Cook the Book: Preserved Lemons and Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

Cook the Book: Preserved Lemons and Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

The photo spread that accompanies the how-to on preserving lemons in "Canal House Cooking, Volume 1."

While perusing the pages of Canal House Cooking, I found myself at a bit of a loss. You see, every week I look though cookbooks and pick out the recipes that I feel would most appeal to you and to me personally. I don't know if it is the fact that all the recipes in Canal House Cooking, Volume 1 are perfectly seasonally appropriate or if authors Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton and I share an identical palate. These are some ladies whom I feel a serious kinship with—in their book, simplicity reigns, a good cocktail is followed by a meal comprising the best ingredients available. The recipes aren't fussy or fancy, but they are elegant. There is a beautiful minimalism that flows through Canal House Cooking.

The recipes are simple, but the principal is that good ingredients make for good food. One item that kept coming up throughout all the recipes is preserved lemons. It's a common ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking and is especially popular in Moroccan cuisine. If you have never had preserved lemons, imagine a combination of salty, sour, pleasantly astringent, and vaguely vegetal flavor.

Preserved lemons add a greater depth to dishes that typically use lemon juice for acidity; use them yourself and you will want to add them to almost every recipe. Salads, salad dressings, and cocktails are obvious applications, but preserved lemons add an element to grilled and braised meats that is unusual and irreplaceable.

You can find preserved lemons in most Middle Eastern groceries but they are really simple to make at home. The beauty of curing these lemon at home is that you can use them in all stages of their curing process, after about a week. The more time that you keep them, the saltier they get, rinse them accordingly before use.

Once your lemons have been curing for a while you can use them in a wonderfully versatile Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette. Give the lemons a little taste before using them to see how salty they are and then you can decide whether or not you want to rinse them. Use this vinaigrette to add a lemony brightness to greens, potatoes, grilled fish, fresh summer tomatoes, green beans, pretty much anything!

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Preserved Lemons

Adapted from Canal House Cooking, Volume 1 by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton.


  • Lemons, washed
  • Kosher salt
  • Sterilized wide-mouthed container with a tight-fitting lid
  • Rind of half of a preserved lemon
  • Juice of half of a fresh lemon
  • 1/3 cup really good extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper


  1. 1.

    Cut the lemons (almost all the way through) into quarters, keeping them attached at the stem end. Working over a bowl, tamp the inside of each lemon with salt. Tightly pack the salt-filled lemons into the sterilized container. Pour more salt over the lemons and squeeze the juice from several fresh unsalted lemons into the container as you fill it up.

  2. 2.

  3. 3.

    Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette