the brine.
You will know if the lemons are ready when they soften, and the pith loses its bitterness.
Don't forget to burp the jar occasionally as they ferment, especially during the first two weeks.
After fermenting for several weeks, taste lemons to see if they are soft to know if they are ready to sue. You will see if they are ready when soft, and there is no more detectable bitterness.
How to store and use preserved lemons
Rinse the lemons gently as needed with water to remove some of the salt.
Remove the pulp and use it in dressing, sauces, and peels for Moroccan tagines, grilled fish, salad toppers, drinks, and meats. Preserved lemons will keep for six months to a year in the refrigerator.
The lemons need to be submerged in that acidic, salty brine, so they dont get moldy.
What kind of lemons are best to use?
You can use any type of lemons, but I like Meyer lemons 🍋 if you can find them. They are not always available. Their skins are a bit thinner, making for a shorter fermenting time, and they are also sweeter, making for a delicious flavored finished result.
How long do preserved lemon last?
Preserved lemons last from 6 months to a year when you keep them in the refrigerator.
Salty and acidic brine created during fermentation acts as a natural preservative to keep the lemons from molding. Make sure that the lemons stay submerged in the brine is essential.
- 5-10 Meyer or regular lemons depends on how big is your jar
- 1-2 extra lemons for juicing
- Himalayan salt (lots of it)
- Cinnamon sticks, chili pepper, peppercorn, rosemary (optional)
- Cover the bottom of your canning jar (32 oz) with 2 tablespoons of Himalayan salt. Note: My favorite jar is the one with a rubber gasket to prevent the lid from corrosion.
- Scrub the lemons with warm water. Set aside 1 or 2 lemons for juicing at the end.
- Cut off a thin slice from both ends of each lemon, so they have a flat bottom. Stand the lemon up and slice lengthwise in quarters, almost through, but keep the lemon attached at the base.
- Gently open the lemons but do not detach them. Fill each aperture with 1 tablespoon of Himalayan salt.
- Add a few lemons to the jar and press them down with your hand, a muddler, a pestle, a pair of tongs, or a sturdy spoon so that they release their juices. Add more lemons and pack the jar as tightly pressing down to cover them with their juices. NOTE: If the juice released does not cover the lemons, squeeze the juice from the reserved 1 or 2 lemons on top.
- Cover the lemons with 2 tablespoons of Himalayan salt (and any optional flavorings). Seal the jar and let it sit at room temperature for at least 3 weeks, or until the lemon rinds are very soft. Gently shake the jar every day, turning upside down for the first 2 weeks., then move it to the refrigerator.
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