With lemons piling up, it’s definitely time to get to the unbelievably easy (practically anticlimactic, honestly) recipe for preserved lemons. There just isn’t too much room for confusion here. If you have lemons, salt, and an extremely clean mason jar, you can have preserved lemons! You won’t even have any dishes to wash besides your knife and cutting board, assuming you do your assembly on top of your board. It’s possible you’ll spill a little salt or juice, but that’s it for clean up! If, like me, you have lemons growing in your backyard and also at your parent’s house, you won’t even need to run to the store.
This is one of those projects that it makes sense to do every year (like limoncello!) because lemons are everywhere right now (in Napa, it’s rare that you wind up paying for a single lemon this time of year. I’ve even had people offer to pay me to take them!) and that flavor is something that is so rewarding to capture and utilize for as long as you can. For those of you who are lemon connoisseurs, the lemons here are Meyer lemons; they grow on the trees I have access to and they also make for amazing preserved lemons. Feel free to grab whatever lemons you have on hand, but like I mentioned in the Limoncello recipe, lemons purchased at the store often have a layer of wax on them, so make sure you really get that scrubbed off!
Naturally, there are a million ways to make these preserved lemons a little different or a little more exciting, but this recipe is one that simply captures the flavor of citrus season in two simple ingredients. Want to get creative? A small handful of black peppercorns, a pinch of chili flakes, and a bay leaf or two will give your preserved lemons a little kick. Or you can try cinnamon, a little rosemary, and star anise or try clove, coriander, and turmeric for something a little different! It’s up to you and how many lemons you have on hand. There are also recipes that call for sugar and recipes that suggest that you boil your lemons first, but I’ve never been as big a fan of how those recipes turn out.
If you aren’t in the mood to measure your salt carefully for this recipe, the technique is simple and you can easily make this a no-recipe project. Start by cutting your lemon in quarters almost all the way through. Put a 1/4″-1/2″ layer of coarse kosher salt (I like Diamond) in the bottom of your extremely clean jar, press salt into your cut lemons, pack them tightly in your jar with a thin layer of salt between each layer. Really smash them in there, so much so that they’re covered with lemon juice, and then cover them with another layer of salt. Seal tightly, and that’s it! Just make sure you really pack those lemons in tight. Use those muscles! You need the salty lemon juice to cover everything, or you risk your lemons going bad. In a large container, I usually weigh down the top with something heavy just to be extra careful.
Once they’re preserved, you can use them in salad dressing, rice, soups, beans, and they are awesome as a part of a marinade for meat and poultry. They dress up fish nicely, and are amazing with many sautéed, steamed, and roast vegetables. It’s one of those DIY pantry items that make me so happy to have on hand. Pureeing these babies and using them as a base for a salad dressing or marinade is an absolutely unbeatable flavor. The Guardian has a few good looking recipes for using preserved lemons in pesto, with pasta, and with cod cheeks and, as always, Bon Appetit has a lovely slideshow with ideas for using them as well. I’m always looking for awesome ways to use these babies, so if you guys have favorite recipes that use preserved lemons, let me know!
Now, I’m officially telling you that you should use your lemons within a month, but I don’t actually do that myself. Properly taken care of, these lemons can be good for a couple years! However, in the interest of food safety for people who might not be completely comfortable with preserving foods and spotting problems, I want to make sure that you see me telling you to use these up within a few weeks. And keep them in your fridge. This recipe will instruct you to keep your lemons safely in your fridge for the whole process, but it may or may not be the case that I preserve them at room temperature and then move them to the fridge once they’re open. I’m not telling you to do that. Safety first!
(These are new, one-year, and two-year preserved lemons! They get darker, deeper, and mellower with time, not that I’m suggesting that it’s safe for you to do this at home!)
Easy Two-Ingredient No-Cook Preserved Lemons
- 8-12 thoroughly washed lemons, depending on size
- 1.5 cups coarse kosher salt
- (You'll also need one extremely clean container. A mason jar works really well.)
- Cut your lemons in quarters almost, but not quite all the way through.
- Spread a layer of salt over the bottom of your container about 1/4"-1/2" thick.
- Press about 1/2 to1 Tbs of salt in all of the cut sides of the lemon. Pack the lemons in the container, adding a thin layer of salt between each layer of lemons.
- Really press the lemons into the container. You need to press them in tightly enough so that the escaped juice and salt cover the lemons completely. Pack the jar all the way up to the top, press even more, and top with a final layer of salt.
- Tightly cover and place in a cool, dark spot (like your fridge). After one day, turn the jar over. Turn again every 12-24 hours for at least the first three days. For safety's sake, use within one month.
*Disclaimer: Post may contain affiliate links!
Still trying to figure out what’s up with my comments not showing up, so here’s another option if you’re having trouble with the comment section at the bottom! I’d love to hear from you, especially if you have favorite preserved lemon recipes or more great ways to preserve citrus!