I miss fresh produce. I miss it a lot. Oh sure, we have root vegetables left over from our last winter CSA distribution and I picked up some local spinach the other day, but it just isn’t the same. Spring is finally here, the weather has been getting warm, and the sun has been showing itself again. Shouldn’t that mean that fresh produce abounds? Sadly, it is still too early here in New England to get more than some early lettuce and spinach. This time of year makes me especially happy that we managed to preserve some of our summer bounty when we had the chance.
In fact, preservation is the theme of this post… preserved lemons to be more precise. Now, living in New England we unfortunately did not happen upon organic lemons growing on lemon trees. We picked these up from Trader Joe’s. But that doesn’t make them any less delicious or amazing or any of the other adjectives that could be used to describe the awesomeness of preserved lemons. If you have never had them before, preserved lemons (a staple of Middle Eastern and Moroccan cooking) are beguilingly complex. They add lemony tang coupled with saltiness and a hint of sweetness to whatever they are in. They are also tremendously easy to make. Simply cover lemon halves packed in a clean jar with lots of salt and let them sit around for a month or two. It doesn’t get much easier than that. Just be sure to use organic lemons because the rind is what you end up eating and you don’t need to be ingesting all those nasty chemicals.
There are tons of “recipes” for preserved lemons out there. Some call for packing the lemons in a brine while others, like this one, call for packing the lemons in salt. Technique from Charcuterie
Kosher salt to cover, about 2 lbs
12 small lemons, cut in half
Clean and sterilize a 1 quart glass mason jar. You can sterilize it by running it through your dishwasher’s sanitizer cycle or by immersing the clean jar in a bath of boiling water for 10 minutes. Let it cool before you add anything to the jar.
Thoroughly scrub clean ~12 small lemons. Cut each lemon in half crosswise. Place a 1 inch layer of salt in the bottom of your jar. Top with a layer or two of lemons. Try to pack the lemons in pretty closely (don’t cram them in there but try to get rid of excess space). Cover with another layer of salt. Repeat, alternating lemons and salt, ending with a layer of salt, until the jar is full. Thump and jiggle the jar to make sure all the lemons are covered in salt and that there aren’t any spaces that aren’t filled. Keep adding salt as needed. Seal the jar and set it in a cool dark place. Let the lemons sit for at least 1 month, preferably 3 months, before you dig in
Pull a lemon half out of the jar. They will be more tan than bright yellow and will have a slightly leathery appearance. This is normal. Use a spoon to scrape out the pulp and pith and discard. Rinse the rind well, chop, and add to whatever you are cooking. If you find it is too salty, you can blanch the rind in boiling water for a minute or so to get some of the excess salt out. If you find that your jar now has some air spaces from removing your lemon half, you can top it off with additional salt. The remaining lemons will keep indefinitely in their jar.
What to do with your lemons? We will be posting a few different recipes in the coming days so keep your eyes peeled!