By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Greens & Beans: When life gives you a jar of preserved lemons (or limes)

A few years ago, going overboard in my usual absurd fashion, I made preserved lemons. And limes. Several jars of them.

Some of the jars are still in the refrigerator, because I have not particularly excelled at using them up. The lemons have gone now — I find myself contemplating making another batch — but I’ve been less successful at using the limes.

Used in Moroccan, North African and Indian cooking, preserved lemons or limes are quartered and pickled in salt and their own acidic juice and sometimes spices. The result is extremely soft and salty lemons (or limes) in a thick, acidic, very salty brine. You rinse them off, mince them and use them in all sorts of clever and imaginative ways.

Assuming you’re clever and imaginative, that is.

Otherwise, they sit in the refrigerator for a few years.

They’re quite nice in either green or potato salad — if no one in the house objects to the “weird” new flavor in your salads.

You can add them to homemade mayonnaise, to stir-fries, to rice, to … to … OK, fine, I don’t know what else. That’s why those jars are still languishing. That, and the fact that we seldom eat stir-fries or rice. And on the occasions when I’m dining alone, it has generally seemed like too much trouble to go delving to the back of the fridge in search of preserved citrus.

I was heartened to read, recently, that others have had many of these same issues.

It also helped to recall that it can take some time to incorporate new cooking habits. I grew fresh herbs for at least a couple of years before I actually became bold enough to use them. Now, I use them fresh in season and preserve my own for winter, and wonder whatever seemed so difficult about the whole business. But it didn’t seem easy and obvious at first; it felt intimidating to someone accustomed to following recipes calling for precise amounts of dried herbs.

So I have hopes for the preserved citrus, and those were furthered this week when I ran across a blog post suggesting pureeing it, and then using some of the puree to make a lemony salad dressing. Now I can’t wait to try it with the limes. Even if I have no earthly idea what to do with the rest of the puree. If it were lemon, I might stir it into mayonnaise, add a teaspoon to egg salad, or spoon a small dollop into a pot of rice or beans or soup. It might be delicious in risotto or on roasted potatoes. I’m not sure what will happen with the lime version, although all the reading I’ve been doing on the subject is making me want to experiment.

But fortunately, I do now have some additional ideas for preserved lemons, thanks to yet another blog, which had some truly spectacular suggestions: Putting them in Caesar salad, in a fettuccine sauce, with roasted garlic, in hummus, in gremolata.

The lemons seem to lend themselves to more uses than the limes, unfortunately. Note to self: Don’t preserve any more limes for a while. The ever-helpful blog world, however, says I am wrong, and that limes go well in many of the same places lemons do. It has so far come up with a few suggestions: combining them with avocados, straight or in guacamole; putting them into a drink with seltzer water and optional sugar (also optional alcohol); and otherwise using in much the same way as lemons.

Or just eating them, a la the schoolgirls in Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” although those, apparently, were pickled whole. It also has noted that ginger and/or coriander would pair perfectly with rich lime flavor, and that cardamom might be lovely, too.

Some people favor the sweeter Meyer lemons for preserving, along with a variety of flavors, ranging from pepper to cinnamon, which can make a considerable difference in the final flavor. You can even preserve oranges or tangerines this way, if you think you’re likely to use a lot of salty, savory orange, though you may wish to add some lemon juice, as orange juice is less acidic. It might make some lovely, bright sauces and vinaigrettes.

Orange sauce over baked or stuffed squash is an idea the Moosewood Restaurant has explored; you can try your own delicious variations. See how it goes with lentil soup, try it with sweet potatoes and cranberries, or with Indian samosas.

Or you can explore the intriguing world of Moroccan cooking, a possibility I have not yet tried.

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