I first learned about preserved lemons in a Moroccan cooking class I took >30 years ago at a famous Moroccan restaurant in San Francisco. I had eaten at the restaurant and been taken by the unique, intensely lemon flavors of a chicken “tagine,” a braised stew which was unlike anything I had ever tasted. There was an enticing depth of flavor I couldn’t place. In the cooking class I learned this unknown flavor profile was preserved lemons.
Preserved lemons are the culinary backbone of Morocco’s cooking, but also are important in the cuisine of Morocco’s neighbors (e.g. Libya, Algeria and Tunisia). But it’s not just North Africa that uses this condiment. Lemons which have been preserved also appear in Cambodian, Indian and Pakistani dishes.
Historically, preserving lemons was done as a practical method of utilizing the fruit long after its season, and for transporting it far away from where it was grown. The earliest reference to preserved lemons is an 11th century account of North African cuisine. The first recipe known using preserved lemons appears in 12th century in Egypt.
Preserved lemons require little prep time but definite patience in waiting for them to "cure" (1 month)
So, how does one preserve lemons? It’s easy-peasy. Think of this condiment as a form of salt-cured “canning.” No fancy canning equipment, however, is needed. Lemons and salt are the only two ingredients. You’ll need glass jars with a secure lid (I use pint canning jars----I avoid larger jars as a little of this condiment goes on a long way). Moroccan cookbook author and instructor, Kitty Morse, has conducted several cooking classes at our home in Vista. Here’s her family recipe from Morocco:
Preserved lemons add a big punch of flavor. Think of heavy citrus with floral notes from the oils in the peel, layered with an irresistible complexity. Why not try this special flavor for something new in 2021? Just Google “chicken tagine recipe” and you’ll have more than 1.5 million choices.
Here's to trying something new in 2021!