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PRESERVED LEMONS

Makes 5 lemons

Paula introduced Americans to Moroccan preserved lemons with her first book, Couscous, in 1973. They became one of her signatures, appearing in the pantry sections of several later books. The optional spice mixture comes from the coastal town of Safi. With or without spices, use the lemons in her Moroccan recipes, in cocktails, in cheese sandwiches, and even on pizza.

INGREDIENTS

  • 9 or 10 lemons, preferably organic
  • About 1/3 cup (60 g) kosher salt (see notes)

Optional Spice Mixture

  • 1 (3-inch | 7.5-cm) cinnamon stick
  • 3 cloves
  • 5 or 6 coriander seeds
  • 3 or 4 black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf

*NOTES: For the kosher salt, look for a brand with no additives, such as Diamond Crystal.

As Paula wrote in Couscous, “Sometimes you will see a sort of lacy, white substance clinging to preserved lemons in their jar; it is perfectly harmless, but should be rinsed off for aesthetic reasons just before the lemons are used.”

DIRECTIONS

Scrub 5 of the lemons well, then soften them by rolling them back and forth on a firm work surface. Quarter each softened lemon from the blossom end to within 1/4 inch (6 mm) of the stem end. Spread the salt in a wide, shallow bowl. Sprinkle 1 to 2 teaspoons of the salt on the exposed flesh of the lemons, then reshape the fruits. Halve and squeeze the remaining 4 or 5 lemons to total 1/2 cup (120 ml) juice. If using the spice mixture, have all the ingredients ready in a small bowl.

Place 1 tablespoon of the salt at the bottom of a large widemouthed glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Pack the 5 prepared lemons into the jar, adding more salt and the spice mixture, if using, between the lemons. Firmly push down on the lemons so they release their juices. (A cocktail muddler is an ideal tool for this.) Top with the 1/2 cup (120 ml) fresh lemon juice. The lemons should be completely submerged, with about 1/2-inch (1.25-cm) headspace between the liquid and the inside of the lid. Add more lemon juice if needed to cover. Screw on the lid.

Let the lemons ripen in a warm place for 30 days, turning the jar upside down every few days to distribute the salt and juice. If necessary, add more lemon juice to keep the lemons covered. Transfer to the refrigerator.

To use the lemons, remove them from their brine as needed, using a wooden spoon or tongs to extract them. Rinse them under running cool water to remove the excess salt. Usually only the rind is used, though Paula sometimes also uses the pulp. Cut as directed in individual recipes.