Limes are a popular fruit in Thai cooking, are plentiful, and are generally inexpensive. Lemons, on the other hand, are none of these. In fact, there is no word in Thai for “lemon” – they just use the same word as lime and, when necessary, say “yellow lime” to distinguish. That’s one reason you are likely to order an iced lemon tea only to remark at how much it tastes like lime. But I recently found a reasonably good price on lemons, about half their regular cost, so bought a dozen in order to try preserving lemons.
Preserved lemons are a staple of Moroccan and other Middle Eastern cuisines and provide a certain unique flavor that fresh lemons cannot provide. One food writer said that if you couldn’t find preserved lemons, it was better to substitute capers rather than fresh lemons, so different are the tastes. Curious, I decided to try preserving my own lemons, something that several recipes promised is easy to do.
The ingredient are simple: lemons, salt (I used sea salt from Samut Songkhram province), and spices – coriander seed, cloves, bay leaf, pepper corns, and cinnamon were recommended and I decided to add some cardamom pods, too.
After purchasing a Fido pickling jar at Muji and washing and sterilizing it, I cut about 1/4 inch off from each end of the lemon, making them flat. Then I cut them into quarters, slicing down almost the entire way but leaving the quarters connected at the bottom. I then liberally salted the insides of the slices.
After lining the bottom of the jar with a few tablespoons of salt, I mushed lemons in, alternating each layer of lemons with a generous sprinkling of salt and spices. I kept layering until the jar was tightly packed and then added the juice of two additional lemons to fill up the remaining space. Close the lid, shake a few times to help the salt dissolve, and that’s it.
Now all I have to do is wait. I’m supposed to leave the jar on the counter at room temperature for a week or so, and then can transfer the jar to the refrigerator for at least another three weeks before using. I’ll keep an eye on these and once they are complete, will write a follow-up entry.
After finishing this process, Tawn told me that we can buy Chinese preserved lemons (used in some Cambodian dishes among other things, I understand) at local markets here. But where would be the fun in just buying them?