This will change your life

I will keep it simple today, but nevertheless, the message of this post will change your life. It did for me. At the very least, you will enjoy better meals, and that is a great place to start to make improvements!

Preserved lemons!

That’s it. Preserved lemons are the magical ingredient to make anything taste nice. Many foodie hipster muppets are pretty darn positive about adding preserved lemon to meals. The former director of my previous institute repeatedly referred to me as ‘that hipster, with the glasses and the beard and the bun’ (I guess I have a difficult name). I admit that I see how I could fit the stereotype, but fuck it. I’ll have it. In addition to this, I like food, meals and especially those of the non-Western kind, so how could I not be interested? Now, you will hardly find preserved lemons in any Western recipe (or supermarket for that matter), but then again, Western cooking rarely hits the top of the charts, eh?

The good news is that it is pretty easy to make preserved lemons yourself. I started exploring this new ingredient in December of last year. I had seen quite a few Middle Eastern and North African recipes that needed it as flavouring, usually added ‘to taste’. I had never seen preserved lemons in Dutch supermarkets (or maybe they are hidden on some obscure bottom shelf, I didn’t look that close). I decided to make my own. I just searched on the big old Google, and found heaps of recipes. Plenty of them looked rather uninspiring, until I bumped into this one, which combines lemons with all kinds of flavoury spicy goodness. Yes! That one is for me.

Full of energy and inspiration I bought a whole stash of organic and unsprayed lemons and got started. It probably took me 10 minutes to prepare a good jar full of them. The next step is to store them somewhere and wait.

You’ll need a whole bunch of organic unsprayed lemons. The organic part is not essential for success, but it turns out that all available unsprayed lemons here are organic, which is perhaps not so surprising.

The recipe said three weeks, so Robin patiently waited three weeks. But on day 22 I opened the jar and couldn’t wait to taste them and experience myself what half the foodie world was raving about.

I take a small piece of the skin (supposedly the best part)…

ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE. These things were absolutely unpalatable. The bitterness was through the roof. It was basically a sour-bitter mess. I felt immediately sorry for spending almost thirty euros on the nicest lemons. What a waste. I somehow never threw them out, so they spent another two months or so on the bottom-shelf of our fridge (I have a tendency to overlook bottom shelves).

A few months ago, we suddenly remembered the disgusting lemons. Perhaps we should finally throw them out. But I couldn’t. I can’t throw out food that easily. (I have pretty strong principles against wasting any food) I decided to give them another go. I would come up with something to pair them with, so we could maybe still use them in some dish. What happened next was a life changer for me. I’m not sure what happened between the first time I tried, and this second trial, but I consider it magic. It somehow changed into the best ingredient I know (and I have sampled quite a few across the globe). It’s a perfect balance of salty and sour, and the bitterness has become mild and adds a pleasant touch. It works well with pretty much anything that you would put salt on, but this just makes it feel like you are a michelin chef.

So if life gives you lemons, put them in a big jar with a bunch of spices, salt and lemon juice. Store dark and cold. Shake the jar every now and then to stir it all up. (Not sure what it does, but it makes you feel like a culinary hero)


Not just three weeks (this is just a lie!). Three months.

Be patient.


It eventually will look a bit like this. Oddly cloudy, but the amount of lemon juice and salt in this mix is so high that I don’t believe anything can live in there. Honestly, they only started tasting good after the jar’s content started to look somewhat questionable.

***I just had a spaghetti carbonara with white asparagus topped with preserved lemon, This obviously will not be available in three months from now, as the asparagus season is closing. I apologize for this, but you’ll have to wait and try this one next spring. No worries, these lemons last forever (if you don’t eat them sooner), and taste good with almost anything!***

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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