The two Meyer lemon trees in our backyard went crazy this winter. My family has been enjoying the harvest in every way that we can, and handing them out to friends by the bushel. (Okay, I don't actually know what a bushel is, but thought it sounded cool and homestead-y.)
When we are rich in Meyer lemons, I usually make a batch of preserved lemons using a method that a friend shared with me, which came from her Persian family recipe vault. They are super secretive about the recipe—she's one of my best friends and I had to pry it out of her—so I won't get into specifics, but the gist is that you dry lemon slices in the sun with a bunch of salt, then you preserve them in olive oil. They are incredible, but a little labor-intensive. And they require sunshine, which we do not have at the moment in rainy Northern California.
So, I decided to try a different method this time, where you let the lemons sit in salt and their own juices until the rind becomes soft and flavorful. I found many recipes for this method, and they all seemed quite similar. I used the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving as a general guide.
My twist on the basic recipe is that I've front-loaded the work of chopping the preserved peel every time you want to use it. Once the preserved lemons were ready, I threw the rinds into the food processor and now I have a chunky relish that I can, and do, spoon on nearly anything: a bowl of beans and greens (of course), soups, salads, sauces, marinades, dips. The options are endless! Last week, my husband and I splurged on fresh Dungeness crab and he stirred a spoonful of the relish into the melted butter that we used for dipping. Wow. Just wow.
Note: A little of this stuff goes a long way. When you're adding it to a dish, start off with less than you think you'll want. You can always add more if it's not enough.
Preserved Lemon Relish
12 organic lemons, preferably Meyer lemons (about 3 pounds)
1/2 cup sea salt
One quart jar or 2 pint jars
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
- Sterilize the jar(s) by boiling in hot water for 10 minutes. Keep hot until ready to use. Wash the lid(s) and band(s) with warm, soapy water.
- Juice 6 of the lemons. You should end up with about 1 1/2 cups lemon juice.
- Wash the remaining 6 lemons well, then pat dry. Cut a thin slice off the stem end of each lemon. Starting with the cut end, cut each lemon into 4 quarters, leaving the bottom end connected by about half-inch of fruit.
- Pour 1 tablespoon of the salt into the bottom of the sterilized jar(s). Hold one lemon over the jar, fan open the lemon quarters, and pour about 1 tablespoon of salt into the middle. Rub in the salt a bit so it adheres. Place the lemon in the jar and repeat with the remaining lemons and salt, packing the lemons tightly into the jar(s). I was able to fit 6 lemons into a quart-size canning jar. Cover with any remaining salt.
- Fill the jar(s) with the lemon juice. The juice should reach to about 1/2 inch of the top. Add more if it doesn't. Add the lid and screw the band on tightly.
- Store the jar(s) of lemons in a cool, dark place, or in the refrigerator, for about 2 weeks. Shake the jar(s) every day or two to evenly distribute the salt.
- After about 2 weeks, the lemon rinds should be soft and ready to use.
- To make the relish, remove and discard the pulp and membrane from each lemon. Place the lemon rinds in a food processor and pour in about half of the liquid left in the jar. Pulse until the rinds are roughly chopped. You can add more liquid if you like, or discard it, or save it for another use. You can also chop the rinds by hand if you don't have a food processor available.
- At this point, I divided the lemon relish among smaller (sterilized) jars so I could share some with friends. You could also return it to the original jar and keep it all for yourself (which I probably should have done). If you like, you can top with olive oil to mellow out the flavor.
- Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
Julia Newberry is General Manager of Rancho Gordo and is the co-author of The Rancho Gordo Vegetarian Kitchen (Rancho Gordo Press, 2017)