A few summers ago I had salad at a restaurant in Brooklyn that was topped with a couple of thin slivers of preserved lemon peel. It was the first time I had ever had them and they were delightful. Then this past March I saw a big basket of meyer lemons in the grocery store and couldn’t resist buying a big bag of them. I had no idea what I was going to do with them, and then I remembered that salad. I had assumed the lemons were preserved in sugar, but when I went looking for a recipe I only found instructions for preserving them in salt. I was a bit perplexed because I didn’t remember them being salty, but I decided to give it a shot.
All you need is some lemons, some salt, and a jar to put them in. Between the acidity of the lemon juice and all the salt, nothing scary is going to grow in there, so you don’t even have to properly seal the jars. If you can’t find meyer lemons, you can use regular lemons, but try to find some with relatively thin skins. And you definitely want to use organic lemons for this, especially since you’ll be eating the peel.
Give your lemons a really good scrubbing. Slice off the stem end. Then cut them lengthwise it to quarters, but don’t cut all the way through, so that the four sections are still attached at the pointy end. Now pour some salt into the cuts in the lemons. Cover the bottom of a sterilized jar with a layer of salt. Then start cramming your lemons in to the jar, adding more salt as you go. Pack the lemons in as tight as you can. If you need to separate some of the lemon sections to make them fit better, that’s ok. Top the jar off with some more salt and screw on the lid. After about a day, the lemons should have released enough of their own juice that the lemons are completely submerged. If they aren’t, top off the jars with some more freshly squeezed lemon juice. Screw the lids on tight. Now you wait. Leave the jars out at room temperature for at least three weeks. Give them a good shaking once a day, or whenever you remember.
The juice will become thick and syrupy and the lemons will turn almost translucent. After three weeks, they’ll be ready. I cracked open a jar last weekend, after about five weeks. The peel is the part you want to eat. Use a paring knife to cut the pulp and pith away from the peel. It will come right off with very little effort. Then cut the peel into thin slivers. The peel is about as salty as an olive, but when you bite into it the saltiness quickly gives way to the tart lemon flavor. Your first thought will be, “huh.” Then you’ll take another bite, and then another, and then before you know it you’ll be hooked. They’re really quite addictive.
You’ll start to think of all kinds of things to put them in. Added to a salad the dressing will wash away the brininess, leaving behind slightly sweet, tangy morsels deliciousness. Soon you’ll be putting them in everything and you’ll wonder what you ever did without them.