RECIPES: Moroccan Style Salt Preserved Lemons, Rapini with Olives, Lemons and Garlic, Roasted Broccoli with Lemon Garlic Butter and Toasted Nuts, Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Lemon Curd and Raspberries, Basic Lemonade, Lemon Ice Sorbet
While no one goes to the store to buy a lemon to snack on, it is hard for me to imagine a kitchen without lemons, Except for lemonade, lemons hardly ever get the starring role, but they are definitely the supporting stars that make food taste so much better. How often has someone said, “Hmmm, this dish needs a little something…” and then squeezed in a little lemon juice and then exclaimed, “Perfect!”? Lemons are used to balance flavors, add contrast to various elements, brighten flavors, or to simply add flavor to mild or bland dishes. Lemons can even mask elements that some find unpalatable (think: kids and broccoli!).
Lemons can even be used as a sort of salt substitute – the tart juice provides a little jolt to the palate, much like salt. A squeeze of juice here, and touch of zest there, lemon does an awful lot in the kitchen. Besides
the work done with flavors, lemon also performs “mechanical” miracles in the kitchen, such as tenderizing meat. The acidity of lemon juice prevents veggies like burdock and artichokes from turning brown once cut. Rubbing veggies and fruits with lemon juice or immersing in acidulated water will prevent oxidation. And, lemons can be used as part of the décor. A bowl filled with sunny yellow lemons makes a beautiful display on a kitchen counter or dining table and their fragrance is lovely, especially if you have Meyer lemons.
LOCAL LEMON VARIETIES
The three varieties you see most at our farmers market are Meyer, Eureka and Lisbon lemons. For the most part, no distinction seems to be made between the Eureka and Lisbon (which are considered "true" or common lemons) but there are a few ways to tell them apart.
Lisbons are one of the most widely grown lemons in California. They are oblong in shape with a fairly pronounced nipple and have a slightly smoother textured skin than Eurekas. They contain almost no seeds and are the juicier of the two more common lemons.
Eurekas have some seeds and are more uniformly oval in shape than Lisbons. They have a less prominent nipple and a slight neck, and the skin is thicker with more prominent pores.
Meyer lemons are yellow-orange and rounder than a true lemon with a slight orange tint when ripe and a thinner, smoother skin than common lemons due to its mandarin or common orange heritage. Meyers tend to be quite seedy and are the juiciest of the lot. They also have a more floral aroma and a sweeter, less acidic juice than true lemons.
Ponderosa lemons, a cross between a true lemon and a citron, are much larger than Eurekas and Lisbons with a thicker, bumpier skin. These lemons are great for making things that use rind such as marmalade.
Pink Variegated lemons are lovely medium-small Eureka shaped lemons that starts out yellow with green striping, with the striping fading into yellow as the lemon ripens. The flesh is pink and the juice is orangey pink and nicely tart.
HOW TO SELECT
When choosing lemons, look for bright color and a shine to them. The skin should never be wrinkly, and avoid those with soft or hard spots on them. If a lemon shows green, it is immature and will be more acidic and less juicy. Look for lemons that seem heavy for their size as these will be the juiciest. Very light feeling lemons will be pithy and bitter.
Also, take the time to apply your nose to the hunt. Give the lemons a sniff, then rub the skin a little with your thumb. Sniff again. Sometimes a lemon just won’t have much smell, and I usually find these to be insipid tasting compared to those that are fragrant.
HOW TO STORE
You can store lemons in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. If you have a surfeit of lemons you can zest and juice them and store these in the freezer.