Preserved Lemons for a Burst of Flavor

 Preserved Lemon Tapenade


Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

I first tasted preserved lemons as a teenager, cooking my way through the world of Moroccan foods and flavors with Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco by Paula Wolfert, © 1973.  At the time, harissa paste, bisteeya, tajines, couscous and the pungent condiment “preserved lemons” were very exotic.


Today this world of Eastern Mediterranean food is more familiar than ever as chefs and cooks explore the area’s recipes and flavors.  I still have Wolfert’s book and remade her recipe for preserved lemons which can be found on (Reference 1).  I also tried the preserved lemons from the book Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi  and Sammi Tamimi; the chefs note that preserved lemons are “central to their cooking.”   I’m not the only one excited about their seasonings and recipes:  “No chef captures the flavors of the moment better than Ottolenghi” states Christine Muhlke in an article about him in Bon Appetit magazine August, 2014.


What are preserved lemons?  Lemons (or limes) that are cut into pieces and preserved in lots of salt, usually with spices.  In the abovementioned book Paula Wolfert says they are “indispensable” in Moroccan cuisine and they seem to be a staple in nearby countries of the region.


It takes about 4 weeks to preserve the lemons (2 weeks for quick versions) but it is worth the wait; a little goes a long way and both the rind and pulp are used. Just remember to adjust your recipe for acidity and salt as preserved lemons provide both.  While there are plenty of North African and Middle Eastern recipes calling for preserved lemons, you don’t have to stop there.   Here’s a recipe for Preserved Lemon Tapenade* that I served with a Sicilian-inspired tuna, seared on the grill with a simple rub of olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh chopped rosemary.


Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

*Tapenade is an olive-based condiment and spread from the region of Provencal in southeast France.   According to Wikipedia, its origins probably go back to ancient Roman times so it’s not a cultural stretch to include preserved lemons with Sicilian cooking.  Plus, in ancient times Arabic invaders of Sicily left a culinary imprint that has endured to the present, evidenced in recipes such as a Sicilian version of couscous.


While it is fun and easy to make your own preserved lemons, if you don’t have the patience to wait a few weeks, grab a jar in a well-stocked market on from an on-line vendor and start cooking.



Preserved Lemon Tapenade


This assertive condiment is a good match for robust foods.  It stood up to a Sicilian-inspired seared tuna, smeared with a simple crust of rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper.  Other matches to try are grilled pork tenderloin and lamb chops. 


1 to 2 cloves garlic, toasted if desired (See note)

½ cup pitted Kalamata olives

½ cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes

½ cup packed parsley leaves

½ cup fresh marjoram, oregano or basil leaves

¼ cup pine nuts, toasted

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 tablespoon chopped preserved lemon, more to taste


Note: For milder garlic flavor, toast unpeeled garlic cloves in a dry skillet over medium-low to medium heat, turning a couple times until golden and beginning to soften.  Remove peel and chop finely.

In food processor, combine garlic and remaining ingredients.  Pulse to finely chop and blend all ingredients, stopping and scraping down bowl once or twice. (Do not puree.) Taste and adjust seasonings to taste.  Cover and chill for one hour or until serving time.  Makes about 1 1/4 cups.


Paula Wolfert’s Recipe on

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.

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