Bright, punchy, sour, and a little salty, preserved lemons, like all good pickles, are delightfully funky. We love what they add to food, but until now, we’ve never attempted to make them ourselves because they seemed like one of those dauntingly long-winded projects. Not so! They’re actually easier than the average quick pickle: all you do is stuff a bunch of lemons into a jar with salt and a handful of spices — cinnamon, black peppercorns, bay leaf, and star anise.
Time and salt transform lemon rinds: their texture is silky, their flavor is hard to take apart — intensely lemony, lightly floral, and salty with just a hint of the sweet, aromatic spices. One of our tasters called the flavor lemony umami, and that’s as true as it is fun to say.
Traditionally, preserved lemons are found in Moraccan and Middle Eastern recipes, but once you have a jar, you’ll find that lemony umami makes everything taste better. Use the rinds to add a bright pickled note to mushroom risotto, beet salad, and just about any grain bowl. They’ll give your bean dips, salad dressings, and creamy aiolis more depth and your meats — especially lamb, chicken, and fish — a savory relish. If you put preserved lemons in your chicken and rice soup, you’ll never look back. And they’re game-changing in cocktails too: think lemon drops, gin martinis, and Bloody Marys.
Yield: 2 cups
¼ cup kosher salt
8 Meyer lemons, rinsed
2 cinnamon sticks
¼ tsp black peppercorns
1 Gelson’s organic bay leaf
1 star anise
Special equipment: 1-quart canning jar
Trim the ends off 6 of the lemons. Cutting from the top, quarter the lemons most of the way through, leaving them attached at the bottom.
Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the salt over the bottom of a 1-quart canning jar.
Using a muddler, smash one of the lemons into the bottom of the jar, cut side down, releasing all of the juices. Top with another teaspoon of salt. Continue smashing and salting the lemons until all 6 lemons are in the jar.
Tuck the cinnamon sticks in next to the lemons. Add the peppercorns, bay leaf, and star anise. Mix them in a bit.
Juice the two remaining lemons and add the juice to the jar, covering the contents.
Screw on the lid and place in a cool, dry place for two days, gently shaking every 12 hours to distribute the spices.
Transfer the jar to the refrigerator for two weeks, gently shaking every other day.
To use, remove the flesh of the lemon using a paring knife, so that you leave as much of the skin intact as possible. Rinse the skin, and then chop and use it according to your recipe.