Posts Tagged ‘what to do with preserved lemons’

Every couple of years, usually when I find myself with an abundance of meyer lemons, I decide to make preserved lemons, a staple in Moroccan cooking and other Middle Eastern cuisines. I cut my lemons in half, carefully removing as many seeds as I can find, pack them in a clean jar with a lot of sea salt, topping off with fresh lemon juice if needed. Every few months, when I remember (i.e. rarely), I’ll give the jar a shake or a turn. The salt slowly dissolves, softens the rind and preserves the lemons. True words here: once cured, I never know what to do with them. Once I made a delicious lamb tagine, happily adding a few diced lemons and was quite pleased with myself. That was the one time I actually used them properly, partly because I’m never really sure exactly what to do with them but mostly because I forget I have them. They sit on a shelf where I promptly forget about them as they slowly turn from bright yellow to unattractive brown. Forgotten preserved lemons are not particularly attractive.

A few months ago, my lovely friend Jenn gave me a jar and to be honest, hers looked a helluva lot better than mine. Bright yellow with whole cloves and allspice berries throughout, she stores hers in the fridge. Maybe that’s the secret to keeping them a pretty yellow, the refrigeration helps hold the color? (I mean, look at the two jars below in the photo. Guess which one is mine?) Regardless I now had two jars I didn’t know what to do with. Time to change that. I was spurred into action. Well, spurred into googling what the hell to do with these things beyond throwing a few bits into a salad dressing or making a tagine every five years. 

In researching uses for preserved lemons, I came across a really great idea – turn it into a paste. This was an extremely appealing to me – much easier to use and I was less likely to loose track of it in the fridge versus on a storage shelf. I liked this idea. I liked it a lot. I had seen a jar of a similar paste in a spice shop a while ago, got distracted and forgot to buy it. (Maybe that’s a good thing because then I’d have 3 jars of preserved lemon things I didn’t use.) A little research showed that brand contained just lemons, lemon juice, salt. Well, hell. I had two jars of THAT. More research unearthed a method – basically throw it all in a high powered blender and whirl it together with the addition of olive oil and a bit of paprika to brighten the color. I liked these additions – the olive oil made it nice and creamy and the paprika brightened the color. So that’s what I did. I had a vivid yellow, salty acidic lemon paste in no time in a form that would be much easier to use. 

The recipe I used as a guide recommend a nifty little trick I use with the last dregs of a mustard jar – add a few simple ingredients and turn those bits left in the blender into a delicious and ridiculously easy vinaigrette. Brilliant! By the way, make this paste and you’re 1000% going to do this. Just so you know.

Now then, just because I now had my preserved lemons in an easier form I wasn’t instantly bequeathed the knowledge on how to use it. So far I had a whole two ideas in my arsenal: a vinaigrette and a lamb tagine and I don’t really make that many tagines. Luckily the New York Shuk website had 34 incredible ideas (see here for the full list). Here are my favorites, several of which I’ve used my very own paste for, with excellent results:

  • My favorite use? A simple vinaigrette. Add a spoonful instead of, or in additional to, the mustard in your basic vinaigrette recipe.
  • Delicious tuna salad – mix up your tuna fish with harissa, lemon paste and a bit of mayo for a new take. 
  • Think ceviche – add lemon paste to your impeccably fresh fish for a really lovely ceviche.
  • Add a spoonful to your Bloody Mary or other cocktail that leans a bit savory.
  • Add lemon paste to your favorite chicken or beef marinade in place of lemon or lime juice.
  • Smear the paste on your roasted salmon before cooking or brush on fish and seafood before grilling.
  • Make a compound butter for fish or steaks – cream together a stick of room temperature butter with a spoonful of lemon paste, use parchment paper to roll into a log and chill.
  • Add a zesty note to your chicken soup by adding a touch of lemon paste when serving.  
  • Instead of adding lemon juice to your hummus, add lemon paste.
  • Mix it into yogurt for a bright and flavorful dip for vegetables; top with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of za’atar or dukkah
  • Zip up a potato salad with a generous spoonful of lemon paste and maybe a bit of harissa for a Moroccan flair
  • Make a preserved lemon aioli by stirring a spoonful into mayonnaise to taste
  • Make Greek lemon potatoes by replacing the lemon and salt in the recipe with the preserved lemon paste.
  • Season cooked vegetables with a mixture of olive oil, lemon paste, and minced garlic. This is particularly nice with green beans and fantastic with roasted fennel.
  • Eating a lot of beans in quarantine? I am! Warm some minced garlic, harissa, olive oil, and lemon paste in a pan and toss with the beans. Garnish with chopped herbs and grated parmesan.

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: OH SUNSHINE DAY! Numerous jars of preserved lemons have been lost within my pantry shelves over the years, only to end up in the trash. I’m thinking that a paste, all ready to go, in my fridge will get far more use and far more notice. I’m still not 1000% convinced I like the flavor of preserved lemons but everything I’ve used this paste in the last two weeks, I’ve been pretty happy with and have really enjoyed the brightness it’s brought to each recipe. I was surprised at how much I liked it in my bowl of chicken noodle soup so I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt and will continue to try different things. You should too – but keep in mind that it’s salty so plan accordingly.

How to make preserved lemons if you are interested

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PRESERVED LEMON PASTE – roughly based on this recipe

Makes about 1 ¼ cups

1 cup chopped preserved lemons, seeds removed

2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 Tablespoon preserved lemon brine

½ cup olive oil

¼ teaspoon sweet paprika

For the preserved lemon vinaigrette:

Fresh lemon juice


ground black pepper

Olive oil

  1. Roughly chopped the lemons, pulp and peel. Make sure the seeds are removed as they can add bitterness.
  2. Place the chopped lemons into a high speed blender or food processor and add the water, brine and paprika.
  3. Process for a minute or two until fairly smooth, stopping and stirring as needed to get everything going.
  4. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil
  5. Transfer to a clean jar, top with a thin layer of olive oil to cover and refrigerate.
  6. Now here’s what you need to do immediately: make a dressing with the leftover paste in the blender jar. Use this is kind of a loose guide as the amount left in your blender jar will vary widely so adjust as needed.
  7. Add some fresh lemon juice, maybe 1-2 Tablespoons, enough to get everything moving.
  8. Add a squirt of honey, 1-2 teaspoons if I had to guess, and a few grinds of pepper.
  9. Turn the blender motor on, for a minute of so to combine then scrape down the blender jar, getting as much of the lemon paste bits as possible down toward the bottom.
  10. With the motor running on low, drizzle in olive oil and process until emulsified, smooth and creamy, start with ¼ cup and see how it goes as you made need more. Taste and adjust if needed.
  11. Transfer the vinaigrette to a clean jar and store in the fridge until needed. It will keep for about 4-5 days. Maybe more. If you like a creamy dressing, add a bit of plain yogurt or sour cream to the blender. Maybe stir in some poppyseeds. Or a finely diced shallot or a clove of garlic. Maybe some fresh herbs would be nice. 

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