Pucker Up And Kiss A Lemon

Posted: April 08, 1987

Of all the flavor enhancers available to cooks, lemon is one of the most versatile.

Its tart, clean flavor blends well with herbs to make salt almost unnecessary. Lemon is essential to fish, iced tea, some alcoholic drinks, asparagus and artichokes.

Its ascorbic acid prevents browning in foods like bananas, apples and avocados.

In addition to cooking, lemons are indispensable for other household chores - cleaning copper and discolored aluminum pots, adding sparkle to glassware, removing fish and onion odors from fingers and removing rust, fruit and ink stains from bleachable fabrics. A cut lemon in the refrigerator helps keep it fresh smelling.

Lemons were first grown in the foothills of the Himalayas and it is believed Columbus brought lemon seeds from the Canary Islands to the New World on his second voyage. But the Spanish are given credit for cultivating lemons in the New World, first on Haiti, and eventually in all the countries with warm growing seasons.

California produces most of the lemons in this country.

In buying lemons, choose those that seem heavy for their size because they will produce more juice. An average lemon yields two to three tablespoons of juice and about three teaspoons of grated lemon peel. Zapping a lemon in a microwave oven for 10 to 15 seconds will release more juice, as will rolling the lemon between the palms of the hand before cutting.

When recipes call for lemon peel, grate only the flavorful yellow part of the skin, not the bitter white. In many recipes, the yellow of the peel is also called the zest.

Besides using the lemon for juice or peel, you can also scrape out the pulp and use the shells to hold other foods - especially mint jelly to go with lamb and lemon sorbets.

Other ideas:

* Lemon can be substituted for vinegar in salad dressings.

* Freeze strips of lemon peel in ice cube trays and use them in iced tea or alcoholic drinks. Lemon juice can also be frozen in ice cube trays and kept for up to a year. The grated peel can be frozen in plastic bags. Freezing a whole lemon is not recommended.

* Lemons will keep in the refrigerator up to six weeks and at room temperature for a week to 10 days.

* To make your own buttermilk, add enough milk to a tablespoon of lemon juice to make one cup.

* Add freshly squeezed lemon juice to frozen lemonade for a fresher taste.

Serve hot lemonade in the winter and cold lemonade in the summer.

* Add a slice of lemon to the cookie jar to keep cookies soft.

* Lemon is a wonderful garnish. A ring of peel can be used to "bundle" vegetables such as asparagus. Dip the cut edge of a wedge in parsley or paprika for extra color.

It won't be long before barbecue grills come out from winter storage. A meal to start the outdoor cooking season might feature a boneless leg of lamb, butterflied.

LEMON GREEK SALAD

1/3 cup salad or olive oil

Grated peel and juice of 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1/4 teaspoon garlic salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 can (6 ounces) pitted ripe olives, drained

1 medium cucumber, scored and sliced

1 medium sweet green pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces

12 cherry tomatoes, cut in half

4 ounces feta cheese, cubed or crumbled

1 small head iceberg lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces

In a bowl, combine the oil, lemon peel and juice, oregano, garlic salt and pepper. Add the olives, cucumber, green pepper, tomatoes, and cheese; mix well. Cover and chill. To serve, arrange the lettuce in a salad bowl; top with marinated vegetable mixtures. Toss gently, if desired.

HINT OF LEMON BREAD PUDDING

4 cups day-old bread cubes (about 6 slices)

3 eggs, slightly beaten

3 cups milk

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup raisins

2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

Grated peel of 1 lemon

1/4 teaspoon salt

Ground nutmeg

In a large shallow baking pan, arrange the bread cubes in a single layer; bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes to lightly dry the bread. Meanwhile, combine all the remaining ingredients except the nutmeg; stir to dissolve the sugar. In a large bowl, pour the milk mixture over the dried bread cubes and

stir well. Let soak for 10 minutes. Pour into a well-buttered 1 1/2 quart casserole. Sprinkle with nutmeg.

Set the casserole in a shallow baking pan filled with 1 inch of hot water. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for one hour or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from water bath and cool for 10 minutes. Serve warm with lemon sauce, if desired. Makes 6 servings.

LEMON SAUCE

1/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/8 teaspoon salt

Dash of nutmeg (optional)

3/4 cup water

Grated peel of 1/2 lemon

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon butter or margarine

Few drops of yellow food coloring (optional)

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, cornstarch, salt and nutmeg. Gradually blend in the water, lemon peel and juice. Add the butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring until thickened. Stir in the food coloring. Serve warm. Makes 1 cup.

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