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Moroccan preserved lemons are a staple of Moroccan and sometimes other African cuisine. They’re used as flavoring in tagines, special stews slow cooked in a vessel with a conical lid, and also may be added to soups or other dishes to provide wonderful lemon flavor. In markets in Morocco, you may be able to buy Moroccan preserved lemons individually. Normally, you have to look for them in International markets or specialty foods stores to get them in the US, or you can order them on the Internet. Most people suggest it’s more cost effective, and quite simple to make your own batch of Moroccan preserved lemons.
The ingredients for these lemons are simple—whole lemons, salt, lemon juice, and in some recipes a little vegetable oil. The lemons may be seasoned with spices like cinnamon, great if you’re using them in dishes requiring sweet spices. You can make more savory versions of Moroccan preserved lemons by adding savory spices like pepper and bay leaf.
To make the lemons, you’ll need a large glass jar. If you plan to refrigerate these, you can place them in any properly cleaned jar with a lid. Some suggest that for greater food safety, you should use a proper canning jar, especially if you plan to keep the lemons outside of the fridge. There is some argument about whether an opened jar or an unsealed lid is safe enough to store in the open. Some people recommend that for safer consumption, refrigeration is the way to go.
Each whole lemon has a section cut off both ends, which is then filled with salt, as much can be packed in. Any type of salt is fine to use. Some prefer a coarser salt, but it really is a matter of preference. Each lemon is then placed in the jar, and the plan should be to fill the entire jar. Add spices of your choosing as you stack the lemons. You can add lemon juice, enough to cover a completely filled jar, or some suggest coating the top of the lemons with vegetable oil. They should be packed tightly, since they will shrink down as the days pass.
Usually it takes about 30 days for the lemons to pickle and preserve. They should be left closed during this time, though you can open the jar to add more lemons if they sink down. Once you’re past this waiting point, you can use both pulp and peel. As the lemons sit in the jars, the salt helps to preserve them, and they shrink, creating more juice. You can also use this juice to flavor recipes, though it can be too salty. Most recipes calling for Moroccan preserved lemons suggest rinsing the lemons thoroughly to wash off the extra salt, prior to using them in recipes.