Get the idea: The always useful, versatile lemon
Lemons are an essential ingredient in our house and we are lucky to have four lemon trees that are bursting into production. (We will preserve many of them in the Moroccan fashion, as wehave become addicted to this traditional condiment.) Every landlord and homeowner would leave a useful legacy if they planted citrus on their land.
Thai culinary wisdom says everyone leans more towards one of the four food flavours, sweet, salty, sour and hot. I definitely lean towards sour, as I like all manner of sour flavours — which is probably why I can’t imagine a kitchen without lemons. Lemons and vinegar are the major souring agents in Western cookery. There are many ingredients used in other cuisines that give a pleasant sour flavour to dishes. These include sumac powder — the ground dried berries of the Rhus coriaria bush used in Middle Eastern cookery — pomegranate molasses, tamarind pulp and ground dried green mangoes, which are used in Asia. However, the enduring appeal of lemons may not simply be cultural, it may have something to do with the physical effect they have.
In the gastronomic classic from the 80s, Much Depends on Dinner, Margaret Visser writes, “The acid juice of a lemon arouses our taste-buds, sensitises them, and causes our mouths to salivate on the instant. Indeed, once we have known the taste of a lemon we never forget it and are liable to salivate at the very sight of anybody sucking one. It is said a small boy with the aid of a lemon can reduce a brass band to helpless mouthbig watering incompetence in a matter of minutes.”
In the following I have tried to show that lemons result not in any kind of incompetence but in delightfully sour-flavoured dishes.
The Greeks make a great creamy, tart-tasting sauce that can also do duty as a soup. 5 egg yolks are beaten with 5 tablespoons of lemon juice. This is the flavouring and thickening mixture. Bring 500ml of hot chicken stock to the boil, remove from the heat and add a little to the egg yolk mixture, beating continuously. Add the remainder of the hot stock. Place back on a low heat and stir until slightly thickened — do not boil or the egg yolks will scramble. Taste, season and serve on chicken, fish or pork meatballs that have been poached in the stock.
Marinate 2cm chunks of skinned, boned firm white fish in plenty of lemon juice until opaque and white all over. Toss with a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, sliced avocado, blanched sweet corn kernels, finely chopped red onion, thinly sliced celery and a well-seasoned dressing of tomato juice, a little vodka (optional), sliced red chillies, a splash of Worcestershire sauce and chopped coriander.
There is nothing as delicious as a free-range chicken roasted with a whole sliced lemon, a big sprig of fresh thyme and plenty of squashed garlic inside it and a mouthbig drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve with a gravy made with the pan juices, dry white wine, lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon. Rice and salad to go with it.
Buy a gooey lemon loaf or make a lemon pound cake. Place in a shallow dish. Make a lemon and gin syrup by boiling lemon juice and zest with plenty of coconut sugar and a little water. Cool to warm, then add a good splash of gin. Pour over the loaf. Once the syrup has soaked in, sprinkle with toasted coconut. Serve as a dessert with real vanilla ice cream and coconut cream.
Make a tagine: Slow fry chopped onion, carrots, garlic, plenty of diced preserved lemon peel, toasted cumin seeds, a little ground ginger and chilli flakes. Add browned free range chicken thighs, peeled 4cm chunked agria potatoes, mix well and cover with chicken stock. Bring to the boil and simmer 40 minutes or until the potatoes are tender and the mixture thickened. Taste, season, add a little lemon juice to sharpen the sauce and serve with whole wheat couscous and crunchy salad.
Make meatballs with minced lamb, a little ground cinnamon, lemon zest, chopped coriander, a beaten egg and finely chopped garlic. Barbecue or pan-fry and serve wrapped in warm thin Lebanese bread with a dollop of plain additive-free yoghurt and hot boiled green beans that have been tossed in extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and chopped garlic.
Put sliced rhubarb pieces side by side in a small ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with plenty of sugar, lemon zest and rosé wine to almost cover. Place in a 200C oven for about 10 minutes until the rhubarb is tender, but not collapsing. Remove and chill, without breaking up. Pour 300ml of cream into a bowl and add the juice of 1 large lemon. Set aside without stirring for 20 minutes then slowly stir. The cream will have been acidulated and thickened. Place savoiardi (sponge finger) biscuits in the bottom of a shallow dish. Cover with the rhubarb and its pink syrup and let it soak into the biscuits. Pour the acidulated cream over everything. Sprinkle crushed freeze-dried raspberries, plums or cherries on top and serve.
Put the juice and finely grated zest of about 4 lemons into a bowl with 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and plenty of finely grated parmesan. Mix well. Pour this over hot, al dente boiled spaghetti. Top with plenty of diced crisp fried bacon or pancetta and ripped basil leaves.
Put chopped anchovy fillets, chopped hard boiled eggs, some very finely chopped tarragon leaves, chopped parsley and chives, ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil and the juice of a couple of lemons in a bowl. Mix, taste and season. Serve over panfried or barbecued steak cooked the way you like it.
Boil plenty of sliced silverbeet leaves for 5 minutes or until well wilted. Cool under cold water, squeeze dry and slice again. Reserve. Heat a little extra virgin olive oil in a large frying pan and add a large finely chopped onion, chopped garlic and chilli flakes. Fry gently without browning until the onion is soft. Add the silverbeet and stirfry for a few minutes. Add the juice of a large lemon, taste, season and serve tossed through potato gnocchi with plenty of parmesan for sprinkling.