Moroccan and Middle Eastern recipes are exploding in popularity, and for good reason. The flavors are big and satisfying, the food is usually healthy, and the recipes are pretty easy.
But anytime you venture into a new kind of cuisine, you have to invest in a few basics. I'd recommend buying some harissa, za'atar and pomegranate molasses. And I'd recommend making your own preserved lemons.
Preserved lemons perk up the flavors of many Middle Eastern dishes, with Moroccan food my own point of reference. They're commonly used in tagines, as well as sauces, relishes and all sorts of other stews. Here's a little collection of Moroccan food porn from my own trip, with many of the dishes relying on preserved lemons in some form.
You actually use the rind of the lemon, scraping out the flesh entirely. The lemons are preserved in a simple mixture of salt and their own juices, softening and mellowing the rind and creating a tangy, piquant flavoring that really has no substitute.
You can buy preserved lemons, but they can be tough to find, even in the most well-stocked Whole Foods. That's why I'm telling you to make them, now, BEFORE you have the burning desire to whip up a tagine for dinner. Because while these lemons are easy, they take TIME. Like, a month's time. So hop to it! And you'll have them ready to go when tagine inspiration strikes.
Easy Preserved Lemons
Yield: 16 oz jar, 2-3 whole lemons
Prep Time: 10 min Preserving Time: 1 month Total Time: 1 month
3-5 lemons, depending on size
4 Tbs salt
Cut each lemon into quarters, leaving the end intact. Start with the first two lemons and cut the next as needed - you may not use them all.
Take a 16 oz / 475 mL jar. Push the quarters of a lemon open and sprinkle inner flesh with about 1 Tbs salt. Push the lemon into the jar, really leaning into your hand to expel as much juice as possible without completely mangling the lemon.
Repeat with remaining lemons until the jar is full. Push down on the whole stack, squeezing out as much juice as you can. Then add more lemon juice (hopefully you have 1 full lemon left at this point) til lemons are mostly covered.
Move the jar to the fridge and let preserve for 1 month. Every so often give the jar a shake to distribute the juice more evenly.
To use, scrape out flesh, rinse rind, and chop or slice finely.
Lemons will keep for at least a year, and don't need refrigeration as long as they are covered with juice in a tightly sealed jar.