Lemons: The Greek Staple

960_GKES_preserveNeni goes through at least 12 lemons a week. They are her primary acid in cooking, used to brighten up the flavors of food, as well as lend the zingy taste that pushes her cuisine into the “I can’t stop eating this” category. In fact, if you taste a dish and feel like it needs salt, think again. Maybe it just needs acid; so try a squirt of lemon juice.

Neni uses lemons many ways, and all parts of them. Zest is frozen to use for flavor and garnish, pith is used to make a wonderful lemon spoon fruit (which surprised me—I’ve always read that the pith was too bitter to eat), and the juice is, well, in everything. I am always a bit shocked when Neni calls for as much as a ½ cup of lemon juice. Really? How can that be? But when I’ve tested the recipes, the amount is so very spot on. She also preserves lemons, and uses them in Greek dishes. That’s interesting because preserved lemons are not a Greek product yet they work very well in her stewy vegetable recipes. Look throughout this section of the blog. There are (or will be) lemon recipes in all categories: Eat Some fresh, Preserve Some, Use the Preserves, Use the waste stream, and we will no doubt be adding more as time goes on.

Readers have been commenting, both on this blog and privately, about Neni’s recipes. I am thrilled you are enjoying them so much. I know I am!

Preserved Lemons

Makes 1 quart

When I visited her on a chilly day in February at her apartment (and it was chilly every day in February in NYC), Neni was using up her old preserved lemons and making up a new batch. They are a type of pickle using the dry salt method: brined in salt and the lemons own juices. Preserved lemons are very acidic—way too acidic to nurture spoilers. After the curing process, they are stored in the refrigerator and hold for up to six months.

6 large lemons (see Note)preserved-lemons
4 teaspoons salt

  • With a sharp knifes slice 4 of the lemons into quarters from pole to pole, leaving the lemons attached at the bottom. Insert a teaspoon of salt into each lemon.
  • Bring 1 wide-mouthed pint jar, lid and band to a boil in a large pot of water with a fitted rack. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove the jars with tongs. When the jars are dry but still hot, shove the lemons into the jar, trying not to crush the fruit too much, but do pack them in.
  • Juice the remaining 2 lemons and pour over the lemons. The lemons must be completely covered with juice. If you see air bubbles along the side of the jar, slip a butter knife down into it and press aside the fruit to allow juice to fill the space.
  • Screw the lids down with the bands fingertip tight and let the lemons ferment on your kitchen counter for 1 month. Turn the jar upside down every day for the first week. The lemons will become soft and the salt and juice mixture syrupy. Transfer the fermented jars to the refrigerator.
  • To use, remove a lemon wedge and scrape off the seeds. If you see white stuff on the lemons don’t worry: it’s just a precipitate of salt, oils and whatever from the pith. For a milder taste, or if you are using quantities of preserved lemons in a dish, rinse them before cooking.
  • For a great recipe utilizing preserved lemons, see Chard with Garbanzo Beans and Preserved Lemon under Use the Preserves!

Note: You may need extra lemon juice, depending on the juiciness of the lemons you use. If the lemons feel hard, soak them in room temperature water for 15 minutes before using. To get the most juice from them, boil lemons for 2 minutes, cool, and then juice.

2 Comments on “Lemons: The Greek Staple

    • Thanks, Paola. I am using them more and more, and vinegar less and less in my cooking. Plus, I love have the zest for other uses!

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