Too Many Lemons? Make Preserved Lemons and Enjoy Them All Year Round

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One of the many things I treasure about living in California is the amazing abundance and variety of citrus fruits which come into season in the winter. Among all that variety, Meyer lemons are probably the one I find most useful.  While in many places Meyer lemons are an expensive delicacy, in the Bay Area, it seems nearly everyone has a neighbor, friend or family member with a tree which produces more than they can use.  Play your cards carefully, and you never have to buy one.  Even I have a dwarf Meyer lemon growing in a pot on my patio, and today I harvested about 20 lemons which I’ve decided to preserve Moroccan style. Preserving lemons is a wonderful way to stretch a supply of lemons to last for a year. You can use the preserved lemons in almost any savory dish where the brightening taste of lemon is appropriate. Preserved lemons are a frequent ingredient in tagines, the stew-like dish which is one the foundations of Moroccan cuisine, and preserved lemons are a great foil for most any protein, whether beans, fish, poultry or meat. Chopped fine, they’re also a great addition to whole grain pilafs and salads. Yes, it’s true that you can buy preserved lemons at upwards of $10 a pound in stores such as Whole Foods, but if someone offers you a slew of lemons, why not make your own?  All you really need to add is salt.  Then, it’s just a matter of patience–this truly “slow food” will be ready in about a month! Detailed directions for preserving lemons, after the jump…

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Wash the lemons carefully and trim off any tough stem ends.  Drain well and place in a large bowl. Make 4 or 5 evenly-spaced longitudinal slits into the skin of each lemon, but don’t cut too near to either end, as you want to keep the lemons whole. Add about a tablespoon of quality salt for each lemon and rub salt into the slits you have cut. Mix the remaining salt evenly over the lemons and place them in a large glass jar or some other non-reactive container. Add any juices which came out of the lemons, press the lemons down firmly, sprinkle an additional layer of salt on top, and cover the jar. Leave at room temperature for a few days, after which the lemons should be covered with a juicy brine. If not,  add lemon juice to cover. Place in an out-of-the-way, shady spot and allow to cure. They will be ready in a few weeks to a month, and should keep, refrigerated, for up to a year. If all this seems like a lot of salt, keep three things in mind:  1) you only eat this in small quantities, 2) you can reduce the quantity of other salt you’d normally use in a dish when you are adding preserved lemons, and 3) you can rinse the preserved lemons before adding them to your dish to wash away much of the salt. In the coming weeks, I will let you know how my preserved lemons come out and will post recipes using them.

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