From my modern American perspective, the essence of Moroccan food comes from two factors. The first is a mixture of several cultures. There is Arab influence, Mediterranean influence, French, African, and that of numerous traders who passed through.
The 2nd factor arose from the need to preserve ingredients in an arid climate with no refrigeration. When it comes to preserving meat, you simply kept it alive until you were ready to eat it.
Fish, Fruits and vegetables however, require more creativity. Thus, there is drying, salting, pickling, brining and this simple recipe for preserving lemons.
“Make this recipe now so it will be ready in a few weeks when we make a Moroccan tagine that calls for preserved lemons”
Preserved lemons are an essential ingredient in Moroccan tagines. The tagine is both the dish pictured at the top of this post, and the stew cooked in the dish. This simple and easy recipe will be ready to use in a couple of weeks.
The acid from the lemon juice and high saline from the salt hampers bacteria, hence the preserved quality. It is a fermentation however, so don’t be surprised if you find some pressure released when you open the jar.
You’ll need double the lemons you plan to preserve for additional lemon juice.
Cut the lemons in quarters, but not all the way through so each quarter is still attached. Rub the inside of the lemon quarters with course salt, and then stuff them into a jar.
Cover the lemons with lemon juice from the additional lemons and seal the lid. If you don’t have enough juice to cover them, you can invert the jar each day for a couple weeks. My experience with this method, however, is that–due to the pressure from fermentation–all containers eventually leak when inverted. So if you invert, put the jar in a bowl to catch the leakage. It’s best to simply cover them with juice.
You can taste them at any time, but after a couple weeks you will notice a distinct change in flavor. They will mellow considerable from the tart salty mixture you start with, and they will have a new flavor component that I find hard to describe, beyond saying it is faintly exotic. They will now last indefinitely.
Make this recipe now so it will be ready in a few weeks when we make a Moroccan tagine that calls for preserved lemons.
Try them out in other recipes too! Take a quarter lemon, pulp and all and cut it into thin slices and add to any dish near the end of cooking for a distinctive lemony flavor.