Moroccan Cuisine — Quick Preserved Lemons

Preserved lemons (recipe follows) are an essential ingredient of Moroccan cookery.  Packed in salt and pickled in the brine made from their own juices, the pith of the lemons lose their bitterness almost completely and the peels are used to accent all manner of savory Moroccan dishes, from stuffed poultry and whole fish to rich Moroccan stews and soups.  The traditional method, in which quartered or slitted lemons are simply packed tightly in salt, takes at least four weeks to complete.  We wondered if their was a faster, reasonably acceptable alternative.  Enter Claudia Roden’s excellent Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and LebanonRoden’s technique softens the lemons with a quick boil in salty water before packing them in olive oil.  Ready in just four days, these lemons are a neat trick for the time-starved preparer of a Moroccan meal.

Quick Preserved Lemons

adapted from Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon by Claudia Roden


  • 2 lemons, washed well
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 Tbs salt
  • olive oil to fill the jar; about 1/4 cup

First we started our water and salt in a small saucepan on the stove to boil.  While waiting for the water, each lemon was slit eight times lengthwise, starting and stopping the slits about a half-inch from each end, to help the salt penetrate completely:


Once the water was boiling we dropped in the lemons:


…and weighed them down with an available heavy object so that they were covered completely in the boiling, salted water:


The heat was reduced to medium and the lemons simmered for about half an hour until fully softened:


The softened lemons were transferred to a cutting board to cool enough to handle:


Once cool, each lemon was cut in half:


…and the flesh was scraped out with a spoon and discarded:


The lemon halves were packed tightly into a six-ounce jar and topped with olive oil:


The lid was put on the jar and it went into the refrigerator for four days to allow the salt to continue its work on the lemon peels.

Four days later, when we were ready to use our preserved lemons for a recipe, they looked like they had softened a little bit further:



Our quick preserved lemons were briny and lemony, but not too sour; most of the sour lemon juice was scooped away after the boiling step.  There was lust a hint of lingering bitterness left in the pith, which we suspect would all but disappear with the more traditional, slower method.  For reducing the wait time from a month to four days, these turned out great and we look forward to trying the full version soon.

These preserved lemons will last at least a few weeks if kept refrigerated, so an enterprising cook might consider making a dozen or so and packing them into a quart jar.  The recipe scales upward very easily.

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