Episode 98 For the Love of Lemons
Years ago, I read and interview and the reporter asked the person what was one thing they always had in their refrigerator. This question has stuck with me and if I was ever asked, my answer would be lemons. I always have lemons in my refrigerator. Every night before I go to bed, I squeeze ½ of a lemon in a mason jar and fill it with water. I drink some of the lemon water at bedtime and the rest in the morning. I have been known to bring a lemon with me on airplanes to ensure I don’t have to go a day without my lemon water.
Lemons are so versatile. They can make the most basic foods taste extraordinary. They are not unlike salt. Kendra Adachi says salt makes things taste more like themselves and a little lemon juice used correctly can do the same thing. Acid is one of the most under utilized elements in American cooking. A little squeeze of lemon juice can transform a dish. If you haven’t read Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat I highly recommend getting a copy. You will learn so much about the chemistry of food and it will make you a better cook.
There are three basic parts of the lemon and they all can be useful in cooking. The zest is the very outer part of the lemon. It contains oils of the lemon and is packed with flavor. The best tool for zesting a lemon is a micro plane grater. This is a workhorse in my kitchen and I use it several times a week. If you don’t have a micro plane you can use the smallest holes on a box grater or peel off the zest with a vegetable peeler and chop finely with a chef’s knife.
The white part of the peel under the zest is called the pith. It is bitter and sometimes that is what you need for a dish. The two best examples of needing the pith are piccata and marmalade. Both of these foods need the balance that the bitter pith brings.
The final part of the lemon is the inside flesh that is juiced. Fresh lemon juice can elevate most foods. It is one of the most acidic ingredients in the kitchen. I like to use a hand-held lemon juicer. I have a reamer and use it on occasion, but you have to strain out the seeds when using a reamer. In a pinch, I have even used a fork to twist inside half of a lemon and extract as much juice as possible.
Lemons can transform savory foods like my Frozen Vegetables, or Lemon Ramen Chicken. Please try squeezing a wedge of lemon over your next bowl of chicken noodle soup. I promise you will be pleasantly surprised. But the place lemons really shine are in sweet foods. Lemon Curd, Lemon Scones, and Lemon Blueberry Baked Oatmeal are three of my favorites. A little lemon juice will brighten any fruit. You will not taste the lemon, but it will make the fruit taste more like itself. I put lemon juice in my fruit salad, apple pie, and cherry pie. You won’t taste it, but you will miss it if you leave out the lemon juice. The bright acid is key to enhancing flavor.
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Marie Fiebach is a married mother of four active kids. She helps busy families plan and execute weeknight dinner so they can recapture a little calm in the crazy. You can see her every week on KAKE TV’s Good Morning Kakeland or listen to the Feed Your Family Tonight Podcast.