Using Preserved Lemons

25 Feb

As we’ve told many customers, we start to get a little panicky when we’re low on preserved lemons in our home kitchen — yet many people are not familiar with them. Here’s a spot where we’ll post a collection of our favorite uses for these little flavor bombs.

Preserved Lemons are simply whole lemon wedges preserved in salt and spices. After curing for at least 30 days, the lemon rind softens and absorbs the salt and spices, and the pulp starts to dissolve and melt away. The longer they sit, the better they get.

It’s the rind that you’ll use in your cooking. The pulp can definitely be used, too — but it seems to hold a more intensely salty flavor, so we use it somewhat sparingly. You might also choose to rinse your lemons before using them to remove some of the saltiness, but we generally use them straight from the jar and keep the salt low in other aspects of the recipe.

We recommend using them anywhere you want a burst of lemon flavor. Acidity or “brightness” is an element that will add life to many dishes — which is more appealing: a plateful of steamed broccoli, or a plateful of steamed broccoli with a squeeze of lemon? If you said “neither,” think instead of a bite of fish or a glass of iced tea. Something that may not have a very complex flavor can come alive with a little acidity.

Case in point: we recently made a recipe of Brussels Sprout Risotto. It was fine, but not something that was very appealing; it tasted a bit flat and one-dimensional. Preserved lemons to the rescue! We stirred in a couple of teaspoons of minced preserved lemon rind, and suddenly we had a risotto that tasted like something from a high-end restaurant.

Weeknight meals can be simple and delicious when preserved lemons are on hand. For a quick sauce for fish, chicken or vegetables, try browning some butter and adding minced preserved lemon. Toss pasta with store-bought cream sauce, some sauteed or grilled chicken breast, some chopped fresh basil and some chopped preserved lemons. The lemons play nicely with sweeter foods like winter squash — see below for some pizza topping ideas.

If you’d rather follow a specific recipe, below are a few we like. Preserved lemons are traditionally used in Moroccan cuisine as a seasoning for the stews made in clay pots called tagines, so you might try searching for Moroccan tagine recipes for more ideas.

Israeli Couscous with Roasted Butternut Squash and Preserved Lemon from Epicurious

Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Meyer Lemons and Green Olives from Epicurious — this calls for 8 wedges of Preserved Meyer Lemon, which is a milder and sweeter lemon. We’ve made it with a minced wedge of our preserved lemons, and it was delicious.

Quite Untraditional Pizza topping ideas:

  • 2 leeks, chopped & sauteed in butter with salt & pepper + mozzarella + a sprinkle of grated Gruyere cheese; after baking, add minced preserved lemon and red pepper flakes
  • white sauce + chunks of roasted butternut or delicata squash + havarti or gruyere; after baking, add minced preserved lemon and a sprinkling of finely chopped walnuts

Other recipes that we haven’t tried yet but are making our stomachs growl:

Charred Savoy Cabbage Salad from chef Brandon Pettit at Delancy in Seattle, via

More ideas here:

Send us your suggestions or discoveries, and we’ll add them here!

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