Isn’t it wondrous that citrus season occurs during the dead of winter? In my neighborhood, lemon trees on every street look like they’re decorated with ornaments. Cheerful yellow fruits hang from lanky branches and I stand in front of them, marveling at their strength and beauty. On sidewalks, brown paper bags filled with lemons read: Help yourself!
It’s a good time to make preserved lemons. The recipe couldn’t be simpler. All you do is slice each lemon from one pointed end to within ½ inch or so of other side, almost cutting the fruit into quarters but leaving the four pieces attached on one side. Rub a generous amount of salt over the cut surfaces. Sprinkle a few pinches of salt across the bottom of a clean jar, pack in the salted lemon, and sprinkle more salt. Repeat with additional lemons until the jar is full. Firmly press down on the fruit to squeeze out the juices—the liquid should rise up and cover the lemon on top, submerging them all. If there isn’t quite enough liquid, add freshly squeezed lemon juice. Cover the jar with a lid and let stand at room temperature for 1 month, shaking and inverting the jar once a day, or as frequently as you remember.
When finished preserving, the lemon peels will be tender and easily pierced with a fork. Transfer the jar to the refrigerator, where the lemons will keep for up to 1 year.
Before you cook with preserved lemon, rinse the fruit well and discard the interior pulp if you don’t like its mushy texture, then finely chop or thinly slice the peel. My favorite ways to cook with them are in braises and rice dishes, and I love them in salad dressings, too. Also, the brine left behind in the jar makes a very tasty addition to a savory cocktail like a Bloody Mary.