Growing up in an Asian family, I’ve seen my fair share of Eastern home remedies. There was the hard-boiled egg that my mom would rub on my bruises to make them go away. There was cạo gió, a method of scraping the skin with menthol oil and a coin to relieve aches and pains. And then there was chanh muối, a drink that can be taken hot or cold for a variety of ailments from nausea to the common cold.
Chanh muối literally translates into “salt lemon.” It is a way of preserving lemons in salt for what seems like practically forever — I have heard of jars sitting on dusty shelves for decades! The preserved lemons and the home remedy drink go by the same name.
And even though the term “home remedy” probably conjures up an unpleasant brew that you ingest because you have to, chanh muối actually makes a very refreshing summertime drink — especially if you’re more of a salt rather than a sweets person, like I am.
Chanh Muối (Vietnamese Preserved Lemons)
Makes 1 quart
1/4 cup kosher salt, plus more to sprinkle
1 1/2 cups water
3 to 5 lemons (more or less, depending on how many will fit in your jar)
In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, dissolve the salt in water and then remove the brine from heat.
Wash and scrub your lemons thoroughly to remove any wax from store-bought lemons, or any dirt from homegrown lemons.
Slice off the top and bottom of the lemon so that a little flesh is showing.
Slice the lemon lengthwise into quarters, but do not slice all the way through.
Liberally salt the inside of your almost-quartered wedges and set aside while you slice and salt the other lemons.
Pack the lemons into your jar and cover them completely with brine.
If you’re using a widemouth jar, or if your lemons won’t stay submerged, you can wedge a couple of 3-inch toothpicks (the “party toothpicks” used to skewer burgers and such) inside the jar to form a single or crisscrossed grill.
Wipe any salt residue off the rim and seal the jar loosely with a lid, as you want to let the gases escape as your lemons ferment.
Leave the jar out at room temperature (in the sun, if you wish, though I’ve found no difference in quality) for at least three weeks. The lemons may turn darker and the brine may become cloudier during this time — that’s when you know they’re good and ready!
Always use a clean utensil to scoop the lemons out; other than that, the jar will keep at room temperature indefinitely and does not need to be refrigerated.
Now for the drink…
Chanh Muối (Vietnamese Salty Lemonade)
1 chanh muối wedge
Soda water, still water, or Sprite
My favorite way to drink this is mixed with soda water (pumped from my Sodastream), but you can also use still water for a more traditional lemonade or Sprite for an easy fizzy drink.
Separate and spoon a chanh muối wedge into a tall glass.
Muddle the lemon in your glass with a spoon to mash most of the juices out.
Add your choice of soda water, still water, or Sprite. If using soda or still water, stir in a few spoonfuls of sugar to taste. It should have a salty-sweet flavor that’s not too overpowering.
If you want to soothe your cold symptoms, simply steep a chanh muối wedge in a cup of hot water and stir in some honey. I swear this little home remedy works!