Preserved lemons are placed in jars salted and left to ferment for several weeks or even months. During the fermentation process, they are naturally preserved into a delicious condiment used in the North African and the cuisines of the Indian subcontinent, especially in Moroccan cuisine.
There are many traditional Moroccan dishes prepared with preserved lemons combined with olives, seafood, chicken, artichokes, veal, and rice. Nowadays, preserved lemons are also used in other cuisines all around the world.
They have an intense lemony, salty, sour flavor and they are used in many different dishes like sauces, stews, salads, soups, marinades, dressings, and dips.
Preserved lemons are a versatile ingredient you can use in many different dishes. However, in case you forget to buy them or have run out of preserved lemons, we have a few suggestions on mind on what you can use as a replacement.
Now, let’s learn about each substitute below!
Best Preserved Lemon Substitutes
Preserved lemons have a distinctive flavor and are used to enhance the flavor of many different dishes. They are easy to make but need more time until they are preserved and ready to use.
Therefore, you can use some of these substitutes instead of preserved lemons in your recipes. They will not give the same flavor as preserved lemons do, but they will improve the flavor of your food and make it taste even better.
Lemongrass is a herb with a lemony aroma and flavor. It is used as fresh, dried, frozen, or in powder form to give a light, floral, lemony flavor with hints of ginger to different types of dishes.
You can use lemongrass in soups, sauces, curries, stir-fries, seafood, vegetables, meat marinades, tea, and beverages. Don’t forget to take the stalks out when the dish is cooked because they are not edible.
You can use 1 stalk of lemongrass as a substitute for 1/2 preserved lemon.
2. Sauteed Fresh Lemon
If all you have are fresh lemons you can use them instead of preserved lemons. First, you have to slice them thinly and saute them with a little olive oil on low heat. Add some salt and a pinch of sugar and saute until the rind becomes very soft.
Let them cool and you can use the sauteed lemons as a substitute for preserved lemons in a 1:1 ratio. You will get a milder but lemony flavor that will boost the flavor of your dish.
3. Salt-Preserved Lemon Skins
Salt-preserved lemon skins can be also used as a quick substitute for preserved lemons. This substitute will give both salty and lemony flavor to your recipes.
Squeeze the lemons and chop them into pieces. Sprinkle them with salt, toss and leave them for about 1 hour or more if you have time. The longer they stay, the better flavor they will have. And their bitter flavor will reduce.
You will get a salty, lemony flavor, milder but similar to that of preserved lemons. Use salt-preserved lemon skins as a substitute for preserved lemons in a 1:1 ratio.
4. Tamarind Paste
Made of the fruit of the tamarind tree, this paste has a sour and citrusy flavor and makes a good substitute for preserved lemons. Especially when you need a sour flavor in your recipe. Tamarind paste is thick and works well in soups, sauces, marinades, dips, curries, desserts, and beverages.
You can use 1 teaspoon of tamarind paste as a substitute for 1 preserved lemon but have in mind that tamarin paste has a dark red-brown color which can affect the color of your dish.
5. Sea Salt Flakes And Lemon Juice
Lemon juice and sea salt flakes combined have a similar but stronger flavor to preserved lemons. Mix the lemon juice with some sea salt flakes and use it in your recipes to obtain a salty-sour flavor.
However, note that this mixture has a liquid texture different from the texture of the preserved lemons and can alter the texture of your dish if you use bigger quantities.
Add ½ teaspoon of the mixture, taste, and add more if necessary.
6. Lemon Paste
Lemon paste has a thick texture and lemon flavor, which makes it a perfect substitute for preserved lemons. It is made with only lemons and salt.
This versatile paste is used in salad dressings, marinades, sauces, desserts, and cocktails. You can buy or prepare lemon paste at home with fresh lemon and salt.
To make a lemon paste, cut the ends of the lemon and slice into thin rings. Add the lemon rings to a pot together with one tablespoon of salt and 4 tablespoons of lemon juice. Then, cover the pot and cook on low heat for 10-15 minutes until the rind becomes soft and translucent. Cool it and blend to get a paste texture.
Substitute 1/2 preserved lemon with 1 teaspoon of lemon paste. You can also store your lemon paste in an airtight container covered with a thin film of olive oil.
7. Lemon Zest
Lemon zest doesn’t have the same flavor as preserved lemons but will give a lemony, slightly bitter flavor to your recipes because it contains essential oils. It is not sour or salty as preserved lemons but lemon zest will make your dish taste better and add some freshness.
You can use the lemon zest as a substitute for preserved lemons in a 1:1 ratio.
8. Sea Salt Flakes And Lemon Zest
If you mix the lemon zest with sea salt flakes you will get a similar flavor to preserved lemons. That way your dishes will have a salty, slightly bitter lemony flavor.
You can use this combination as a substitute for preserved lemons in a 1:1 ratio
9. Homemade Preserved Lemons
Homemade preserved lemons are the best substitute for store-bought preserved lemons. The only bad thing is that you will need a few weeks before they are ready to use.
You will need 8 Meyer lemons,½ cup of kosher salt, lemon juice, and one bigger sterilized jar. First, add two tablespoons of salt to the jar and wash the lemons.
Cut the ends of the lemons, then cut them lengthwise into quarters but not all the way down. Sprinkle the lemons with salt and place them in the jar.
Press the lemons and add the remaining salt, and lemon juice to cover them. Close the jar with the lid and place it in a cold dark place, turn and shake it daily.
You can also press the lemons to make sure they are fully covered with lemon juice. After one week put the jar in the refrigerator, and after about 5 weeks your homemade preserved lemons are ready to use.
10. Quick Preserved Lemons
Quick preserved lemons don’t need weeks to be ready for use like preserved lemons. You can prepare and use them within a few hours.
They will have a similar flavor to preserved lemons so you can use them in a 1:1 ratio as their substitute.
Quick Preserved Lemons Recipe
You will need 2 lemons, 2 tablespoons of salt, and 1 cup of water. Wash and quarter the lemons, and add the salt and the water to a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and add the lemons.
Cook at low heat for 10-15 minutes until the liquid reduces to half and the lemon rind becomes soft and translucent. Cool and use to enhance the flavor of your dishes.
Preserved Lemons Shortcut
If you want to make preserved lemons faster you can do it in the microwave. Just cut the lemons lengthwise and put them in a microwave-safe dish.
Cover your lemons and microwave for 5 minutes on high or until they become soft and the juice starts to run out from them. Let them cool, chop and use in your recipe.
What Can I Use In Place Of Preserved Lemons?
In place of preserved lemons, you can use lemongrass, sauteed fresh lemon, salt-preserved lemon skins, tamarind paste, sea salt flakes and lemon juice, lemon paste, lemon zest, sea salt flakes, and lemon zest. Or you can make homemade preserved lemons and quick preserved lemons following the recipes provided in this article.
Can You Substitute Preserved Lemons For Lemon?
You can substitute preserved lemons for lemon if you don’t have any other ingredient with a similar flavor that you can use.
Note that they don’t have the same flavor and your dish will taste different. Preserved lemons have a less acidic, salty, mellow flavor, while lemons are more acidic, and have a stronger flavor.
Therefore, to get a similar flavor you can saute the lemons to get a similar flavor to preserved lemons and use them as their substitute.
What Is The Difference Between Preserved Lemons And Fresh Lemons?
The main difference between preserved lemons and fresh lemons is their flavor.
Fresh lemons have a light, fruity, and more acidic flavor than preserved lemons. While preserved lemons have a less acidic salty, mellow, umami flavor.
The rind of the preserved lemons is soft and edible, and the rind of the fresh lemons is bitter.
Can You Buy Preserved Lemons?
You can buy preserved lemons in bigger supermarkets, and South Asian and Middle Eastern grocery stores. They are packed in glass jars on the same aisle with preserved foods and pickles.
Preserved lemons have a very distinctive flavor and aroma which is difficult to replicate or find a substitute with the same flavor.
However, you can use some of our suggestions to get a similar flavor to preserved lemons and give a new flavor to your dishes.