Preserved lemon tapenade on a cracker and in a bowl

Preserved lemon tapenade

Gavin Wren Recipes, Side dishes, Spreads & Dips

In my fantasy dream kitchen, the cupboards and fridge would be stocked at random by a stranger who chooses regularly changing ingredients, on top of the usual store cupboard staples. This kitchen would also be large, slick and cleaned nightly by a team who sneak in and shine it to perfection whilst I’m asleep, like little kitchen elves. Oddly, that makes my ideal kitchen sound a little bit like the set for ‘Ready, steady, cook’.

The reason for this idea (the random ingredients, not the elves) is that great things can happen when you are forced to use unfamiliar ingredients. If I had to walk into a strangers’ kitchen and rustle up a good meal, there’s no doubt I’d end up using ingredients that I wouldn’t normally buy and get creative with what’s available. It’s an enjoyable, enthusing and liberating experience, because whatever gets created often feels triumphant and the process can teach you something about ingredients and flavours. It’s all good and well to plan meals carefully as it’s efficient and leads to less wastage and lower spending, however the prescriptive nature of planning meals, writing shopping lists and buying the exact ingredients confines one to such a narrow path that you don’t get a chance to cast your eyes around and just make things up.

Preserved lemon tapenade being made on a  chopping board

Ever since I completed a jar of ‘fresh’ preserved lemons for your delectation a few weeks ago, they’ve been staring me between the eyes every time I open the fridge, daring me to use them. They aren’t an ingredient that I regularly use, so I started to develop ideas. This was around the time of my tapenade-y adventures a few weeks ago and a preserved lemon tapenade-shaped seed was sown. From there, it all fell into place beautifully, being a simple recipe that just works from the off.

Preserved lemon tapenade on a cracker and in a bowl

The flavours are strong and powerful, arresting your attention the moment this tapenade passes your lips, truly transforming whatever you decide to slather it upon. Whilst on the subject of slathering, if you need some ideas of how to transport this tapenade between the plate and your mouth, it would go fabulously with white fish or chicken as part of a main dish, as well as the tapenade serving suggestions in my sun dried tomato tapenade post. For example, I ended up using some in a goat’s cheese baguette with a few leaves which worked fantastically.

It’s a great little addition to those lazy weekend continental style lunches or if you want to make a simple dinner sparkle. You can throw it together in little time, as you just need to chop and mix the ingredients, then set aside until you want to eat it. Also, look out for the soft stemmed thyme (see info below) if you want to make it even easier.

And if any strangers want to choose my shopping for me, please get in touch!

Take your thyme
Traditionally, thyme is a PITA to prepare, being so fiddly to strip those tender little leaves from the twig like stems. Recently, (well in the last few years) I’ve noticed a change in the thyme available in the shops, shifting from the firm, woody stem, to fine and soft stems.

This type of thyme proved even MORE difficult to strip as the delicate stems snap and bend, making it more difficult to part leaf from stem. In a fit of petulance, I realised that this soft stemmed (or is it just young?) thyme is soft enough for the stem to be chopped and eaten with the leaves.

So, if you’re thyme has a light coloured, soft, flexible stem, then just chop it up with the leaves for this recipe. Start chopping from the softest top part of the stem downwards and if you feel you need to put more than just a light amount of pressure on the knife, then perhaps it’s time to move on to another stem, or strip the leaves from the remaining lower section.

If anyone out there knows what the difference is between these two types of thyme, then please let me know!

Preserved lemon tapenade on a cracker and in a bowl

Preserved lemon tapenade


Serves 2-4 as a topping

Uses 1 bowl

PDF recipe card to download or print


70g preserved lemon, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
30g pitted black olives, finely chopped
2 anchovy fillets, chopped
1 tbsp finely chopped thyme


Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.


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