Preserved lemons are not that common in the United States and Europe, but they are a staple in North Africa, and especially in Moroccan cuisine.
Essentially, preserved lemons are less sharp in flavor than regular, fresh lemons, and they usually sit in their own pickling juice. They are not extremely easy to find, but that does not mean it is not possible to seek simple alternatives to use in your homemade recipes.
Sometimes, the perfect preserved lemon substitute can even be found already lying around in your cupboard!
Therefore make sure to refer to our comprehensive list of preserved lemons alternatives. You will know more about this delicious ingredient and learn how to use it to the fullest in the kitchen.
The best substitutes for preserved lemons
Preserved lemons can add depth and brightness to your recipe and they provide these traditional dishes with their signature, delicious taste.
In these recipes, it is better to use preserved lemons rather than fresh lemons, as they add a diverse kind of flavor. Fresh lemons are quite acidic, and they add that sharpness to the dish. Preserved lemons deliver a more intense and decisive flavor, thanks to their fermentation.
It takes a couple of weeks for the lemons to pickle as they are submerged in the pickling liquid. This specific trait allows them to have a long storage life as it is possible to keep them in your cupboard for up to a year.
And it is not just the preserved lemons that can be used in your recipes. Their pickling juice can also be added to your dishes if needed. It can be used up to three times throughout the lemons’ life.
As they are not incredibly easy to find in the States or European supermarkets, you might be wondering where you can gather this delicious ingredient.
Well, look no further. Here is the full list of ingredients you can implement in your recipe when it calls for preserved lemons. Some of these substitutes for preserved lemons are so spot on you will not even notice the difference. They taste just like the real deal.
There are various options, from easy-to-find alternatives to making your own preserved lemons at home, so you have no excuses!
1. Lemon zest
On the odd occasion, the most obvious option will turn out to be a great one. Lemon zest can work as a fantastic alternative to preserved lemons.
The flavor of lemon zest is a little milder than preserved lemon, as it has not had the chance to ferment in its pickling liquid.
Nevertheless, zest is a fantastic alternative when you do not have the chance to use preserved lemons.
Using lemon zest will allow you not to change the quantities in your recipes, as it can be used in an equal ratio. Or if you enjoy a more tangy taste, feel free to add a little more.
2. Lemon zest and sea salt flakes
If lemon zest alone does not do the job for your refined palate, here is another trick you can implement in your cooking.
It is extremely simple: just mix your lemon zest with sea salt flakes, and you will obtain a delicious mixture that will bring out all the flavor in your food.
It is probably one of the closest options you will get to the real deal. Also, it’s wonderful as a preserved lemon peel substitute for all your homemade recipes.
3. Salt preserved lemon skins
Salt preserved lemon skin is a quick fix you can make at home in a couple of hours. Its taste is quite close to the real preserved lemon, although its consistency is a little different.
This recipe is incredibly easy, but it works best if you will allow it to sit properly for a couple of hours (if you have time, even longer).
The first thing you have to do is take a lemon, or more, and squeeze out the lemon juice. Place it aside for another recipe (or for another fantastic preserved lemon alternative that follows right after this one).
Take the lemon skin and chop it finely. The finer you chop it, the quicker it will be ready for you to use. Combine your finely diced lemon skin with some fine salt and allow it to sit for two to three hours (but again, the longer the mixture sits, the better).
Once it is ready, it will be possible to employ it in your recipes. But keep in mind that although the taste will be incredibly similar to preserved lemons, it will be a little milder in flavor.
Also, the consistency and the texture of the mixture are not going to be the same. It will still give your dish an amazing tangy and flavorful taste though.
4. Lemon juice and sea salt flakes
Remember the lemon juice you obtained to make the salt-preserved lemon skins? Well, it is time to put it to good use to make another fantastic substitute for preserved lemons.
Take the lemon juice and mix it with sea salt flakes. This will give you a way stronger preserved lemon alternative than the lemon zest and sea salt flakes mixture mentioned above.
It does not need to sit, so it is an immediate alternative for your recipes. But as it is reasonably strong in its tanginess and sourness, be careful at the quantity you are going to use. Sometimes a little goes a long way.
Another thing to keep in mind is its texture. Of course, this substitute has a more liquid, runnier texture, very different from the solid one of preserved lemons.
As a result, use this preserved lemons substitute when you know the texture will not be a problem and will not substantially alter your recipe.
5. Lemon paste
Lemon paste is fantastic, and probably the closest, substitute for preserved lemon. It takes a little more effort than usual to make it at home, but it is totally worth it.
Take one or more lemons, according to the quantity needed, cleanse them carefully and cut thin rings. If you are employing several lemons, it is also possible to store the paste obtained for future use. It’s a one-time effort with long-time results!
After slicing the lemons into thin rings, add them to a pot and cover them with lemon juice. Add some salt to the pot and cover the whole thing as it cooks on low heat.
After about ten to fifteen minutes, the lemon peel should appear see-through. At this point, you take the mixture off the heat and blend it with an immersion blender.
If you do not have one, simply transfer the mixture to a regular blender or a food processor and blend it until it looks like a paste. Do not worry if there still are chunks in the mixture. Those will give your lemon paste extra flavor and texture.
If you would like to store the paste for the future, just pour it in a jar and cover it with some extra virgin olive oil and that is it!
6. Meyer lemon and sea salt flakes
Meyer lemons are a different variety of lemons, and they will work wonders to substitute preserved lemons.
The differences between an ordinary lemon and a Meyer lemon are relatively obvious, not only in the way they present themselves but also in the way they taste.
First of all, Meyer lemons have a deep, darker yellow color both on their skin and inside. Regular lemons are overall brighter and much larger than Meyer lemons.
Tastewise, Meyer lemons are sweeter and less acidic than regular lemons. This works as an advantage to produce a great preserved lemon substitute.
The process is easy, and it can go in two different directions: either you chop a Meyer lemon’s skin finely and mix it with sea salt flakes or squeeze out its lemon juice and mix it to the salt.
If you work with the first option, make sure you allow it to sit for a couple of hours, making sure it will bring out all its flavor.
If you decide to go with the second option, it is possible to use it right away but always keep an eye on consistency and taste. It might overpower the overall flavor of your recipe, and you do not want that!
Lemongrass is not always the most obvious preserved lemon substitute, but it is a fantastic alternative for your recipes.
All you need to use is one stalk of lemongrass and include it in your dish as it cooks. It will give it that delicious tanginess and sourness your recipe needs.
More often than not, one stalk of lemongrass is enough to substitute the quantity of preserved lemons your recipe calls for.
One thing to remember once you are done cooking is to always take out the stalk, as it is not easy to consume that way. Just let it add all its flavor and then take it out right before serving.
8. Homemade preserved lemon
When life gives you lemons, make your own preserved lemons! Making your own preserved lemons alternative can represent a fun and convenient way to experiment in the kitchen. It will save you some money as well.
Here’s how to make homemade preserved lemons in 5 easy steps:
- First of all, rinse your lemons properly.
- Peel them and chop off the skin. You do not want sizable chunks, but do not want them extremely small either.
- Sprinkle some kosher salt on top of the chopped lemon skin and press the salt into the lemon peel.
- Press well, maybe helping yourself with the back of a spoon or a fork.
- Stir well, making sure the lemon skin is evenly coated in the kosher salt, then let it sit overnight.
Believe in the process, as the longer it preserves, the better it will taste.
And there you have it, your own, homemade preserved lemon alternative.
To provide it with an even more delicious taste, it is best to use organic lemons.
How to choose a preserved lemon substitute
As you can see, there are plenty of alternatives to preserved lemons. All of them can add to your dish that unique and tangy flavor, so the substitute you select all depends on your needs and availability.
If you do not mind a runny or creamy consistency, go ahead using the lemon paste or lemon juice mixed with some sea salt flakes.
Otherwise, all the other alternatives will do the trick. Choose freely between lemon zest on its own, mixed with some sea salt flakes, salt-preserved lemon skins, or lemongrass.
You can use either regular lemons or Meyer lemons, depending on your personal preferences. Either way, you will get an incredible flavor in your recipes.
Last but not least, if you have time on your hands, you might want to opt to make your own preserved lemons. It is a fantastic alternative and you can also make extra to store it for future use.