preserved lemons

home preserved lemons

I have always been fascinated by the food of North Africa and the Middle East. One of the first overseas trips I ever planned was a voyage to Tunisia with my high school friend and maths guru, Paula. Unfortunately that particular journey is still yet to be taken but over the years I have magaged to visit Turkey, Syria, Jourdan, Egypt and a particularly memorable dash to Morocco with my snow bunny sister, Batgirl.

These journeys have introduced me to many new flavours from sumac and tahini to rosewater and pomegranate molasses but by far the most valuable addition to my pantry has been that cornerstone of Moroccan quisine: preserved lemons. It is truly amazing that with some salt and a bit of time you can transform the lemon peel from the part you throw away to the perfumed and zesty hero of the show.

While it is possible to buy preserved lemons in jars these days it is definitely a lot more economical and a heap more fun to make your own. All you need are some thick skinned unwaxed lemons, sea salt (approx 1T per lemon), some extra lemons for juicing and a sterilised jar (straight out of the dishwasher is fine) with a lid that will give you an airtight seal. Wash the lemons and cut into quarters. Sprinkle some salt in the bottom of your jar and then place the lemon quarters inside the jar sprinkling with salt on every layer and pushing the lemons down to release as much juice as possible and maximise the number of lemons in the jar. When the jar is full, top with additional lemon juice until the lemons are completely covered. Seal tightly and place in a dark cool place for at least 4 weeks.  When ready to use discard the pulp and wash the rind to remove the excess salt.

The last batch of preserved lemons I made was earlier last year while I was working at a winery in Mudgee and they are still going strong. We were lucky enough to have a beautiful old bush lemon tree that had heaps of gorgeous knobbly thick skinned lemons with almost no juice and very little pith…. perfect for preserving.

You can use preserved lemons pretty much anywhere where you would use lemon rind and salt.  They add a pleasant refreshing tangyness to salads and I have used them with wilted greens, in the classic Moroccan tajine: chicken with preserved lemons and olives, chopped through couscous to serve with bbq lamb and even in the stuffing for our christmas turkey. But one of the best ways to use them is in a salsa to serve with bbq fish. I have two favourite preserved lemon salsa recipes at the moment the first was inspired by the Sydney cookbook and cafe dynamo Bill Granger and the second by Bridget Hafner who writes for the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Living section….all good things…

bbq barramundi with preserved lemon
inspired by bill granger
serves 2.

This recipe uses whole baby barramundi but you can use pretty much any fish that works well on a barbeque such as snapper or even prawns. The sauce is similar to an Italian salmoriglio but with an exotic twist thanks to the preserved lemon.

2 baby barramundi
2 handfulls fresh oregano leaves
2 quarters preserved lemon, rinsed pith discarded and finely sliced.
2T lemon juice
extra virgin olive oil

For sauce, place oragano in a mortar and pestle and bash until it forms a paste. Add preserved lemon and lemon juice and enough olive oil to give a good sauce consistency. season with pepper. There should be enough salt from the lemon.

Slash the whole fish twice at the thickest part and rub with olive oil.  Bbq over a medium heat until cooked through, turning once. Serve drizzled with sauce. Good with tabouli or a couscous salad.

preserved lemon and walnut salsa with bbq swordfish and zucchini salad.
inspired by bridget hafner
serves 2.

Again, you can use whatever fish you like to bbq or even chicken or pork.

2 swordfish steaks
chilli flakes
40g walnuts, roasted and coarsley chopped
2 quarters of preserved lemon
1/2 bunch coriander leaves, chopped
4T lemon juice
extra virgin olive oil
2 green or yellow zucchini (courgettes), very thinly sliced lengthways
1/2 bunch coriander leaves whole.

For sauce rinse preserved lemons and discard pith, chop finely and combine with walnuts, chopped coriander, 3T lemon juice and enough oil to give a good consistency.

Toss zucchini ribbons in olive oil and season with s&p. BBQ over a medium heat until lined and cooked through. Place in a bowl and dress with 1T lemon juice.

Rub sword fish with olive oil and sprinkle with s&p and chilli flakes. BBQ over a medium heat until just cooked through, turning once.

Toss zucchini with whole coriander leave and place on a plate. Top with swordfish and serve drizzled with sauce.

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