The salty, sweet, tangy, and tart taste of Moroccan preserved lemons is unparalleled. When the lemon softens and loses its abrasive sour flavor, it becomes an incredibly bright and refreshing addition to a number of dishes.
Something that I love about Moroccan cuisine is its abundance of warm spices and seasonings. Dishes generally feature very bright, refreshing flavors, whether they be sweet, spicy, salty… or all of them put together!
Moroccan preserved lemons are a great example. Used often in Moroccan dishes, they are drenched in a salty liquid and infused with earthy herbs and spices.
What we’re really doing is pickling the fruit, taking away some of that harsh tartness, and softening the peels. They’re very easy to prepare and become more delicious with each passing second.
Don’t want to wait the full month needed in this recipe? Try out my quick pickling recipe for lemons instead for a quick fix. I also recommend that you check out my shakshuka, kafta kabob, and fatteh recipes for another taste of the delicious flavors that Morocco has to offer.
INGREDIENT NOTES AND SUBSTITUTIONS
- Lemons - Use varieties with thinner skins so that they don’t take too long to preserve. I recommend using Meyer, as they are sweet and thin skinned. Eureka can also be used.
- Fennel Seeds - This spice is warm, sweet, and particularly aromatic. Some substitutions include anise and cumin.
- Coriander - Both citrusy and nutty, this herb pairs very well with cinnamon. You often find the two together in these types of recipes.
- Black Pepper - A warm heat that is not overpowering, pepper adds a bit of spice and bite to pickling liquids. Other peppercorns could work as a substitute, but remember that they have different flavor profiles - white pepper is mild, pink pepper is a bit sweet, and so on. For the traditional Moroccan flavor, stick with black pepper.
- Cinnamon - This spice is a little sweet, a little citrusy, and rather spicy. It is a very warm seasoning that is common in Moroccan cooking.
- Sea Salt - An absolute must, as table salt is too harsh for the preserving process.
HOW TO MAKE MOROCCAN PRESERVED LEMONS
1. Create the Seasoned Salt. Whisk together the fennel, coriander, pepper, cinnamon, and sea salt.
2. Prepare for Preserving. First, wash and dry each lemon. Carefully cut an X into six of the fruits, starting from the top and moving down towards the base. Take care not to cut through the lemon completely - the quarters should come together at the base and remain attached. Then, press the seasoned salt tightly in the cuts.
3. Preliminary Jarring. Pack all six lemons into an airtight jar, leaving as little space between them as possible. Juice the remaining citrus, adding the liquid to the jar.
4. Continue Packing the Jar. Store in a cool, dark place for 5 days while the first batch of fruit starts to soften and release juice. Afterward, press more seasoned lemons into the jar until no more can fit. It’s important to pack them tightly so that they will not dislodge during the preservation process.
5. Preserve. Let sit for at least 1 month. Rinse off the brine before using and refrigerate the jar once opened.
What do Moroccan preserved lemons taste like?
Their lemony flavor is enhanced, and they are rather salty. They are sour, as you’d expect, but also tangy and bright. When it comes to adding strong citrus flavors to dishes, they really can’t be beaten.
How are preserved lemons different from fresh ones?
While the preserved fruit is still tart, the flavor isn’t as sharp or mouth-puckering. The rind also loses its toughness and bitterness, making it soft and enjoyable to eat. However, the pickled lemon lacks the zestiness and bright scent of the fresh fruit.
At the end of the day, which one to use depends on the nature of the dish you are preparing.
What are preserved lemons used for?
Some eat them on their own as a snack, but they are most commonly used in other dishes. You will often find them in recipes for dressings and sauces, as well as in fish and chicken tagines. They are also incredibly delicious when chopped and served with roasted vegetables or in salads.
Moroccan Preserved Lemons
- 10 large Meyer Lemons or Eureka (See Note 1)
- 1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 cup sea salt or kosher (See Note 2)
- Whisk the spices into the sea salt.
- Wash and dry the lemons. Cut an X into 6 lemons: starting from one end, slice lengthwise downward almost to the base, turn the lemon 90 degrees and repeat, keeping the quarters together. Push the seasoned salt into the lemon.
- Pack the lemons as tightly as possible into a clean, airtight jar. The less space there is between the lemons the better and it will make for a more attractive presentation. Make sure to then cover the lemons with juice from remaining 4 lemons and let the spices settle.
- Store in a cool, dark place. The lemons will soften slightly and juice will be released. After 5 days add as many more salted lemons as will fit into the jar. Pack the lemons so tight that they won't dislodge as they soften and preserve. They will be ready after one month of preserving.
- Rinse the brine off of the lemons prior to use. Refrigerate after opening.
- The thicker the skin of the lemon, the longer to it will take to preserve. Meyer lemons are best in the States as they are sweeter and thin skinned. I can usually get about 3 more lemons squeezed in after the initial 5 day process.
- You must use sea salt, not table salt, as table salt is too harsh.
- NUTRITION is for 1 lemon: Calories 6kcal, Sodium 200mg, Potassium 6mg, Vitamin C 2.9mg
*The information shown below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice.