Preserved Lemons

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?



0 thoughts on “Preserved Lemons

  1. hey, i had this dream about pickling stuff.. like carrots, pickles and olives etc.. and in my dream i pickled carrots and pickles. and the pickleling liquid had spicey peppers in there… and dill, and lemon grass. corriander.. omg.. it was so good.

  2. @Wangium – You know, it would seem that lemon should grow perfectly well here, since limes do.  But as far as I know, our lemons are all imported.  If we ever get any property outside the city, I’m going to grow some.@beowulf222 – They are used as an ingredient in other dishes, like Moroccan tangines.@Made2Order – Sounds like the jars of pickled veggies in Italian restauarnts!@epiginoskete – @LADYLILYTHAO – Let’s hope the follow up entry isn’t about my stay in the hospital from food poisoning!  Ha ha… er…@yang1815 – Makes for something pretty on the counter.

  3. I never heard of preserving lemons before – let me know how yours turned out. I have to make sure I get lemon in my tea at the Thai restaurant here. The solution – hot tea lolol.

  4. @beowulf222 – Once I figure out what I’m actually doing, I’d be happy to.  That may be a long time.  As for the preserved lemons, the citric tartness goes away and you’re left with more of the essence of what’s underneath.  Maybe a bit like salty lemon zest?  I’ve never used it as an ingredient and only understand it as a larger component in a dish.  That’s one reason I want to make them, so I can get my head around what they are and what they do, flavor wise.@Umnenga – Ironically, South Africa is the mirror image of Thailand, citrus-wise! @foggysunnymorning – I think the preserved lemons are quite different from fresh, so it isn’t an issue of preserving them so they are available in the off-season, but more a matter of creating a new ingredient.  Will let you know once they are done, how they differ.@Passionflwr86 – No expertise, I assure you.  Blind stumbling crossed with unsafe level of curiosity, that’s all!  Glad I could make you smile, though.@agmhkg – I’d imagine they are quite similar.  How did she use them?@Dezinerdreams – Another Thai-India cultural connection, I guess…@Made2Order – That’s why you throw in the chilies! 

  5. @christao408 – Indeed, no food poisoning, please. Now, though, I’d like to see preserved lemons used as an ingredient on one of those top chef/master chef kinds of shows. It’s fun to see people cook with ingredients you’ve never used yourself, I think.

  6. it’s funny cuz from what i understand, mexicans call lime “limon” (aka lemon), and when i ask them to get me a lemon i have to say “limon amarillo” *_*

  7. @christao408 – most of the time she used them to cook Pinoy food, however during chinese new year since we would have lots of deep fried stuff, and would have a sore throat, she would mix them with hot water and let us drink, for the soothing effect…

  8. @iskrak –  So this “lemon is a lime” thing is a more global problem than I realized!@agmhkg –  That’s a use I hadn’t considered. Interesting! If these preserved lemons don’t work out for cooking, maybe they’ll be a sore throat tonic.

  9. i am not sure if my parents or my grandparents preserved lemons, but i do know that there are quite a number of jars of them sitting around the house in hawaii. they’re supposed to be good when you sick; you suck on the lemons (mixed with a little bit of honey to make them less sour) to ease a sore throat. i don’t think chinese preserved lemons have all those other spices in them though.

  10. @kunhuo42 –  Aaron, that’s two people mentioning them as cures for sore throats, so even if I don’t use them in other cooking, I can keep them in the medicine cabinet!@nov_way –  Glad you enjoyed it. Variety is the spice of life and, I suspect, Xanga.

  11. We do the same thing in India with limes and lemons. Sometimes, mother would add 1/2 cup of sugar to the lemons along with the spices. So the end result would be a sweet and tarty lemon pickle. Very very good to eat with rice and curried dishes.

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