How to Preserve Lemons

Learn how to pickle lemons, giving them a delicious, citrusy, versatile flavor considered a cornerstone of many signature Moroccan dishes.

| May 2019


One of the key flavors in Moroccan cooking, preserved lemons have been used in Arabic recipes since the 11th and 12th centuries. The fruit is pickled to last the winter. But the alchemy that happens is amazing. The fermenting mellows the flavor of the fruit—the rind becoming soft and sweet, and the pith slightly more intense and sharp. Signature Moroccan dishes—like chicken with preserved lemons and olives or lamb tangia—rely on the fragrance of this ingredient, but it’s also fantastic to add a background note to tagines and salads, or it can be mixed into mayonnaise or yogurt for a quick dipping sauce, and served as an alternative to a lemon slice in a martini. The pickling juice is also perfect to use in salad dressings, as it takes on all the flavor notes of the fruits and spices.


  • 5 unwaxed lemons
  • 6 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon nigella seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Juice of 4 to 6 lemons

Makes: 1 quart jar


  1. Cut a cross shape through the lemons lengthwise right down the middle, as if cutting them into quarters, but still intact. Rub salt all over the inside of the lemons, and really pack it in.
  2. Put the nigella seeds, coriander seeds, and bay leaves in a 1-quart sterilized jar. Push the lemons into the jar, adding any of the leftover salt. Top up the jar with the lemon juice so that the lemons are completely covered. You might find it helps to push in one of the squeezed-out lemon halves, from the juicing, to help keep the salted lemons submerged in the jar.
  3. Leave them to ferment for at least a month, shaking the jar a couple of times. The longer you leave them, the more the flavor develops.
  4. To use, rinse the salt off the lemons and remove the seeds. The zest is the most fragrant part—just slice or finely chop. When you need more flavor, the pith is also delicious. Finely chop it into a pulp and add to whatever you are preparing. These will keep for months as long as they are submerged.


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Reprinted with permission from Orange Blossom and Honey by John Gregory-Smith and published by Kyle Books, 2017.



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