Brighten your spring meals with lemon

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 2, 2019

By Deirdre Parker Smith

Spring, for some reason, ignites in me a craving for all things lemony, lemon pound cake, lemon pie, lemony chicken or fish, lemony salad dressing.

The brightness of lemon seems to wake up the dishes, which have been hearty and heavy all winter.

Lemons have become almost as common as salt and pepper for seasoning. Lemon can be used as a substitute for salt for people who have to reduce their salt intake. The acidity of the lemon can bring out other flavors, much as salt does.

The simplest salad dressing could be a squeeze of lemon, a glug of olive oil and a little salt and pepper.

Want to skip the mayonnaise on a tuna salad sandwich? Try using fresh lemon juice and herbs such as parsley to give it flavor.

Lemon goes in our tea, lemonade, on our fried fish, on top of steamed broccoli — try it with green beans, it’s surprising how good that combo is.

Lemon zest has the most concentrated flavor, and that can go on top of or into just about anything. Add it to your next pot of chili at the last minute. Top vanilla ice cream with lemon zest, or stir it into plain yogurt.

And lemons, naturally, are great for cleaning. Today we’re going to enjoy the flavor.

You rarely see lemon used with beef, but the two can work well together. And something about lemon and soy sauce makes anything delicious. Try marinating chicken thighs in lemon juice and soy sauce and baking. The combination of salty and tart works well with plain white rice or rice noodles.

Meatballs with Sweet Lemon Glaze

1/2 cup finely chopped green onions

1/4 cup quick cooking rolled oats

1/4 cup refrigerated or frozen egg product, thawed (or 1 extra large egg)

3 tsp. finely shredded lemon peel

1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

1/4 tsp. salt

1 pound lean ground beef, pork or turkey

Nonstick cooking spray

1/2 cup apricot spreadable fruit

1/4 cup water

2 Tbsp. reduced sodium soy sauce

1 Tbsp. Lemon juice

2 tsp. cornstarch

4 cups snow peas, steamed

Freshly ground pepper

Lemon wedges

In a large bowl, combine green onions, oats, egg, 2 tsp. of the lemon peel, crushed red pepper and salt. Add ground beef and mix well; form into 1-inch meatballs.

Lightly coat an unheated large nonstick skillet with cooking spray; place over medium-high heat until hot. Brown meatballs, turning occasionally. In a small bowl, combine spreadable fruit, water and 1 Tbsp. of the soy sauce and 1 Tbsp.  of the lemon juice. Lightly coat an unheated slow cooker with cooking spray. Add meatballs and pour the fruit spread mixture over. Cover and cook on low heat for 4 hours or high heat for 2 hours.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to a plate. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 Tbsp. soy sauce, 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, cornstarch and 1 tsp. lemon peel. Whisk into cooking liquid and fold in the meatballs.

Turning heat setting to high, cover and cook about 10 minutes more or until the sauce is slightly thickened. Serve meatballs over steamed snow peas. Garnish with black pepper and lemon wedges.

You can also cook the meatballs in a Dutch oven on the stovetop, letting them simmer for about 2 hours before thickening the sauce with cornstarch.

Eating Well

This salad screams spring and summer. Once fresh herbs are available again, it should be a go-to that can be used as a side dish or turned into a main dish with the addition of tuna or chicken.

Lemony Orzo Pasta Salad with Cucumber and Feta

1 1/2 cups dry orzo pasta

2 Tbsp. olive oil

Juice and zest of one lemon (or two, if you like)

1 large English cucumber, seeded and chopped

1 Tbsp. fresh mint, finely chopped

1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped

1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the orzo al dente according to package directions (about 9 minutes). Drain the pasta, let cool for a couple minutes, and toss with olive oil, lemon juice and zest, cucumber, herbs and feta.

Season with salt and pepper. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Variations: Omit parsley and add 2 cups baby spinach, chopped. To wilt the spinach, put it in the bottom of the colander when draining the orzo, the water will cook it. Or use fresh.

In summer, use basil in place of mint.

Fork Knife Swoon

This seems like a revolution, like the first time we made Hollandaise in a blender and it came out perfectly.

The caveat here is you need a high-speed blender, like a Vitamix or a Ninja or a Magic Bullet. Your ordinary blender doesn’t move fast enough to mimic the job of a pot on a stove.

But lots of folks have invested in those super machines for smoothies and such, so this is worth a try. The high speed generates heat, which cooks the eggs. Some testers used room temperature eggs and hot melted butter in a regular blender, much the way the Hollandaise is made, and that produced a nice curd.

Easy Blender Lemon Curd

1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (3-4 lemons)

5 large eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

1/8 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces, at room temperature.

Place the lemon zest, juice, eggs, sugar and salt in a high speed blender. Cover and blend for 5 minutes on the highest speed.

Reduce the speed to medium, remove the lid plug and carefully add the butter one cube at a time. Once all the butter is added, blend for 30 seconds more until glossy.

Remove the lid carefully (steam will be released) and transfer the curd to a glass jar or other heat-proof container to cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes. Cover and refrigerate to thicken and set overnight.

Use on top of toast, biscuits, waffles, as a cake filling or glaze.

the kitchn

Lemon Sugar Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

1 1/2 tsp. grated lemon zest

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

4 tsp. coarse sugar

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs. Beat in lemon zest and juice. In another bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt and cream of tarter. Gradually beat into creamed mixture.

To make giant cookies, form 1/4-cup of dough into a ball. Place 6 inches apart on a greased baking sheet. Flatten to 3/4 inch thick with bottom of a measuring cup. Lightly brush top with water and sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake until light brown, 12-15 minutes. Remove from pans to wire racks to cook completely Store in airtight containers.

For a stronger lemon flavor, add 1/4-1/2 tsp. lemon extract.

You can also make normal size cookies, using a small scoop (about 1-2 Tbsp.) and forming into a ball before flattening. The cooking time will be slightly less, a minute or two. Check the cookies at 10-12 minutes.