As promised, a follow-up to the Mujaddara posting on how to make preserved lemons. I actually wrote this several months ago, but it has been languishing in my draft box. The posting is slightly updated, keeping the late winter theme. I really liked lemons symbolizing the return of the sun and the promise of longer, warmer days to come. If it seems untimely, try inserting summer imagery for Winter as you read the article.
Winter Solstice, the day with the fewest hours of daylight, also celebrates the return of the sun. I thought it was a fitting title since winter is the season for citrus, most notably the bright, sweet, aromatic Meyer lemon. As the hours of sunlight increase, so do the number and variety of citrus fruits available. A jar a brightly colored lemons always reminds me of the bounty of the spring crops that are just around the corner.
Preserving lemons in salt has been done for centuries throughout Asia, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Perhaps the most well-known version is the Moroccan-style preserved lemon. All you need is sea salt, small Meyer lemons and a large, non-reactive, non-corrosive container with a tight fitting lid.
Meyer lemons are closest to the varieties you would find in Morocco, but you can also make a batch with Eureka, Sorrento or other thicker skinned varieties. Other varieties may need a few weeks longer to mature into the jelly-like, gooey goodness that is the preserved lemon. Recently, we identified our lemon tree as a Sorrento…yes, the limoncello lemon. I am going to experiment by making a batch of preserved lemons with the Sorrentos and some limoncello.
A few weeks ago, this season’s first batch of preserved lemons finished maturing and was placed securely in my refrigerator. Below is a picture of that jar made with Meyers. [Note: The lemons have been stored in the refrigerator and the lemon juice becomes a little cloudier].
The recipe for the lemons is pretty basic and inspired by recipes from Kitty Morse**:
- 6-12 organic or non-sprayed lemons (Meyer is preferred, but any lemon will do)
- 1/2-3/4 c sea salt (coarse or finely ground, must be iodine and additive free)
- 1 large (quart) Mason jar or Pickl-It jar (with the plug not the airlock)
- 1 Label for the jar–write the list the ingredients, processing method (fermentation) and date (end of fermentation period)
The mason jar or other container should be thoroughly washed in hot, soapy water or the dishwasher and allowed to air dry. (Some recipes call for sterilization, but I haven’t read any scientific studies on why this is safer in the case of fermentation–but REMEMBER TO ALWAYS sterilize jars that will be water bath processed for less than 10 minutes).
Wash the lemons under running water and dry completely. Cut the lemon into quarters leaving the bottom 1/4 of the lemon attached (this will make a pocket to stuff with salt and allow for a more appealing presentation in the jar). Next, pack each lemon with salt, hold quarters together and gently place into the jar—press down lightly to release the juice. Continue stuffing and packing the lemons into the jar until it is almost filled, leaving enough space so the lemons do not touch the lid). Now you have two choices to completely submerge all of the lemons in the jar:
- Squeeze fresh lemon juice until you have enough to completely cover the lemons, or
- Allow the lemons to sit on the counter for 24 hours and see if enough juice is released. [If not, follow step one.]
Place the jar on your counter or in a sunny window (either way will work): 4-6 weeks (thin-skinned lemons) or 6-8 weeks (thick-skinned lemons). Shake the contents once or twice a day to evenly distribute the salt and juice.* Some recipes suggest refrigerating the contents after fermentation, others recommend leaving the jar on the counter. I usually place my jars in the refrigerator since I don’t use the lemons in a short period of time. It is a personal preference, so go with the choice that makes you feel comfortable. Also, if you store the lemons outside the refrigerator, use within 1 year.
FERMENTATION SAFETY: THE PRODUCT SHOULD ALWAYS REMAIN BENEATH THE BRINE
In terms of safety, each year more studies show fermentation to be one of the safest forms of food preservation. I have not heard about or read any studies or cases of individuals being poisoned by high-salt fermentation products (outside of an individual eating something that was obviously spoiled–foul smelling, moldy or a product not submerged in the brine) . Most preserved lemons sold commercially are not truly fermented and are processed by pickling and canning.
I use a glass weight to ensure the lemons remain completely submerged during fermentation and storage. Pickl-It sells glass weights that fit in their jars and will fit in some wide-mouth mason jars. Pickle Perfect sells weights that fit in pint and quart jars canning jars.
* If using glass or stone weights, gently shake the jar to avoid cracking the jar or weight.
**If you are not familiar with Kitty or her cookbooks, she is the leading expert on all things Moroccan, especially food. Kitty’s new book, Mint Tea and Minarets will be out soon. I recommend following her on her facebook page and her blog, Kitty Morse Moroccan Cuisine. I was fortunate enough to meet her in-person during our winter vacation. She was a gracious host, serving us mint tea (of course) and giving us a tour of her Moroccan-style home—including her kitchen.