At this time of year lemons and limes are plentiful. If you’re lucky enough to have excess then preserving them is a good way to use the whole fruit. You may have tried a commercial product and be put off. Don’t be - making your own results in a tasty meal addition plus you can add extra flavours to suit your own preference. Not only is there very little cost involved, it’s also quick and easy to make. What could be better?
Before getting into the how – here’s the what? and why?
What are they?
Preserved lemons (or limes) are whole fruit which have been pickled in a brine made from their juice and added salt. Over time the salty brine breaks down the skin and makes it tasty enough to eat raw.
Why make them?
This is probably popular as it’s a way to use up excess fruit but I recommend it because it makes a flavoursome addition to cooking. It’s hard to describe the taste – it’s citrus-y, salty and sweet. The brine breaks down the citrus skin and mellows it into something completely different to it’s raw fresh state.
The skins are traditionally used in North African cooking but their use isn’t limited to that style of meal. The skins can be chopped and added raw to salads, pasta and dressings. They can be used to roast a chicken or popped in when steaming fish. I’ve got more ways on using them below; for now let’s get into the how:
Make preserved citrus
If this is your first time making them I suggest making one small jar. Taste it and cook with it before upscaling the volume. One jar won’t take long to make either.
I include bay leaves, peppercorn, coriander and celery seeds in mine because I like the flavours and have these from my garden. You should include flavours you like or simply leave them out – they are background rather than the dominating taste after all.
· Lemons and/or limes. The smoother and unblemished the skin on the fruit the better
· Additional juice may be needed to fill the jars (depending on the juiciness of your fruit)
· Salt – 1tsp per fruit. I use Himalayan finely ground salt
· Bay leaves - 1-2 per small jar
· Whole chilli
· Your preference of whole seeds – coriander, celery, mustard, fennel etc
(1/2 - 1tsp of peppercorn and seeds per jar)
Prepare your jars –
One 350 ml jar will take 3-5 whole fruit, depending on their size.
In my photos the larger jars are 500 ml and fit 6-7 fruit.
Sterilise your jars and lids.
Wash the fruit to remove dirt and debris.
Made Simple Tip
Prepare your salt and seeds by having them ready in a couple of bowls. The teaspoon you’ll use for the salt will end up getting wet so you don’t want to double dip into your main jar or packet of salt.
Make preserved lemons/limes
· Cut the fruit into quarters without cutting all the way through so it holds together.
· Sprinkle one 1tsp of salt into the quarters.
· Push the fruit into your jar, skin side up.
· Repeat with more fruit.
· Sprinkle in the seeds, chilli and whole bay leaves as you go (if using).
· At the half way point start pushing the fruit into the jar with your hand, pestle or anything which allows you to really pack it down. The juice will be extracted from the fruit.
· Repeat until the jar is full but with a little bit of head space. The juice should cover the skin.
· Top up with additional juice, if necessary, to cover the skins.
Made Simple Tip
You may need to cut large fruit in half or quarters to get it into the jar and to fill it.
If you’ve used halves or quarters try and finish with a whole fruit as the quarters in particular will float up and try and sit above the liquid.
· Wipe down and label your jar. I leave mine sitting on the bench for a day. The fruit can settle a bit and might need topping up with more juice.
· Close the jar(s) firmly and store somewhere dark and cool eg the back of your cupboard.
· Open anytime from three months. The longer you can leave it the better. The first jar I made I forgot about and opened after nine months and it was delicious.
Ways to use your preserved lemons (or limes)
Remove the seeds but the pith can stay on if you don't mind it. Use clean fingers or utensils when taking out pieces so you don't end up contaminating the whole jar.
Use in any cooked meal where you would usually use fresh fruit - with roast chicken or lamb or when cooking fish.
Dice into soups and stews.
Use uncooked in pasta and salads.
Finely dice or blend and add to dressings and sauces.