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Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License,
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Chefs' Cooking Secrets | Quick Preserved Lemons, with 'The Minimalist' Mark Bittman | Video

Compiled by Vicki McClure Davidson


Mark Bittman, better known as "The Minimalist" with the New York Times, demonstrates in the video below a simple, fast method for getting the taste of Moroccan or Middle Eastern preserved lemons, as a relish for chicken or fish, without weeks of waiting.

This is an easy, thrift-minded way to keep lemons handy by preserving them when they're in abundance to use when they're not in season.

Here in Arizona, two or three times a year, thousands of lemon trees in our area are groaning with fruit. Preserving them is cheap and smart. This particular method is not actual preserving, although it will increase the amount of time cut lemons can be stored. The flavor imparted, however, is quite similar to authentic preserved lemons (the method for making actual preserved lemons follows the video).


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Take four unwaxed lemons, wash them well, slice them thinly and chop into small pieces, peel and all. Remove as many seeds as possible. Bittman emphasizes in the video that it's preferred to use organic lemons. I'm a bit skeptical that that's necessary, as there are no proven additional health benefits with organic foods and they are frightfully more expensive than regular lemons. To avoid any potential transfer of pesticides, be sure to wash and scrub the lemons well before cutting them.

Rule of Thumb: When making these preserved lemons, use 2 parts sugar to 1 part salt. In this video demo, Bittman uses 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Adjust the amounts based on how many lemons you're using.

Mix the sugar and salt in with the chopped lemons.

Place the lemon mixture into a closed container and let it sit at room temperature. It's ready to use after sitting about 3 hours, according to the NYT. Bittman, however, clearly states in his video that it takes only a half hour. Significant time difference, and I'm not sure which is best. My gut says to wait three hours because likely more softening of the lemon peel will occur, but, if you don't have three hours to wait before using the lemons in a dish, go for the half hour recommendation. Your call here.

Rotate or shake the container a bit to distribute the ingredients before using. Keep the lemons in the fridge and use when needed. These preserved lemons will last about a week in the fridge, but should last for several months in the freezer if stored in an airtight freezer container.

Yield with this recipe is about 2 cups.

How easy it THAT?


Mark Bittman, The Minimalist: Quick Preserved Lemons


To make authentic preserved lemons (it takes much more time — three weeks — but the mixture will last in the fridge for up to 6 months) to use in Middle Eastern or Moroccan dishes, there are many recipes available on the Internet. This one is from Simply Recipes, How to Make Preserved Lemons:


* You don't need to use Meyer lemons, regular lemons will do, it's just that the milder Meyer lemons work very well for preserving in this way.


Place 2 Tbsp of salt in the bottom of a sterilized jar.

One by one, prepare the lemons in the following way: Cut off any protruding stems from the lemons, and cut 1/4 inch off the tip of each lemon. Cut the lemons as if you were going to cut them in half lengthwise, starting from the tip, but do not cut all the way. Keep the lemon attached at the base. Make another cut in a similar manner, so now the lemon is quartered, but again, attached at the base.

Pry the lemons open and generously sprinkle salt all over the insides and outsides of the lemons.

Pack the lemons in the jar, squishing them down so that juice is extracted and the lemon juice rises to the top of the jar. Fill up the jar with lemons, make sure the top is covered with lemon juice. Add more fresh squeezed lemon juice if necessary. Top with a couple tablespoons of salt.

Seal the jar and let sit at room temperature for a couple days. Turn the jar upside down occasionally. Put in refrigerator and let sit, again turning upside down occasionally, for at least 3 weeks, until lemon rinds soften.

To use, remove a lemon from the jar and rinse thoroughly in water to remove salt. Discard seeds before using. Discard the pulp before using, if desired.

Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

You can add spices to the lemons for preserving — cloves, coriander seeds, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, and/or bay leaf.


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