Preserved lemons keep popping up in conversation, both face to face and in e-mails, so it seems like a good time to revisit the topic.
Most people are looking for suggestions about how to use them, though some also want to know how to make them.
I recently made 12 quarts of preserved lemons at the request of a friend who had a big crop of Meyer lemons in March. Although not traditionally a spring crop, many local trees have had abundant late-winter harvests that have stretched into spring. I've included my recipe for preserved lemons in case you are lucky enough to have a cache on hand. Once you've preserved a lemon, it will keep for a year or longer.
Preserved lemons are a traditional North African ingredient, common in Moroccan cuisine, for example, and seen through much of the Middle East as well. Typically, the entire lemon is preserved in salt and lemon juice and then just the peel is used in recipes, contributing a tangy but subtle quality. I've gotten into the habit of using the entire lemon, peel and flesh, because I have always had a passion for both the flavor and the texture. But I also respect the traditional use and those who have, over the years, pointed out my non-traditional methods. These days, I use both my own recipes and traditional ones, depending on what I feel like preparing.
But you needn't follow a recipe to enjoy preserved lemons. Soups of spring greens, fresh peas, broccoli, asparagus or leeks welcome minced preserved lemons scattered on top. Roasted chicken is wonderful with a wedge or two alongside, and slow-cooked meats, especially short ribs and braised pork belly, are dazzling with a sprinkling of minced preserved lemon peel. Feel free to experiment and don't worry about getting fancy; preserved lemons are a rustic ingredient, with a lot of sass and spark.
Gremolata in its simplest most traditional form is a mix of grated lemon zest, minced garlic and minced parsley. It is served sprinkled over osso buco and similar meat stews. This version uses preserved lemon instead of fresh lemon zest, which adds several layers of flavor. It is delicious sprinkled over soups, stews, grilled poultry, fish and meats and rice dishes.
Preserved Lemon Gremolata
Makes ? cup
—about 2 cups, loosely packed, Italian parsley leaves and small stems
5 or 6preserved lemon wedges, peel only, minced
4 to 5garlic cloves, crushed and minced
Use a sharp chef's knife to mince the parsley and transfer it to a medium bowl. Add the minced lemon peel and minced garlic, toss and transfer to a small serving bowl or glass jar. Use within a day or two.
Variation: Add ? to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes.
Tapenade is a relish-like condiment with olives, anchovies and garlic as the primary ingredients. Preserved lemons and green olives makes this version bright and tangy, perfect in the spring. It is delicious with artichokes, roasted asparagus, sauteed greens and almost any grilled fish. It is also excellent on bruschetta slathered with sheep's milk ricotta, farmers cheese or creme fraiche.
Preserved Lemon Tapenade
Makes ? cup
3garlic cloves, crushed
3anchovy fillets, rinsed and drained