condiments

Preserving lemons: Part 2

At Long Last: Well, that time you’ve all  been waiting for: The report on the preserved lemons.  And when I say “you all,” I might only be referring to my mother, Jerusalem Syndrome Blog’s #1 fangirl. At any rate, the results are in and they are delightful. Months ago, I wrote Preserving lemons: Part 1, detailing the quick and simple process of preparing lemons for preservation and promised to write about the end result after the month-plus time it would take for them to preserve in a dark, cool area. I ended up letting them preserve for about 6 weeks before I finally tried them in mid-April, just in time for the height of the artichoke season.

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Preserved lemons after two weeks.

After Two Weeks:  Jerusalem: A Cookbook advises that after the initial preserving preparation, you store the lemons in a cool, dark place for at least a week before squeezing out any remaining juice and adding olive oil, rosemary, and a red chile. I left them for two weeks before completing the next step and at that point the coarse salt had drawn out a good deal of the juice. This second step took less than ten minutes and was super simple.

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Preserved lemons after two weeks with the addition of olive oil, rosemary, and red chiles.

Trying Them Out: The cookbook says they should preserve for at least a month from the start of the process but “the longer you leave them, the better.” I ended up waiting a total of six weeks and used the coincidence of my brother Owen’s visit from Texas and an overstock of artichokes to try them. We trimmed and steamed artichokes and then minced a few pieces of the preserved lemon that we then stirred into unsalted melted butter. Ever the salt lover, I also had to stir in a pinch of freshly ground sea salt.

Once the artichokes were tender, we dipped the leaves in the preserved lemon butter and enjoyed them. It was absolutely delicious and we couldn’t get enough, eating so many of them that it ended up serving as our lunch that day. Owen raved about the preserved lemons and declared that he had to make some for himself when he got home. Folks, these preserved lemons pack a huge wallop flavor with minimal effort—the only challenging thing about preparing them is waiting patiently for them to be ready.

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More To Come: Another lovely thing about these preserved lemons is that once you stash them in the fridge, they keep for quite a while. Exactly how long, I don’t know yet, but they’ve been in my fridge since April and are holding up well. I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I have not yet used them for their intended purpose, ingredients in the various Jerusalem recipes that call for them, but now that I’ve resolved to start posting here more regularly again I plan to use them in one of those recipes soon. I’m also tempted to try them in this recipe for Preserved-Lemon Pudding with Basil Syrup from Food & Wine that I came across recently. Jerusalem also offers a recipe for quick pickled lemons that are ready after only 24 hours and I will eventually try that recipe as well, hopefully doing a side-by-side taste test of them against the slower, more demanding of patience preserved lemons.

Talk to Me: If you try this or another recipe for preserved lemons, tell me about it in the comments!

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Preserving lemons: Part 1

Martha Knows Best: Years ago, I saw Rosie O’Donnell telling a story about her visit to see Martha Stewart in prison in an interview. She explained how she asked Martha what she missed most in prison, fully expecting her to say things like her friends or her daughter. Instead, the first thing Martha said was “Lemon.” I totally get where she is coming from. I’m not saying that if I found myself in prison that I would miss lemon more than loved ones, pets, or unfettered internet access. However, I totally understand Martha’s devotion to lemons as I use them to cook with and mix drinks regularly. Just the cheery sight of lemons makes me happy. Lemons might even be be blamed for some of my minor dental issues thanks to my habit of dipping sliced lemons in sugar and then sucking on them as a child.

lemons on plateAlright, DIY It Is: Going through Jerusalem: A Cookbook to pick out the next few recipes I want to try, I noticed that quite a few of them call for preserved lemon. The cookbook includes a recipe for preserved lemons but, never the most patient or a great long-term planner, I just didn’t want to wait a whole month (at least) for the lemons to be ready. After getting annoyed with how some of the recipes I want to try soon call for preserved lemon, I finally decided to get my act together and try my hand at preserving them myself rather than buying some.

I noticed that the recipe calls for unwaxed lemons. The local stores have plenty of lemons but I’m not sure I can purchase any that are unwaxed. Maybe I can but I’m just too lazy to go searching for them. I briefly considered a scheme that involved collecting lemons from the trees in peoples’ yards throughout my neighborhood but I’m from Texas and trespassing can result in having a shotgun pulled on you so I quickly abandoned that half-baked plan. So I thought I would turn to Twitter and ask both authors of the cookbook, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, whether the recipe would still turn out ok if I didn’t use unwaxed lemons:

Screen shot 2014-03-06 at 1.54.10 PMTweet Dork: Aside from the fact that I am the kind of person who’s dorky enough to get super excited about one of my favorite food gods responding to my tweet, I was relieved that I could go ahead and just use the waxed lemons that are much easier to find. I am a believer in buying mostly organic produce, budget allowing, and luckily Trader Joe’s sells bags of 4-5 organic lemons (pretty big ones, too) for $1.49 each.

Preserving Process: After sterilizing some quart-size mason jars, I followed the rest of the simple recipe: cut the lemons lengthwise in a deep cross from top to bottom, stopping about 2 cm from the base, packed the insides of the lemons with 1 tablespoon of coarse sea salt, crammed them into the jars and stored them in a cool, dark place (my linen closet). I am doing a double recipe, 12 lemons total, which means if they don’t turn out well it will be double the failure! (Even though I sterilized the jars I am still mildly concerned that some bacteria managed to find its way into the jar that will ultimately result in a very sad, disappointing afternoon about a month from now).

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Waiting Game: Now I just have to wait patiently for about a week, at which point I will open the jars, pull out the lemons, squeeze as much juice as possible out (but save the juice), then place them back in the jars and add some rosemary sprigs, a large red chili, the lemon juice, and some olive oil. At the earliest, they will be ready about a month from now.  I am pretty stoked about them and will write another post about them once they’re ready.

jarred lemons

Related: Preserved lemons: Part 2