This Preserved Lemons Recipe Will Brighten Up Winter Cooking

Pickle the citrus at its peak so you can enjoy the condiment year-round

January 20, 2023 5:23 am
a jar and bowl of preserved lemons sitting on a wooden table
A little time and patience is all it takes.

Eating with the seasons has always helped get me through winter. Hearty root vegetables and bitter chicories hold down the kitchen until spring produce hits the markets. And as I patiently wait for green asparagus and ramps to come into season, I try to incorporate bright winter citrus into as many dishes as possible. 

Whether you received a copious number of lemons in your produce box or are simply looking for a winter kitchen experiment, preserved lemons are bold, delicious and a great way to incorporate the citrus fruit into all types of dishes. Just like any type of canning, preserving or pickling, lemons historically were cured so people could eat them well past their season, especially back when there were no modern supermarkets to carry the citrus year-round. They originated in cuisine from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia around the 11th century and steadily made their way into Israeli, Iranian, Turkish and Indian kitchens. And while you can find jarred preserved lemons in grocery stores and specialty food shops, it’s still not an ingredient you’ll readily see listed in American menus and cookbooks.

But at Yves in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood, preserved lemons are a star ingredient across the menu, which features dishes that meld classic French bistro fare with Moroccan flavors and preparations. Huge jars of the citrus sit curing along the restaurant’s windowsill — because for executive chef Alejandro Bonilla, preserved lemons add a zing that is difficult to replicate from other ingredients. “To a dish, they add fresh brightness, umami and a complex tartness,” he says.

mezze platter with olives, labneh, eggplant, moroccan cigars and pita
Preserved lemons make their way into many dishes at Yves, like the olives on the mezze platter.
Amanda Gabriele

At home, I’ll chop up a preserved lemon and mix it with olive oil as a condiment for roast chicken, but it’s easy to get creative with them. “My favorite is to use the pulp for braising lamb, chicken, and grilled vegetables and fish,” Bonilla says. “Preserved lemons can also be used in making vinaigrettes, and the rind for garnishes is highly valuable because the bitterness disappears during fermentation, leaving a pleasantly tart, floral, sweet and salty balanced flavor.”

Making preserved lemons is super simple — chef Bonilla’s recipe (below) just requires a few ingredients and some waiting, two months to be exact. That means they’ll be ready to use around the time you can’t bear to look at another sweet potato and need some zing in your life, right before springtime fruits and veggies make their way back into your cooking routine. And until your homemade batch is ready, Mina makes a great version of their own.

Preserved Lemons

Prep Time: 30 mins

Cook Time: 1 min

Total Time: 2 months

  • 15 lemons
  • 3 cups salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
    1. Mix the salt and sugar together, and place aside.

    2. Cut the two ends off each of the lemons, and then cut each lemon into quarters. Place the lemons into Mason Jars. 

    3. Bring water to boil for sterilization and boil for 20-30 seconds. Add half of the salt and sugar mix and pour it over the lemons.

    4. Cover the lemons with the other half of the salt/sugar mix and cover them tightly. Place them in a cool room [or the fridge], and flip the mason jars every other day to make sure all lemons are equally preserving. Allow the lemons to cure for two months. They have a shelf life of about six months.


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