Sephardic Preserved Lemons

Jews from North Africa introduced this intensely flavored condiment to  Israeli cuisine.

Salt-preserved lemons are easy to make and versatile, but they do need about five weeks to mature. Once your preserved lemons are ready, you’ll find yourself reaching into the jar again and again,  whenever you need to add bright flavor to sauces, chicken, stews and vegetables.

Another great thing about having preserved lemons on hand is that they substitute very well for fresh lemon juice in savory dishes. Omit the salt in the recipe, then crush a small amount of these soft lemons with a fork and add to the dish as it cooks. You may need to re-adjust salt later.

In wintertime, very small, round lemons appear in the shuk.


Those are excellent for pickling in salt. But any lemon works, and so do limes. These instructions may be freely adapted to suit any quantity. You will need lemons, kosher salt, optional herbs and a very clean and very dry glass jar into which your lemons will fit tightly.

Some like to color their salted lemons with paprika. This bowlful was photographed at the Mahaneh Yehudah shuk, Jerusalem.

image-preserved lemons

Always remove the lemons with a clean, dry fork or spoon. A wet utensil or fingers in the jar will cause them to spoil.

Rinse the lemons to free them of excess salt if serving them as a garnish.

Some like to use only the peels, some only the flesh of the lemons. I use both for a strong flavor. For a less assertive taste, I separate the flesh and use only the peels, slivered.

The brine in the jar may be used sparingly to add interest to rice and other grains, or added to marinades.


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