Preserved Lemons

I find preserved lemons to be a pantry essential in my kitchen.  Whenever I prepare a dish whose flavor is a little lackluster I just pull out one of my trusty jars of the wonderous stuff and after a little mincing and some stirring  the dish is suddenly amazing.  Unlike fresh lemons, this preserved type is very mild in its acidity but that oh so lemony flavor is intensified.  It really is glorious and I use it in almost everything I would use lemons in.

I first heard about preserved lemons while pregnant more than 3 years ago.  At that time Moroccan food and tangines seemed to be all over the food blogosphere and preserved lemons was frequently mentioned as key ingredient to the cuisine.  And being pregnant I of course WANTED.SOME.NOW.  Only life got in the way and as soon as I had my daughter I completely forgot about anything else that didn’t revolve around taking care of an infant.  It wasn’t until this past March that I was reintroduced to preserved lemons, this time by the farmer for my CSA.  In our first box she included a recipe for it as well as enough perfect skinned lemons to make a quart’s worth. I immediately wanted to make it but didn’t think that I would need one quart jar of it.  Well let me tell you, if you can try to make two quart jars.  Now I make 2 jars or more if I’m feeling generous.  They have a really long shelf life and like I said earlier, you will find yourself using them in everything.  I love it in my bloody marys, hollandaise sauce, homemade mayonnaise, with sautéed greens and garlic, salad dressings, quinoa breakfast bowls, marinades, soups, and even certain pasta sauces (pasta puttanesca anyone?) and the list goes on.

Now the process to make preserved lemons is simple.  This simplicity makes me love it even more because it makes the whole process a little magical.  Anyway, all you need are unblemished lemons (or any acidic citrus) scrubbed clean plus more for juicing (this is very important they must be clean so that nothing grows in the jar while the lemons cure), salt, and a sterilized quart sized jar.

Essentially all you do is a layer pieces of lemons and salt, top it off with more juice, seal and wait…and wait.. and wait…about a month.  I don’t like waiting very much but, in this case, it is worth it.

Here is what the jars may look like when done assembling.  Here I used the same method but with calamansi from my parents garden.

And after a month they looked like this.

After they are ready you can use them as you like.  Some people only use the rind (this is where the party is at) but I like to use everything. The pulp helps flavor soups, the liquid for salad dressings and the rind for everything or any combination of that.  Just please follow a few rules in handling the fruit.  Once you open the jar and start using the fruit please store it in the refrigerator, this gives it an unbelievable shelf life, over six months.  I’ve had one jar for 9 months now and it’s still in impeccable shape.  Also, only use clean utensils when removing fruit from the jar.  You don’t want to contaminate the product and have bad stuff grow in there.  I’ve been canning for years and have a strong fear of this “bad stuff’ handed down to me from my grandfather and dad.  And if you are using a quart jar with metal lids make sure to clean the lip of the jar after every use or the lids will begin to rust and contaminate the contents of the jar.

To help with this problem I place a piece of plastic film between the jar and the lid.


Preserved Lemons

Yield: 1 quart


  • 1/2 cup kosher or sea salt (not iodized salt) + more if you run out
  • 8 or so small lemons (or limes, or calamansi or any acidic citrus)
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice (or lime, or calamansi or any acidic fresh juice)
  • 1 quart mason jar
  • Whole spices (bay leaf, cinnamon stick, cloves, etc.) – optional


  1. Sterilize mason jar and lids (this method works for me).
  2. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of salt on the bottom of the jar.
  3. Cut fruit into quarters*, dip cut sides into salt, place in jar packing fruit in enough to release its juices.
  4. Fill jar with fruit leaving 1 inch of head space and top with leftover salt (if used all salt then just add a few tablespoons more).  At this time you can also add the whole spices.
  5. Top off contents with juice until all the fruit is submerged, you may not use all of the juice.
  6. Cover and place in a dark cool place for 3-4 weeks (until the rind is soft) making sure to either turn jar upside down or shake it every few days.  If upon opening you smell ammonia coming from the jar, discard immediately because you’ve got some “bad stuff” going on in there.

*When using smaller citrus, like calamansi, I just cut them in half.  But my father does his own version of preserved calamansi in which he leaves the fruit whole.  I have yet to try this method myself.

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