Saturday, July 4, 2009

Preserved Lemons

A few months ago, I was reading one of my Indian cookbooks for the umpteenth time, and came to a section that detailed the creation of pickled lemons. I'd also read about something similar in one of my Nigella Lawson cookbooks, although the recipe in that one was for "preserved", not "pickled". Most recipes and references to this ingredient call it "preserved", so that's what I'm going with, even though in both cases it's still technically a pickle. The idea of using these in cooking sounded interesting to me, so I decided to try and have a go at making and using my own batch of preserved lemons.

I wanted the unsweetened version, both as my own personal preference, and also because the recipe was a bit simpler: quartered lemons, kosher salt, and lemon juice. Combine and let sit for a month - piece of cake. I was tempted to use spices like cloves or bay leaves like my Indian cookbook did, but I didn't want to shoehorn myself into a particular flavor of preserve that might limit what I could use them for, so I kept it simple. The Nigella recipe used quite a bit of sugar and resulted in a much sweeter pickled lemon (of course), and also called for some boiling and just sounded a little fussier than I wanted to deal with.

It just so happened that at the time my supermarket had Meyer lemons in stock (they usually don't), and on sale. I'd never made anything with Meyer lemons before, and I'd read they were sweeter and more aromatic than regular lemons. They're also rounder, more plump with pulp and juice than regular lemons, and a slightly orange tint to their rind that makes them particularly bright and hints at more intense flavor than their paler brothers. I bought about a dozen of them and brought them home. Half-dozen of them got quartered and I managed to fit them snugly into a bell jar. Over those, I dumped a large amount of Kosher salt.

Then came the problem - the juice from the remaining six lemons wasn't nearly enough to fill the jar the rest of the way. I only got about a third of the way up the jar. So, I figured I needed another dozen Meyers, but unfortunately there were only about seven left at the store and three of them were ones I didn't pick for a reason - they were a bit soft and sickly-looking. But, I figured since I was only after their juice it didn't really matter what they looked like on the outside. I had to go with regular lemons for the rest of the juice I needed, but I did manage to fill the jar the rest of the way.

Once the jar was filled, it was a simple matter just to keep it in my refergierator, and gently shake it every few days to keep the brine circulating, and do it for a month. Ok, so I had a generous amount of pickled lemons at my disposal - the question was what was I going to do with them? It seemed that Middle Eastern, particularly Moroccan was the way to go, since preserved lemons figure most prominently in that region's food. I did find a recipe that intrigued me, but that's a subject for my next post. Later!

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