Ottolenghi Preserved Lemons: A Tangy, Zippy Must-Have Kitchen Staple

Once you taste these Ottolenghi preserved lemons and realize how easy they are to make, you’ll wonder where this deeply flavorful condiment has been all your life!

When Life Gives you Lemons, Preserve Them!

Ottolenghi Preserved Lemons close-up of Meyer lemons before preserving

My husband once scolded me for telling someone a recipe using preserved lemons was really easy. Because, he concluded, who has preserved lemons in their refrigerator except you? The goal of this post is to change that!

I co-lead an online cooking community, originally inspired by the Ottolenghi and Tamimi cookbook Jerusalem ,where we’ve been talking about Middle Eastern ingredients since 2013. Follow the Facebook page and join the Facebook group – we’d love to have you learn with us. But this Ottolenghi-inspired condiment needs to be in your fridge now, whether you cook Middle Eastern food or not. If you like citrus, this umami*-rich version of a lemon will wow your taste buds.

*(umami is a Japanese term for savoriness and often referred to as the 5th taste in addition to sweet, sour, salty, and bitter) 

Ottolenghi Preserved Lemons in jar covered with lemon juice and pepper and herbs

In the Ottolenghi Preserved Lemons method, you add the juice and flavorings one week into the process.

What are preserved lemons?

Preserved lemons are whole lemons, of any variety, that have been packed with salt and lemon juice and left to pickle in a cool dark place for at least a month. Over time, the tartness of the lemon all but disappears but the intense lemon flavor found in the peel remains, making this a deeply flavored condiment. Though very common in Moroccan and Middle Eastern cuisines, this ingredient is a welcome addition to many dishes.

  • Pasta
  • Salads
  • Salad Dressings
  • Marinades
  • Stews
  • Grilled meats

And so much more.

Are preserved lemons the same as pickled lemons?

Pickled lemons and preserved lemons are essentially the same thing – since pickling by definition is letting something marinate in a salty liquid. However, as Ottolenghi and others have figured out, if you cut the lemons up much smaller, you can create a quick pickled lemon that will carry some of the flavor profile of the month-long preserved lemons but in much less time.

Ottolenghi Preserved Lemons Meyer Lemons filled with salt on bamboo cutting board

What type of lemons should I use to make Ottolenghi preserved lemons?

Any type of lemon will work. While many use Meyer lemons – beloved for their less sour and acidic juice and more nuanced zest, they do have less acid and a thinner skin than other lemons. Some people prefer the thicker, meatier skins of lemons like Eurekas or Lisbons. If you use Meyers and want to add more acid to the jar, just use lemon juice from a Lisbon or Eureka lemon when you top off. If you buy your lemons at the store and suspect they are waxed, just give them a scrub with a vegetable brush after dousing them with hot water. You may lose a bit of oils in the rind during this process but it will remove the wax.

How do I make preserved lemons?

  1. Use the lemon variety that you prefer. (see section above) Most recipes including Ottolenghi’s suggest using unwaxed lemons.
  2. Grab a quart size sterilized glass jar with a lid that seals tightly.
  3. Cut a slit two ways in the lemon about ¾ of the way through it to create a space to stuff with salt.
  4. Use kosher salt, adding about one tablespoon to each lemon – more or less depending on the size of the lemon.
  5. Place them in the glass jar, squishing them in as tightly as possibly without smashing them.
  6. At this stage you can follow the Ottolenghi preserved lemons method and just close the jar and wait a week. Or you can follow the Mourad Lahlou method and add enough lemon juice to cover and let it sit for a week, shaking it every day to distribute the salt.
  7. If following the Ottolenghi preserved lemons method, after a week, add enough lemon juice to cover and any flavorings you want to add such as a spicy pepper, rosemary, or thyme. Whatever sounds good to your palate.
  8. Now wait 3 more weeks, leaving the jar in a cool, dry, dark-ish place. After a month, place the jar in the fridge. They will last for a long time except that you will use them so much, that in actuality, they won’t last long at all.
Ottolenghi Preserved Lemons in jar with sunshine

When you preserve your lemons Ottolenghi-style, they sit in the jar salted without the additional liquid for the first week. Aren’t they pretty?

Do I use the whole preserved lemon or just the rind when cooking?

Most people suggest removing all of the pulp (and of course the seeds) and just using the rind. Personally I see no real downside to using the pulp if you are preparing something like a dressing or marinade. Also, obviously there is a saltiness to the liquid and the lemon. So either reduce the salt of the dish you are making or you can rinse off the lemon to remove some of the salty flavor. Taste it so you can gauge.

Is there a substitute for preserved lemons?

If you don’t have time to even quick pickle some lemons, try lemon zest and salt. Muddle them together in a mortar and pestle or on a cutting board, but only as a last resort. Preserved lemons have a lot more complex flavor than the zest provides.

What kind of salt should I use to make preserved lemons?

Use kosher salt. Not all salts are the same flavor-wise or texturally. Kosher salt is the perfect choice to make these lemons.

How long do preserved lemons keep?

After the one month incubation period, place the jar of preserved lemons in the fridge and they will last almost indefinitely, at least up to a year. And when the lemons are gone, save the liquid to either start your next batch or to put in dressings, marinades, and sauces or both.

Ottolenghi Preserved Lemons top down view of split lemons filled with salt on bamboo cutting board

What can I cook with preserved lemons?

The only limit to using these Ottolenghi preserved lemons is your imagination. But start with marinades, dressings, a topping for hummus or other dips, pasta, chicken, fish. Here are a few recipes to get you started:

Roasted Asparagus Salad with Preserved Lemon

Chicken Salad with Preserved Lemons and Basil from Blue Kale Road

Farro Salad with Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette from West of the Loop

Broiled Marinated Skirt Steak with Cilantro and Preserved Lemon Gremolata

Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Olives

Fettuccine with Preserved Lemon and Roasted Garlic

Preserved Lemon Citrus Dressing

Ottolenghi Preserved Lemons Meyer Lemons filled with salt on bamboo cutting board
5 from 11 votes
Print

Ottolenghi Preserved Lemons

Once you taste this umami-rich citrusy condiment, you'll wonder why you waited this long to start cooking with them.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Servings 16
Calories 4 kcal

Ingredients

  • 6 - 8 lemons Meyer, Eureka, Lisbon
  • 6 - 8 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 cup lemon juice approximately - enough to cover the lemons in the jar after one week
  • 1 sprig rosemary optional
  • 2 sprigs thyme optional
  • 10 peppercorns optional
  • 1 spicy red pepper optional
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Instructions

  1. Sterilize your 1 qt glass jar canning jar (run through dishwasher, run under very hot water, use your instant pot) - just make sure it is clean.

  2. Cut 2 slits in each lemon to create a well to put the salt in, being careful not to slice all the way through. If you do, no big deal, many people preserve quartered lemons. It will work too. 

    Ottolenghi Preserved Lemons closeup of lemon with slit and salt
  3. Add about 1 tablespoon of kosher salt to each lemon. 

  4. Place the lemons in the glass jar fitting them in as tightly packed as you can.

    Ottolenghi Preserved Lemons in jar with sunshine
  5. Close the jar and let them sit in a cool dry place for about a week. You'll notice juice beginning to accumulate in the jar. 

  6. After a week, open the jar, add your aromatics of choice - thyme, rosemary, peppercorns, coriander, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, a whole pepper - your taste buds can be your guide. Then cover the lemons and aromatics with enough lemon juice to cover them all. Top with a bit of olive oil and close it up. Let it sit out in that cool dry place for 3 or 4 more weeks. You can occasionally shake it about if you'd like. Then place in the refrigerator and start experimenting!

    Ottolenghi Preserved Lemons in jar covered with lemon juice and pepper and herbs

Recipe Notes

Some recipes for preserved lemons add the juice to cover the lemons from the very beginning along with the aromatics, another perfectly fine option. 

Once you try these preserved lemons, you'll wonder where this condiment has been all your life. Tangy, zippy, fragrant - just a few descriptors of their flavor profile. Use them in salads, dressings, marinades, grilled meats, fish, chicken and of course all of your Middle eastern inspired food. #lemons #preservedlemons #Ottolenghipreservedlemons #meyerlemons #MiddleEasternCuisine

, , , , , ,

36 Responses to Ottolenghi Preserved Lemons: A Tangy, Zippy Must-Have Kitchen Staple

  1. wilhelmina February 22, 2019 at 5:12 pm #


    Preserved lemons are absolute game changers! I love the way you break it down so simply, I will be making my own from now on!

    • Beth Lee February 22, 2019 at 5:14 pm #

      Yay! Another preserved citrus convert!!

  2. Beth February 22, 2019 at 4:21 pm #


    This is so awesome! I love lemons and I can but a huge bundle at Costco! Thanks for such great information!

  3. Noelle February 22, 2019 at 2:21 pm #


    What a great way to use lemons! So excited to try them 🙂

    • Beth Lee February 22, 2019 at 3:11 pm #

      So easy – just need a bit of patience! Mine just went in the fridge today!!!

  4. Melody January 30, 2019 at 2:24 pm #


    What Great Timing. My neighbors lemon tree is bursting with lemons just now. She doesn’t want them so I’ve been juicing them and freezing the juice. But now I am going to try this recipe. The lemons are huge with lots of seeds but produce tons of juice. Not sure what kind they are. I’ll email you a picture, maybe you or one of your readers will know. But regardless, I am sure they will be great. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe.
    Melody

    • Beth Lee January 30, 2019 at 4:19 pm #

      Yes – send a pic of it whole and cut up but I’m sure they’ll work and be delish. You’ll love this in your kitchen Mel – you are such a creative cook. You’ll find many uses and it’s such a unique flavor.

  5. Rosemary Mark January 28, 2019 at 9:41 am #


    Fantastic post Beth — LOVE your photos and your recipe layout. I make preserved lemons but haven’t added spices before. I also need to use them more often so thanks for the links!

    • Beth Lee January 28, 2019 at 3:39 pm #

      And I haven’t added this tidbit into the post yet but I will, if you make them with some sugar and salt as Private Chef Robin does, you can also use them for some dessert recipes. Make two jars – one with sugar and one without – and then you can compare!

  6. lemon lover Rita January 26, 2019 at 5:17 pm #

    There certainly are plenty of lemon trees around here and neighbors are happy to share. I usually don’t ask, just cut them off the tree, otherwise they end up on the ground or the branches are so full they break. Beth, your write-up is so clear, and thanks for the recipe ideas/links!

    • Beth Lee January 26, 2019 at 11:02 pm #

      Hi Lemon Lover Rita – “steal” some lemons and get this lemon party started!

  7. Tara January 26, 2019 at 2:20 pm #


    I’ve always wanted to make my own preserved lemons. Can’t wait to try this!

    • Beth Lee January 26, 2019 at 10:57 pm #

      Minimal effort, a bit of waiting and then loads of flavor payoff!

  8. Shadi Hasanzadenemati January 26, 2019 at 10:32 am #


    Always a favorite! Preserved lemons are so good to work with!

    • Beth Lee January 26, 2019 at 10:55 pm #

      Right? They are the best kitchen flavor addition.

  9. Sandi January 26, 2019 at 10:26 am #


    I love the step by step directions. I can’t wait to do this with our extra lemons!

    • Beth Lee January 26, 2019 at 10:54 pm #

      They are minimal effort w a big flavor payoff!

  10. Laura January 26, 2019 at 8:43 am #


    You know my family loves all things lemon, but I’ve never made preserved lemons. Can’t wait to make them and try them in our meals!

    • Beth Lee January 26, 2019 at 10:53 pm #

      You will love them Laura – maybe even when you make shrimp scampi

  11. preparat na trądzik July 3, 2015 at 12:51 am #

    Pretty! This has been a really wonderful post. Thank you for providing these details.

  12. Suzanne June 13, 2013 at 9:37 pm #

    Sounds like a great use of lemons and I’ve been interested in trying preserved lemons. I wish I could participate this month but time does not allow me too, hopefully next month.

    • Beth Lee June 14, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

      Welcome Suzanne – your blog looks like a lot of fun with so many great ideas. Come chat with us even if you don’t have time to cook – I bet you have great ideas to add. We’ll look forward to you joining us on the cooking as soon as you can! July promises to be a perfect summer topic…

  13. ashley June 10, 2013 at 11:58 am #

    Those cookies look delicious! And i’ve never tried to preserve lemons but I definitely think I should give it a shot!

    • Beth Lee June 12, 2013 at 5:49 pm #

      Yes Ashley – definitely give preserved lemons a try and consider the quick pickled ones as an option too. We’ll definitely be getting back to the baking so keep those cookies in mind!

  14. Couscous & Consciousness June 3, 2013 at 9:25 pm #

    Thanks for sharing the great round-up. I still really want to try those Tahini Cookies, and I have the Krantz cake bookmarked too, along with several other “sweet treats” in Jerusalem, so I’m very glad that we will be revisiting this chapter at some stage in the future.

    I adore preserved lemons – I always have them on hand and love using them in all sorts of dishes, so this is definitely going to be a happy month. I just last week tried the quick pickled lemons with Fish & Caper Kebabs – fantastic dish. Think that Braised Lamb with Tahini might be on my radar.

    • Beth Lee June 4, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

      You will LOVE the Lamb dish. And please let us know some of your other fun uses for the lemons, even if they have nothing to do with Middle Eastern cuisine.

      So excited to have you in the group and hope we can get a chance to meet in person later this summer!

  15. Hannah June 3, 2013 at 12:14 pm #

    I am indeed drooling over Carol’s Krantz cake, Beth! Thanks for sharing this lovely round up of the month’s baking. And now I’m excited to use my preserved lemons – charred okra is sounding very appealing. Lots of lemony happiness ahead! Happy birthday to you!! 🙂

    • Beth Lee June 4, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

      Thanks Hannah. So grateful for all the wonderful activity to be able to share. I feel like I am learning so much even when I don’t have time to cook. I hope others feel that way too! Hope you are enjoying these last few days of high school…and the lovely early days of summer.

  16. Emily June 3, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    Excited to use my preserved lemons. So glad you gave us the heads-up so we could make them in advance.

    • Beth Lee June 4, 2013 at 8:15 pm #

      Oh I think you are going to love them Emily. Can’t wait to see what you do with them. How was Eat Write Retreat?

      • Emily June 18, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

        EWR was amazing. I learned SO much. It was very intense. I came back with a to-do list a mile long. Not that I have actually done much of it.

        • Beth Lee June 20, 2013 at 11:09 pm #

          Pace yourself – pace yourself! I’ve seen lots of great things you’ve been doing! Glad you enjoyed the experience. I really enjoyed meeting Casey at IACP. Thanks for the great lemon post!

  17. Gretchen Preville June 3, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    Preserved lemons, how do I love thee! So many ways!!! Here’s one: For Friday night’s, I often roast a chicken or two and tuck a preserved lemon in the cavity. On the outside, I’ll use a mixture of olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice (from a fresh lemon), dijon mustard and some dried thyme and rosemary. I might also add a frew sprigs of fresh rosemary under the skin of the breast and the thighs. Roast at 375 F until done – about 1 1/4 hours – depending on the size of the chicken. Can also be grilled on the BBQ. If this recipe sounds familiar, I mixed up two of my favorites here; Gordon Hammersley’s Bistro Chicken and Zuni Chicken. If you are using a kosher chicken, no need to brine it as Zuni’s recommends. Preserve some lemons and you will begin finding so many uses.

    • Beth Lee June 4, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

      Oh Gretchen – how do I love this comment just bursting with great ideas; let me count the places I plan to repost it! Come chat with us over at Tasting Jerusalem! I am loving these lemons – working on a gremolata to top a flank steak tonight. Thanks for the great ideas!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Roasted Asparagus Salad with Preserved Lemon - OMG! Yummy - April 24, 2018

    […] Don’t want to make them, you can order them or buy them at a local Middle Eastern market, specialty grocery or kitchen supply store like Sur La Table. Read even more about this umami-rich condiment in this post we wrote for our Tasting Jerusalem group: When Life Gives you Lemons, Preserve Them. […]

  2. Tasting Jerusalem: Celebrating Summer with Salad - OMG! Yummy - July 16, 2013

    […] lots and lots of content. While you were all dutifully preserving your lemons from scratch for our Tasting Jerusalem June topic, I bought mine at Williams-Sonoma, too busy with high school graduation and my milestone birthday […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Beth Lee

Get New OMG! Yummy Posts via Email

Absolutely no spam. Just an occasional email to share a yummy post.

You have Successfully Subscribed!