If you want to make someone happy, give her a jar of preserved lemons.
Make sure that said person is also a cook. If she is not much of a cook, you will not make her happy. You will perplex her. She will wonder, what the hell am I going to do with this little jar of sunshine? She will stick it in the back of her fridge where it will take up important real estate for months, perhaps even years. Then she will chuck it and feel guilty because she didn’t really appreciate your gift. On top of that, she will be reminded every time she sees that little jar taking up important real estate that she is a lousy cook. I predict she will feel tinges of guilt about that too, consciously or unconsciously.
So make these. They are very easy and if you start tomorrow, they will be ready right after the holidays when we return to the sanity of eating good, clean food, but need something to perk it up from time to time. Like tuna salad. Or add to any Moroccan recipe like David Lebovitz's tagine .Paula Wolfert's books are full of enticing recipes that use them, too.
Just be certain to carefully choose the recipient of your precious jar of these beauties. A person you love who has reverence for food. That's you, too. Give yourself a jar and a hug. Happy holidays!
Preserved lemons have a deep, intense lemony flavor that goes in a completely different direction from the zesty sourness you expect from a fresh lemon. You may have seen giant, fancy jars of these with whole lemons in salty brine. Those lemons are almost quartered (the bottom of the ‘flower’ cut stays intact) but practically speaking, you might as well cut them in quarters. The quarters are easier to get into the jars and more importantly, easier to retrieve from the jars as you need them (with a clean fork, never fingers) than the whole lemons. It is helpful to use jars that have “shoulders” so that the lemons stay submerged in liquid. I found a mesh bag of organic lemons at Whole Foods last week—you will be eating the rind, so use organic.
Preserved lemons (Makes 3 pint-size jars)
9 small organic lemons for the jars, plus about 9 more extra lemons for juice
About 1 cup coarse Kosher salt
3 bay leaves
3 sticks of cinnamon
A few whole cloves
1. Scrub the lemons and cut off the stem (pointy) end if it is very prominent. Quarter the lemons.
2. Place a heaping tablespoon of salt in the bottom of each squeaky clean jar. Cram in some lemon quarters to fill the bottom of the jar and sprinkle with a rounded tablespoon of salt. Continue to layer the lemons with the salt. If you want to be fancy, add a bay leaf, a cinnamon stick and a few cloves to each jar. Press down on the lemons so that they release some juice. Eventually they will soften and be easier to press down. By eventually I mean about a week or so. Top off the jar with lemon juice so that the lemons are completely submerged in brine.
3. Close the jars and let stand at room temperature overnight. The next day, open the jars and press down on the lemons to encourage them to release more juice. Close the jars and tilt them a few times to begin to dissolve the salt. Repeat this routine for about 5 days; then store them in the refrigerator. Top off with more lemon juice as needed. The lemons are ready to use when the rind softens. This will take 3 to 4 weeks.
Note: The most taxing part of this recipe is squeezing the lemons for extra juice. If you have an electric juicer, it will go a lot faster. In any case, use lemons at room-temperature and roll them back and forth vigorously before squeezing them, or zap them in the microwave for about 10 seconds.
Remove a lemon quarter from the jar with a clean fork. (Remember, fingers contaminate!) Scrape out the pulp and rinse if necessary. Cut in strips or small dice. One quarter adds a lot to normal, everyday tuna salad, or use them in a Moroccan tagine. You could also add them to this chicken dish from the Boston Globe. They are not listed in the recipe because this would leave too many readers scratching their heads or being annoyed because they don’t have any, but I suggest using 2 to 3 quarters (depending on the size), cut in small dice.