The Moroccan Kitchen: Preserved Lemons

Cook, Regional Spotlight, Weekend Project

There’s a reason Chef Mourad Lahlou calls preserved lemons Morocco’s “national anthem of flavor.” These salted, cured lemons find their way into a wide variety of dishes native to the country, lending a distinctive brightness to the finished product. And Lahlou says it’s the one Moroccan ingredient everyone should bring into their kitchen.


“They don’t taste anything like a real lemon, but they add so much complexity,” he says, “They really capture the essence of Moroccan food.”


Many preserved foods and pickles are eaten as snacks, but preserved lemons are always an ingredient, not a stand-alone food. They can be chopped and incorporated into salads or salad dressings, added to relishes and salsas, or braised with chicken and vegetables. They also make great gifts for friends.


“I use them in literally everything, kind of like sriracha,” says Chef Lahlou. “I put them in salads, use the pulp in stews, puree them, use them in aioli for sandwiches – they are everywhere.”


Preserved lemons are made by packing cut lemons into jars with salt and fresh lemon juice — only three ingredients required. The most important component to the recipe is time, as they take a few weeks to fully cure and develop their flavors. Follow the recipe below, or buy the preserved lemons Chef Lahlou developed for us.


Preserved Lemons


10 firm, slightly underripe lemons, preferably Meyer lemons

12 Tbs. kosher salt

3 cups fresh lemon juice, or as needed


Have ready hot, sterilized jars and their lids.


In a large nonreactive saucepan, bring 3 quarts water to a boil. Meanwhile, scrub each lemon thoroughly under c0ld running water to remove any dirt or wax. Add the lemons to the water, return to a boil and cook until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool.


Cut each lemon lengthwise into quarters, leaving them attached at the stem end. Gently spread apart the quarters and sprinkle 1 Tbs. salt into the center. Place 1 Tbs. salt in each jar and pack the lemons into the jars. Pour in enough lemon juice to cover the lemons, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Seal the jars tightly.


Store the lemons in a cool, dark place for 3 weeks, turning the jars occasionally to distribute the lemon juice and salt evenly. Preserved lemons can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. Makes 2 one-quart jars.



2 comments about “The Moroccan Kitchen: Preserved Lemons

  1. Charlene

    I received some preserved lemons as a gift but I’m not really sure how to use them. Theyre kind of slimy and I was wondering if you are just supposed to use the zest?

  2. Olivia Ware

    Charlene, you can use both the rind and the pulp of preserved lemons. The pulp is great for soups, stews and sauces, and the rind is ideal for salads or braises.


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