May 11, 2009



Perhaps you don’t know it, but you need preserved lemons. They are an indispensable pantry item, the use of which makes you seem instantly sophisticated, kind of like having a really good hand bag. On days when you need to dress something up you pull them out and presto, instant glamour.

They are dead easy to make, and once you have a jar in your fridge you won't know how you ever got along without them. Traditionally they are used in Moroccan cuisine, particularly tajines, but I put them in everything. Last week I added them to a tuna salad with fennel and dill, elevating the ordinary into something special.

There are two methods of making preserved lemons. One employs a flavored brine (water, salt and spices). The other, the traditional Moroccan version, Mediterranean/ Middle Eastern food guru Paula Wolfert's recipe, uses just salt and lemons.

I tested both versions certain I would prefer the traditional. Surprisingly I preferred the brined for a variety of reasons, listed below.

• the lemons were less salty and subtly perfumed by the spices
• the recipe was less fussy. You made it all in one go. Paula's method you had to go back and add additional lemon juice every couple of days. At one point I ran out of lemons; very annoying.
• the brined lemons looked cleaner and prettier in the jar, more photogenic (shallow, I know).
• the added olive oil on top was a nice touch as it coated the lemons as they come out of the jar.

The brine method needs to sit up longer as there is water in mix. The Moroccan method uses only salt and lemon, thereby breaking down the peels faster. If you are in a hurry method two is a good choice.

I am providing both recipes if you want to compare. Please, share your results; I would love to know what you think.
I made this with Meyer lemons, which are thin skinned; if you use regular lemons they will take a bit longer to cure (maybe a week or two depending on the thickness of the skins). Make sure your fruit is ripe. If you have very thick-skinned fruit you may want to parboil it for a few minutes (2-4) before canning.


Yield: 4 Quarts (I like wide mouth Ball jars)

3 quarts Water
2 1/2 cups kosher salt
4 cinnamon sticks
12 cloves
4 star anise
24 cardamom pods
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
24 or so (depending on size) lemons washed and cut in half
Olive oil
4 lemon or kafir leafs
(this is decorative).

1. Boil water and add spices except lemon leaf.

2. Pack lemons snugly into hot sterilized jars pushing down on them with the back of a sterilized ladle so they express a bit of juice. Try cramming in another lemon.

3. Ladle in the hot brine, dividing the spices evenly between the four jars. Push down the lemons one last time. Slide your lemon leaf in , so you can see it and top with ¼”- ½” olive oil.

4. Seal with sterilized lids. Store in a cool dark place for 4-6 weeks, shaking jars occasionally. Refrigerate after opening.
Curing time will vary depending on the thickness of your lemons skin. Keeps for 6 months
Rinse lemons before using.



(from one of my favorite food blogs/sites the fabulous Lietes Culinaria)

Add to salad dressing
Add to sauces
Sliver and toss with steamed veggies or salad
Add to a compound butter (recipe below)
Roast with cauliflower, garlic and cilantro
In a Sauté with veggies and garlic
Paula Wolfert’s Roasted Expat Chicken
Be adventurous make a tajine
Mince and add to marinated olives

Preserved Lemon Compound Butter

Toasted Pine Nuts
Preserved lemon, slivered
S & P

Whiz nuts in a food processor; add lemon, basil and garlic. When well blended add butter and season. Shape into a log and refrigerate.

This is an amazing crust on a rack of lamb or on chicken or fish


  1. sounds good , i'm going to try this

  2. Nina, do you put these through a water bath, or is that not necessary?


  3. Laura,

    These do not need a water bath. The acid (from the lemons) and the salt are preservatives. After opening they should be refrigerated and will keep for up to six months.

  4. I did the brined method, two quart jars. Topped them off with olive oil with about a 1/2 inch headspace. The jar lids pinged as they cooled. I put them on a shelf in the basement with the rest of my canned goods for about a month.

    I just checked them and the lids have pushed out a little, did this happen to you?

  5. Dear Jody,

    I would not be concerned about this. Preserved lemons are really a pickle,not a preserve. The salt and the acid from the lemon juice act as preservatives. You did not get a seal because not all the contents of the jar (the lemons) were heated. As long as your lemons are completely submerged in the brine you should be good, a seal is not necessary. Keep them refrigerated after opening.
    I hope this answers all your questions.

  6. Wow.

    My hard drive died four days ago. I lost all my "saved" food blogs full of recipes that I wanted to try.

    I got the hard drive replaced and started looking around for blogs and stumble into this place??

    I hadda start a whole new folder to save your page under. I LOVE THIS BLOG! Genuine voice, great ideas, CA sunshine and a touch of sophistication in "pucker power" fashion!


  7. I really like your photograph. Preserved lemons are not the most attractive of subjects (especially after a month or so, when they turn pale and a little slimy!), but you have succeeded in making them look just delicious.

    Juno (South Africa)

  8. Marti,
    I'm blushing, thank you for the lovely comment!

  9. I halved the recipe but my lemons must have been freakishly large because I didn't have any room for brine after squeezing them into the jars. They created a lot of juice. I had to quickly sterilize two more jars to have room for the lemons and the brine. The brine mixture gave off the lovliest aroma! I might boil that combination of spices again just for the experience.

  10. I only heard about preserved lemons at a cocktail party recently. Afterwards, I rushed home to Google a recipe and stumbled upon your site. I also prefer the brined and have been brining every Meyers lemon in sight since that time and now have a whole cupboard-full! They are delicious in everything. Thanks for the wonderful post.

    Now: onto conquering tagines!

  11. Could you use the brined method with other citrus, like limes and oranges?

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