[Recipe: Preserved Lemons]
We humans are a little bent on preservation. Think about it: We preserve everything in sight, from the natural (coral reefs) to the man-made (buildings) to the personal (moments and experiences, captured on camera).
I even take great pains to preserve my children in their various stages, their words immortalized around the house on paper scraps. (My latest jotting is a quote the other night from Emmie: “Mom, I want you to still tuck me in and kiss me good night when I’m 17. Will you promise me you will, even if then I don’t want you to?”)
Naturally, we even preserve food: raspberries at the height of sweetness to be spread on toast; the freshest cod for later, when fresh cod isn’t an option; pickled anything because we have a thing for that pickled flavor.
People have been preserving food forever and why? Because preserving food means preserving life, preserving self — delaying the inevitable in times of scarcity.
There are a couple definitions of “preserve” that I like in particular: 1) protecting something from loss (because who in their right mind wants to lose fresh raspberries?) and 2) saving organic substances from decay.
So in the spirit of use it or lose it, I’ve preserved a nice batch of lemons. I don’t want to lose a single bright, precious piece of citrus to decay, so I’m dousing them in an awful lot of salt and lemon juice and sealing them up tight in a jar with a few peppercorns.
Those simple steps mean that three weeks from now, the lemons will still be useful to me. They won’t get dumped in the bin or tossed in the wash behind my house to become a midnight snack for some javelinas.
What to do with preserved lemons? I love dicing the peel (after rinsing it first) and adding it to quinoa or couscous dishes. I’ve heard they’re good thrown in with a roasting chicken and a must-have in tagine, or any Moroccan dish for that matter (hence, their affinity for couscous). The juice is useful, too. The best thing about preserved lemons — besides that they’re easy to make — is that they add a surprise tart and salty punch to any dish.
This recipe is the one I’ve just used, but in the past I’ve used Mark Bittman’s recipe. His uses more spices than just peppercorns, so be sure to experiment, adding to your jar a few cloves and coriander seeds, for example.