Lemons preserved in a salt brine are a staple ingredient in North African cooking. They are used as both a condiment and a flavoring ingredient in tagines (stews) and salads. In this collection I call for them in the Spring Vegetable Couscous, but you can also use them as a condiment for other couscous stews. They also make a nice condiment for salads, grains, and vegetables. They’re very salty and meant to be used as a seasoning rather than a stand-alone pickle.
Thin-skinned lemons are best for preserving; Meyer lemons, the sweet-tasting light orange–hued lemons from California, are particularly well suited. Because a little preserved lemon goes a long way, you needn’t pickle too many at a time, but you need enough to tightly pack the jar you are using. I’ve seen many different recipes for preserved lemons and tried several of them. They all seem to work. This is how I do it.

6 to 12 organic lemons or (preferably) organic Meyer lemons, or enough to fill a wide-mouth 1-pint or 1-quart jar
1⁄3 to 2⁄3 cup sea salt
Fresh lemon juice as needed
Extra virgin olive oil for topping off the jar

  1. Sterilize your jar by submerging it in boiling water for a minute. Very carefully lift the jar out of the water using tongs. Tip the water in the jar into the pot as you remove it, so that you don’t get scalded. Set the jar on a clean dishtowel, open side down, to drain.
  2. Quarter each lemon lengthwise from the pointed (bud) end down to within about ½ inch of the stem end, making sure to keep the lemon intact. Pack the cut lemons with salt. Place the lemons in the jar, packing as many salted lemons as will fit. Add additional lemon juice to completely cover the lemons. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons salt over the top and cover tightly. Set in a cool place or in the refrigerator (that’s where I keep mine) for at least 3 weeks. The lemons are ready when they have softened. To use, simply remove from the jar, rinse, and slice or chop as directed. If any lemons are exposed to air in the jar, top up with extra virgin olive oil.

ADVANCE PREPARATION: These will keep for at least 6 months; I usually keep them around for a year. Store them in the refrigerator and cover the surface with olive oil after you remove any lemons from the jar.