Why bother with preserved lemons at all? Lemon fans take note: because there’s nothing quite like their unforgettable briny, tart, and ultra-lemony flavor. A teaspoon or two of finely minced preserved lemon peel wakes up any recipe, and this ingredient is especially fitting in Middle Eastern stews, salads and vegetables.

Preserved Lemons
Preserved Lemons

Here are two methods for preserving lemons, one for the impatient foodie and one for the traditionalist with time on their side. The fast-track lemons make softened, salty lemons that can be used within a day.
The next day, pack the leftover lemons into jars (or start them in jars with the “slow” recipe) for authentically preserved lemons that will continue to develop in exquisite flavor and texture for months to come. Once chilled, after about 3 months the preserved lemons will develop a slippery and viscous texture.
That’s okay, even desirable! Just rinse away the goo (or add it to stews or tagines, it’s loaded with flavor), discard the pulp (or throw it back into the jar to add more juice to the remaining lemons), and mince the rind as fine as possible. Because you’ll be eating the outside rind of the lemon, be sure to use organic lemons for this recipe. Purchased organic lemon juice is also recommended; because it won’t be consumed fresh, it’s okay to skip the additional work of squeezing half a dozen fresh lemons for extra juice.

12-Hour Freezer Lemons

I’m a fan of food writer Diane Rossen Worthington’s method for preserving lemons for the fasttrack foodie: freezing lemons helps soften the cell walls of the rind, similar to the preserving process.
After thawing, the rind is ready to mince and add to any dish. These lemons are ready to use right out of the freezer but can be further enhanced with additional preserving techniques; pack any unused lemons into a large glass jar and store in the refrigerator as directed for Slow Down Preserved Lemons (recipe follows).

  • 1 pound organic lemons (about 6 to 7 small lemons)
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • Plenty of kosher salt, at least 1⁄2 cup

1. Firmly roll each lemon a few times with your palm on a hard surface; remove any tough stem nubs from ends. Use a sharp knife to partially slice each lemon into quarters lengthwise, stopping 1⁄4 inch from the bottom. The lemons should still be in one piece and hold together at one end.

2. Gently open up the partially quartered lemons and stuff as much salt as possible into the centers all the way to the bottom and rub the salt into the outside peel. Place lemons into a 1 gallon plastic ziptop bag, sprinkle with any remaining salt and pour in the lemon juice. Press out all the air from the bag and seal; if desired, wrap in another bag to prevent any leaking. Massage the bag of lemons with your hands for about a minute, then freeze for at least 12 hours or overnight.

3. When ready to use a lemon, remove from the freezer and let thaw on the kitchen counter; when it’s softened slightly, it’s ready to use. To speed the process, place the lemon in a securely zipped bag and drop into a bowl of hot water. To use a lemon, rinse and remove the seeds and the pulp. The softened rind is the part of the lemon that’s used in recipes.

4. If you have any frozen lemons remaining you can continue to freeze them for up to 6 more weeks. Or consider packing them into a jar to further preserve them (boosting their flavor and texture) as directed for Slow Down Preserved Lemons.

Slow Down Preserved Lemons

A traditional recipe for preserved lemons, truly the slowest of slow foods. The actual number of lemons is a guideline: first, find yourself a large wide-mouth jar (1 liter is my favorite size), and then estimate how many small lemons can be packed inside.
For fancy preserved lemons, tuck 3 bay leaves, 6 to 8 whole cloves, a teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and a few cinnamon sticks into the jar while packing in the lemons.

  • 1 pound organic lemons (about 6 to 7 small lemons)
  • ½ cup organic lemon juice
  • Plenty of kosher salt, at least 3⁄4 cup

1. Prepare and salt lemons as directed for freezer lemons, except pack lemons firmly into a clean wide-mouth jar, sprinkle with any remaining salt, and then pour the juice over the lemons. Twist the lid onto the jar and leave in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks, occasionally turning the jar upside down to redistribute the juices. After 2 weeks, move the jar to the refrigerator, remembering to turn the jar upside down once a week.

2. To use a preserved lemon, tear away a section and brush away the salt. Remove the pulp and seeds; I like to squeeze the juices of the pulp into the jar of lemons, adding more juice and flavor to the lemons in the jar. Discard the pulp (it’s tough and not so flavorful), and mince the softened rind as finely as possible for use in recipes. After 3 months, the lemon juice may appear murky and the lemon skins will have a jellylike texture; that’s perfectly fine, just rinse in a little cool water before using. Or instead, use the lemon “goo” in marinades—it’s bursting with preserved lemon flavor.