Moroccan Preserved Lemons: deliciously exotic and ridiculously easy probiotics for a healthy gut!

When life gives you lemons, make Moroccan preserved lemons!

Every culture in the world has a tradition of fermented foods and beverages—not only as a practical method of storing foods for the winter, but because our ancestors have always known their importance in keeping our intestinal flora healthy. I take a daily probiotic prescribed by my Functional Medicine doctor, but the cornerstone of my diet is to eat as much nutrient rich food as possible and supplement smartly. Given that even small amounts of fermented foods can have up to 100x the probiotic power of supplements, I try to ensure that my family and I are consuming enough of these important foods. Since about 70% of our immune system is housed in our gut, we need to keep our army of good bacteria in great supply in order to combat the bad bacteria that challenge our health. I know this all too well because when my doctor helped me restore my leaky gut and intestinal flora a few years ago, he cured me of 20+ years of severe chronic perennial allergies for which I actually needed steroid meds to control during hay fever season. I thought it was a miracle, but it was just gut health!

Another fantastic thing about probiotic-rich fermented foods is that not only can these foods enhance the taste of our other recipes, but the fermentation process is known to enhance many different vitamins and minerals to produce an overall more nutrient-dense food. Some cultures, such as my own Korean heritage, rely on an extensive array of preserved foods—from miso to gochujang (spicy chili paste) to makgeolli (fermented alcohol) and of course, kimchi—Korea's national food. I’ve actually never been a lover of kimchi (I know, I’ve been close to being excommunicated by the Korean community), but there is a milder cucumber kimchi I actually like...and that is fermenting as I write this post (it's the subject of another post when my mother’s kimchi is ready).

Here are other famous fermented foods from around the globe: sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt, crème fraîche, buttermilk, miso, tempeh, natto, dosa, fish sauce, vinegar, alcohol, and kombucha just to name a few. Including some of these in our diet means we’re regularly replenishing our gut with good bacteria. And like so many things—home made is best because factory made versions are often pasteurized, thus killing the precious bacteria we actually want. Homemade also means we can control the quality of the salt and sugars we use.

Preserved lemons are not limited to Moroccan cuisine, but I first tasted them when I traveled throughout that rich and colorful country many years ago—a thoroughly breathtaking trip from Tangier to Fez to Erfoud and Merzouga in the Sahara, then through the Atlas Mountains and finally ending in Marrakech. The wonderful people and landscapes aside, I suppose much of my intoxicating experience had to do with their amazing food!

Preserving lemons is such a beautiful project to do even with kids—especially on a sunny day in the garden. And it’s "easy peasy lemon squeezy." Here's the step-by-step:

  1. Preferably start with unwaxed organic lemons as you will be consuming the whole fruit. I used Mallorcan lemons fresh off the tree, but any variety will do.

  2. Scrub lemons with a vegetable brush and dry them.

  3. With a sharp knife, remove the little piece of stem if it’s attached.

  4. Holding the lemon vertically, cut the lemon as if into quarters—making a X—except keep the bottom 2 cm or so intact.

  5. Liberally pack coarse unrefined sea salt into the lemon’s incisions—using about 1 tablespoon per lemon.

  6. Place the salt-packed lemons in a clean glass jar with an airtight lid. I don’t use anything special—just these jars from good ol' Ikea.

  7. I tossed in a couple of bay leaves, but feel free to add other spices such as cinnamon or even dried chili.

  8. Press the lemons very firmly into the jar to get the juices flowing. Cover and let stand overnight. Repeat this process every day for the next few days until the lemons are completely immersed in their own juices.

  9. Store the jarred lemons on your kitchen counter (they will brighten up the room!).

  10. Your preserved lemons will be soft, mellowed, and ready to consume in about one month. I then store mine in the refrigerator. Preserved lemons will keep for at least 6 months. (Always take care to use clean utensils when taking them out of the jar.)

I cut the peels into thin slices and add them to vegetable dishes, couscous, and salads, but they’re excellent with grilled fish or poultry—oh yes, and even add some to fresh lemonade! Make some now so you're ready for your next grilling party!

To your health and happiness! xx, Juli