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From the Briny Deeps

Moroccan Preserved Lemons and Limes

By Tim Hazell

Meteorites have been shown to contain ancient salts in the form of primary crystals, water- bearing minerals, and carbon compounds. These include an assortment of organic molecules, such as amino acids. Chondrite meteorites that have managed to penetrate the earth’s atmosphere have been discovered and found to contain chlorine harbored in the sodium chloride of their dark, fine-grained matrixes. Gases from the sun enrich these salts and other elements.

All water, including that of lakes and rivers, contains salt. Oceans are 220 times saltier; complex solutions of decayed biological matter and minerals are leached from rock broken up through weathering and erosion. Rivers and streams flow outward, bringing these washings to the seas and carrying an estimated four billion tons of dissolved salts to oceans annually. An equal tonnage sinks to the bottom as sediment, creating balance. Cycles of water transfer occur as moisture rises from the surface and salts are borne landward.

Myths about sea salt and its origins abound. Prescientific cultures unraveled and explained mysteries of natural phenomena with rustic humor. Philippine alamat tales of creation, floods, and nautical adventures reflect simple pleasures, often with moral lessons to teach.

One such tale alludes to the blandness of seawater at its beginnings and how people’s desires for tastier meals led their boats to the cave of a friendly, salt-hoarding giant. The ogre generously complied with their requests to bring salt back to their islands, where soon its zest was livening up culinary traditions!

One day, however, rough waters prevented a return to restock supplies. A boy suggested that elders ask the giant to stretch out his legs, forming a bridge so that townsfolk could walk to his island and refill their empty salt sacks. During their return, the giant became so bothered by attacks from red ants that he plunged his itching feet into the ocean for relief. All the salt fell into the fresh waters to dissolve and disperse with the currents, transforming them into the salty oceans we know today.

Preserved lemons enhance the cooking of Morocco with their pronounced saltiness and a sourness that is mellowed through fermentation. Two ingredients, salt and lemon, take on other complex flavor profiles over time, after proper fermentation!

Moroccan Preserved Lemons


2-1/2 lbs. lemons or limes

1/4 cup sea salt



Trim ends off lemons, taking care not to cut into the flesh. Slice the lemons as if to quarter them, but keep the base of the lemon intact. Sprinkle the interior of the lemons with salt, then layer in a mason jar. Sprinkle with salt, then mash with a wooden spoon until lemon rinds begin to soften. The lemons release their juice, which should combine with the salt to create brine. Continue mashing and salting until lemons fill the jar and rest below the level of the brine. Ferment at room temperature three to four weeks, then refrigerate. Lemons can keep for one to two years.


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