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Preserved Lemons

We love Mediterranean food and cooking in our house. We don’t exclusively cook Mediterranean dishes, no way, but we do a fair bit of those. Naturally, we also enjoy the food that comes from other parts of the Mediterranean, like France or Italy or Greece. We also enjoy Lebanese Food, Turkish food, Middle Eastern dishes and North-African cooking.

That’s a long-winded way of coming to the point of today’s entry: Preserved Lemons, also known as Lemon Pickle. Many recipes from the Maghreb and the Middle Eastern in general (and from India) call for Preserved Lemons, lemons that have been pickled in salt and their own juices. It’s quite easy to preserve lemons; you could easily try it for yourself. You will find, I think, that preserved lemons add a distinctive note and flavour to a range of dishes. Never mind that your patience will be tested as you will have to wait for three to four weeks before the preserved lemons are ready to use in your home cooking.

This is how you do it:

Use smaller lemons if you can, scrub them with a vegetable brush and dry them. Always use organic or unsprayed lemons, if possible. Cut off the little rounded bit at the stem end of the fruit. Make a large cut from the other end of the lemon, slicing lengthwise down, but don’t cut all the way through. Cut once more from the opposite angle, so your lemon is incised with an X shape. Pack coarse salt into the lemon where you made the cuts. You can use about 1 tablespoon of salt per lemon. Don’t be skimpy with the salt: use about 1 tablespoon per lemon. Never use ordinary table salt, for its rather chemical taste. I recommend sea salt or, here in Mallorca, Sal de Cocó. Put the salt-filled lemons in a clean, large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. You can add some extra spices if you want, such as a few coriander seeds, a bay leaf, a dried chilli, and a cinnamon stick, or a combination of any of these. Press the lemons very firmly into the jar to get the juices flowing. The lemons have to be covered by the liquid, so, if necessary, add some more lemon juice from some spare lemons. Cover and let stand overnight.

The next day, do the same again, pressing the lemons down, encouraging them to release more juice as they start to soften. Repeat for two to three days until the lemons are completely covered with liquid, adding more freshly squeezed lemon juice until they are submerged. After a few days, turn the jar upside down. After one month, when the preserved lemons are soft, they will be ready to use. Store the lemons in the refrigerator, where they’ll keep for about six months.

To use: Rinse the lemons before using them to remove any excess salt. Split them in halves or rather, quarters, and scrape out the pulp. Slice the lemon peels into thin strips or cut into small dices. You can press the pulp through a sieve to obtain the flavourful juice, which can be used for flavouring as well, then discard the innards. There you go. Easy peasy. Enjoy.

The photos were taken in Lloseta (top) and Felanitx (bottom), Mallorca, Baleares, Spain. The date: June 7th, 2009, and June 10th, 2012. The time was 12:59:17 and 13:29:42, respectively.

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