when is a lemon a cartoon villain? when it's citron beldi!

citron beldi (Marakech lemons)
It's a given that I liked to potter around grocery shops, to find out what they've got, what's new or unfamiliar to me. It's my favourite type of shopping and browsing.

One of my favourite places to shop is EARTH Natural Foods in Kentish Town. It is full of large jars of herbs and spices, sacks of beans and big tubs of dried nuts and fruit. Yes, all of its food is vegetarian, and most of it organic and fairtrade, but this is not a shop that is purely for the sort of people who knit their own lentils. It is an absolute cornucopia of fresh organic fruit and vegetables, artisan bread and cheeses, and interesting oils, vinegars and condiments. It also sells fresh yeast and my favourite bread flour, (miller Nigel Moon's Whissendine Mill, in case you are interested).

The staff at Earth are also a bit of a treasure too; knowledgeable, helpful and quite unflappable. So it wasn't unusual for me to be chatting to one of the guys as I waited in a short queue to pay for my shopping, clutching a small brown paper bag of some knobbly looking oranges, or were they lemons. It was hard to tell.

What have you got there?” asked my server. I opened the bag containing these squashed-looking lumpy orange-yellow citrus fruits.

Well, I think they are Marrakech Lemons,” I said. “I bought some last year and didn't know what to do with them and I'm afraid they ended up as potpourri.

Oh those are definitely Marrakech Lemons,” said the school-marmish lady standing behind me, with an authoratative look that brooked no argument.

Yes,” I said, “but it says Citron Beldi on the box, not Marrakech Lemons.”

Oh no, those aren't lemons, they are definitely Bergamot Oranges,” came another bossy voice.

Hmmn" I thought, "I am pretty certain they're not,” but kept my thoughts to myself as the queue was getting longer and I was unwilling to get into an argument with a towering yummy mummy with a triple-decker pushchair, a sense of entitlement and Jimmy Choos. Her bobble-hatted child, little Ophelia, was beginning to twist up her face in a way that said “I am about to metamorphose into demon hell spawn and it will be all your fault.” (These days it is not Hoodies you have to worry about but posh kids in Hoxton Bonnets!)

I turned to the young man who was serving me. “I think these are the Citron Beldi. Which sounds like an evil villain in a Danger Mouse cartoon rather than a lemon”. He smiled weakly at me, and said “Well, we just call them posh lemons.”

So what do you use posh lemons for?” I asked.

Well anything you might use a posh lemon for.” And that was possibly the best advice I had had all day.

By the time I had returned home, I was a little confused as to what I had actually bought and what I could best use them for, posh or otherwise, and decided to do a little internet research. In a previous life, I was a researcher. I love learning new things, ferreting out and extrapolating information. The internet is both my saviour and my downfall. You never know where you are going, even if you know where you want to be and the problem with the internet that there is a lot of information out there is a just plain wrong, passing itself off as something true. The difficulty is in weeding out the chaff from what is actually correct. Sometimes you just have to have a sixth sense about these things.

Which brings me back to Marrakech Lemons, Bergamot Oranges and Citron Beldi.

It appears that I am not alone with a sense of confusion about these citrus fruits. The Paris-based food writer, David Lebovitz, has probably written the most informative, (sensible and plausible) piece about this on the internet and has cleared up for me a lot of the confused miasma. Paula Wolfert also clears things up in her glorious book The Food of Morocco.

Essentially there are two popular lemons used in Moroccan cooking, the doqq (Citrus limonum Risso var. pusilla R) and the boussera (Citrus limetta Risso, also known as Limonette de Marrakesh).

They are both thin-skinned and the doqq is considered superior and are preserved in salted lemon juice and used in meat or vegetable tagines and salads. They are the ones that I see in my local Middle Eastern deli. I always thought that the reason that they had a squashed appearance was because of the pickling and preservation process. But no, that's what they look like - small and flattened, like yellow-orange turbans.

Sometimes they are mistaken for Bergamot Oranges, which they are not - these are sour and bitter; often used in marmalades, in Earl Grey Tea or in perfumery and cosmetics.

Which leads me back to Citron Beldi - definitely lemons from Morocco and not the devious cartoon villain I was imagining. For some reason I had thought that the notorious Citron Beldi would make a good dark lord, like the evil Lord Darkness in the comic radio programme ElvenQuest. I'd love to play his sidekick, although having recently had it confirmed that I have a great face for radio, perhaps I could purr my way through the role of Rachella, the evil Kitchen Sorceress - because as a small child once said to me, "Why would you want to be the fairy princess when you could be the wicked witch?" Wise words indeed.

So this Wicked Witch got to work on preserving her Citron Beldi, although any lemon will do. The Citron Beldi have slightly thinner skins and somehow it is all the sweeter knowing that these funny shaped fruit will be put to good use in all manner of tagines, stews and salads.

moroccan preserved lemons

Skill level: Easy

5 citron beldi (or any lemon)
5 tbsp sea salt
juice of at least 5 more lemons


  1. Make sure the fruit have been give a good wash and scrub up (particularly if you are using waxed lemons) . Make 2 incisions in each lemon, as if you are quartering them. Don't cut all the way through, so that the stem end is still holding the fruit together. (They look a bit like tulips!)
  2. Stuff each lemon with a tablespoon of salt. Squeeze the lemon closed.
  3. Push all the lemons into a suitably sized, sterilised jar. (They should be tightly packed).
  4. Leave for a few days. The lemons will start to soften and release some of their juice.
  5. Give the lemons a good prod, squashing them further. Add the juice of 5 more lemons, if not more, so that the lemons are covered in juice. Set aside in a cool place for one month. After a month, the lemons will be ready to use.
  6. Preserved lemons are typically used in tagines and stews, as well as in salads - scrape out the pulp and rinse to remove the excess salt.
  7. I do use some of the preserving liquid in salad dressings - shame to waste it!
  8. If the lemons aren't covered in juice, then I find a bubbly white mould forms. This is harmless and can be washed off before using the lemons.


o cozinheiro este algarve said...

You´ve sent me to bed laughing!!!
"Triple decker pushchairs,bobble hatted ophelias,demon hell spawn and Hoxton bonnets".It brings back Saturday shopping memories involving Hoxton moved north to Stokey after spawning children named Coco and Raphael.Would these be good for preserving in salt.The fruit not the children.

Kavey said...

Recently I've been buying sweet lemons from my Turkish shop, they're from Iran, I believe and they have all the flavour of a lemon but none of the sourness! I love them and have been eating them like oranges!

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Algarve - the next generation of Hoxton wannabes can't afford Hoxton, Shoreditch or Stokey for that matter and have all moved to Dalston. Not much spawning yet, though to judge by the tightness of the young trendies trousers, it might be some time!

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Kavey - I'm wondering if your Iranian lemons might be the same thing. Thin skins and not too sour? Have only cooked with mine, going to give it a go . . . fingers crossed!