Preserved Lemons

I was in the mood for something Moroccan (can you guess what kind of recipes will be posted in the coming days? Oh the suspense!), and if there is any recurring ingredients in Moroccan recipes, it is preserved lemons.

Jar of preserved lemons

I’ve never had preserved lemons before and it seems two methods are popular: one is just lemons and salt and the other is generally the same but with various savory spices added into the mix. Being both a fan of lemons and as decisive as ever, I decided to make two jars: one spiced and one “plain.” Now that I’d finally made that tough call, I got all ready only to find that I only had one clean jar handy (doh!).

The basic idea is that you take some lemons (tis the season for Meyer lemons–thin skinned and deliciously sweet!) and essentially pickle it in salt and its own juices to intensify the flavors. I love lemons, and when life gives you lemons, you make….preserved lemons (that’s how it goes, right?).

Meyer lemons

For now, I only did the plain version. However, in the coming days/weeks, I’ll get a second jar going according to this recipe here–not like I could give you tasting notes anyways–the actual preserving process takes a couple of weeks and I’m not one to sit on a blog post for more than a couple of days (I’ll try to remember to come back with an update once I get to taste it). Also, loyal readers, I need your help for something of grave importance. When I told my wife I would be making preserved lemons, she asked me what they were and when I explained, she replied:

“Oh, you mean lemon pickle! We had that all the time in India.”
“No, not pickle, preserved lemons.”
“Right, pickle.”
“Well, they are kind of pickled, but they’re not pickle. Its different.”
“Well you know–they’re preserved. Preserved lemons.”

So there you have it. Clearly I’m right….right? 😉

These recipes are halved since I have small jars (and I planned on doing one of each). A normal sized jar (~1 quart) would call for around 10 lemons (have extras handy though), so adjust the recipe accordingly.


  • 5 meyer lemons
  • 1/4 cup salt, maybe more


  • 5 meyer lemons
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • a few whole cloves
  • a few whole peppercorns
  • 1 cardamom pod
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 Bay leaf

Preparing this is incredibly easy. Like whenever making anything preserved, ensure you have clean, sterile jars. Also wash the skins of your lemons well–any waxes, pesticides, etc will all be in the mix, so you want to scrub that gunk off now.

Quarter the lemons

Pour a layer of salt in the bottom of your jar. Chop the tips off of the lemons and then slice into quarters without cutting entirely through. The idea is to expose the inside of the lemon so it can juice out without dicing every lemon down into little chunks (which could then break down and fall apart–not what you want). Cover the flesh of the lemon with salt, forcing each one into the bottom of the jar and pressing it down so there’s no free space in there. Keep pressing lemons in and add salt as you go. If you can remove any seeds without losing much juice, go for it, but don’t worry about getting them all.

If you’re doing the spiced version, also slide in the spices as you go, trying to distribute somewhat evenly in the jar.

Top off the jar with extra lemon juice, filling all the way up to the rim. Air in the enemy–do your best to fill the jar all the way up with juice and press out any errant air bubbles. Seal the jar, give it a shake, and now….wait. Tomorrow, flip it over and shake. The day after, again. Is there air in there now that things have settled a bit more? If so, clean another lemon, open the jar, top it off with the juice, and reseal.

Top the jar off, pressing to squeeze in as much as you can

Let this sit at room temperature for about a month or two and give it a shake when you remember to (ideally, once a day, but don’t stress about it). Once time is up, transfer the jar to the fridge and feel free to use it during the next couple of months. Be sure to write the date on the jar somewhere–homemade has an expiration date, too!


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18 Responses to “Preserved Lemons”

  1. aforkfulofspaghetti Says:

    Well, since they’re so simple to make, I’ve got no excuses now, have I? Only problem is, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to wait a month before using them…

  2. Lydia Says:

    Mike, I’ve posted a quick preserved lemon recipe, adapted from Paula Wolfert, that’s ready to use in seven days. I always have a jar or two in my fridge. One thing I like to do is to replace metal jar tops with plastic tops (made by Ball, and usually sold in the supermarket right next to canning jars). The plastic does not react with the salt, so there’s no corrosion into the lemons. And you can write the date right on the cap! Now, I’m assuming some tagine dishes are coming along….?

  3. mike Says:

    afork — that was exactly my thought (on both counts). I’ve been meaning to try to start making my own preserves and this seemed like a pretty straightforward (and tasty!) foray into the world of preserves…

    Lydia — I’ll definitely check out your recipe. 7 days sounds a lot more tuned to my attention span. 😉 Also, thanks for the tip about the jar tops–I’ll check for some at the grocery this week and try to swap jars/lids. That would be pretty frustrating if after a month or two I open it up to a jar of preserved corrosion. And yup, tagine (well, in a Dutch oven 😉 ) coming up next week…

  4. Pam Says:

    I’ve seen several recipes for making preserved lemons and have been curious. I can’t wait to see what you do with them!

  5. mike Says:

    Pam — same here. Over the past few months, I keep coming across recipes for it, and it looks so simple, so why not, right? I’ll aim to have the lemon-related posts up in the coming week…

  6. Bellini Valli Says:

    I have a recipe somewhere on my blog that uses preserved lemons inside. We made the preserved lemons in class at the Wine & Thyme. I wish we had have been able to bring some home…but hey I can make some!

  7. mike Says:

    Bellini — I’ll be sure to check it out. Now that I’m turned on to preserved lemons, I’ll need an arsenal of things to use them for soon!

  8. Mike’s Table » Vegetable Tagine Says:

    […] Preserved Lemons […]

  9. steamy kitchen Says:

    I just made my first batch too – just with salt. Lovely in slow braised lamb shanks.

  10. mike Says:

    steamy — that’s a good idea I hadn’t thought of! And now you’ve got me thinking veal shanks as well…yum

  11. Nora Says:

    Great job with your lemon pickle, erm, I mean preserved lemon 😉 Too bad about having only one jar. I make a few jars sometimes and give them away as gifts to other foodie friends.

  12. mike Says:

    Nora — haha, that’s right, definitely not pickle. 😉 That sounds like a good gift to give. I’ve tried sharing desserts with people here and there, but its just not the kind of thing that is easily transportable. Preserves seem like a good way to go though, and I’ll have to try making other kinds.

  13. Deeba Says:

    Hi Mike…can’t thank you enough for dropping by. Discovring food is my passion…love the idea of the Moroccan stew. Preserved lemons (or pickles as we call them in India) are a great way of sprucing up a dish. I’ve also got a post ready on lime pickles, to be posted soon. What they do here is use salt a little less than the weight of the limes, & once the preserve is ready, if you find it slightly bitter, just add a couple of tsps of sugar. I also snip some green chillies into my preserves to give them a yummy ‘cutting edge’. My mouth is watering just thinking of them! GREAT POST!! Cheers Deeba

  14. Spiced Brandied Cherries from Mike's Table Says:

    […] like when making preserved lemons, I can’t tell you how this tastes yet. It requires a bit of time to age and mingle. Of […]

  15. Pomegranate Braised Lamb Shank with Apricots from Mike's Table Says:

    […] 1 preserved lemon […]

  16. Vidya Says:

    As an Indian, I do know that response :)
    I’ve not made preserved lemons this way – your recipe and pics look so good, I am going to try this tomorrow!

  17. Vidya Says:

    I actually did try these but using a whole foods recipe with some different spices. But the inspiration came from here, so thank you!

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