Working With What You Have: Preserved Lemons

DISHES: Zucchini-Fennel Slaw; Tuna Burgers with Lemon Paprika Aioli
TYPE: Casual Weeknight Dinner
MAIN INGREDIENT: Preserved Lemons

Over the course of the past year, three of my close friends have been to and from Morocco. For me, this has meant lots of gifts, in the form of lots and lots of spices. I transferred most of them from their various plastic baggies, jars, and sacks into empty canisters on my spice rack. And now that time has passed and the Berber blends have doubled, I have no idea what any of them are.

When Cara returned from Morocco last month, I knew she wouldn’t come empty handed. I was even more thrilled, however, to see that in her hot little hand was not a bundle of spices, but a jar of preserved lemons. I’ve been told you can make these from scratch, but when my mother and I have tried our hand at various tagines–mainly this fish version–she’s always ordered them from here.

I was very excited to have the real thing at my disposal. Preserved lemons have this incredible flavor that almost tastes like perfume. In fact, when I worked in fragrances, I often thought how someone should attempt to recreate the taste of preserved lemons as a scent. As you can imagine, this quality means a little goes a long way. But that didn’t stop me from adding the rind, and a hint of that perfume-y quality, to every aspect of this meal.

I made this dinner for Caitlyn, who, since she is no longer my roommate for the summer, I don’t get to see as much as I would like to. She came uptown, and I hoped she didn’t mind that I went a little crazy with the preserved lemons. The slaw I made was reminiscent of some of the cold vegetable salads that usually start a meal in Morocco–less due to the fennel, and more the heaps of cilantro, lemon juice (regular), and lemon rind (preserved) I used to flavor it.

But perhaps my best success with Cara’s gift was the lemon-paprika aioli I used to top these tuna burgers. I’ve since used it to jazz up a turkey sandwich and as a condiment for fries, which has kept the preserved lemon love flowing for quite some time.

From my kitchen, where a little lemon goes a long way, to yours,



Zucchini-Fennel Slaw with Preserved Lemons and Cilantro
Makes about 3-4 cups

1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 medium zucchini, coarsely grated
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced preserved lemon peel
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine all the ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and toss to combine. Serve alongside the burgers, or use it to top them.

Tuna Burgers with Lemon Paprika Aioli
Makes 2 burgers

1/2 pound yellowfin tuna, finely chopped
1 tablespoon hot Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 whole wheat burger buns, toasted
1/4 cup lemon paprika aioli (recipe follows)
1 handful arugula

Combine the tuna, mustard, shallot, garlic, lemon juice, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Fold together with your hands until well combined. Form the mixture into two large patties. Set aside on a plate and chill, covered, in the fridge until ready to use.

Coat a large skillet with olive oil and set it over high heat. When very hot, add the burgers. Cook on the first side until very brown–the sides will begin to become opaque–about 3-4 minutes. Flip the burgers and cook for another 2 minutes, until the other side is beginning to become opaque, but the burger is still raw in the center.

Slather both sides of the buns with aioli, top them with a burger and a handful of arugula. Serve immediately.

Lemon Paprika Aioli
Makes about 1/2 cup

1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 tsp minced preserved lemon peel or lemon zest
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
dash cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small food processor, or whisk together by hand. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

  • justcooknyc

    i’d definitely enjoy one of those burgers

  • Frankie

    I’d love to do a classic fish-and-chips with this aioli instead of tartar sauce, and this slaw on the side instead of cole slaw.

    • BGSK

      Great idea! It’s a fab condiment. And I would definitely love to dunk some fries in the stuff.

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