Lemons are a fruit known for their bright color, acidic juice, and versatility. Lemons grow on flowering evergreen trees and most lemons available in grocery stores come from warm climates like Mexico and California. But if you are a garden-ey type, you can grow lemons in backyard gardens (and even indoors) in a whole lot of places.
I think lemons are one of my top 5 must-have ingredients. I use them in almost everything, both the juice and the zest, and sometimes the fruit itself. The fruit can be dried, candied, preserved, baked, juiced… and if you were my father, slices and eaten straight up (not recommended as the acid can strip enamel from your teeth – really you don’t want to know what his dental bills were). The peel also has essential oils that are near impossible to extract in a home kitchen, but are wonderful in baked goods (and often used in cleaning products).
The lemons we are all most familiar with are called Eureka or Lisbon lemons. Another popular variety of lemon is the Meyer Lemon. Much sweeter, they are thought to be a cross between a regular lemon and a mandarin orange. Meyer Lemons are mostly used in desserts, and I love the juice in mocktails and cocktails.
How to Cook with Lemons: Lemon juice and zest is used in hundreds of savory and sweet dishes – here’s how to get the most out of this versatile citrus fruit!Tweet This
What Do Lemons Look Like?
Lemons are distinguishable by their bright yellow coloring, textured peel, and general oval shape. Meyer Lemons tend to be smaller, rounder, deeper and sometimes slightly orangey in color, with a smoother skin.
Where Can I Find Lemons?
Lemons are readily available in supermarkets of all kinds. Specific varieties, such as Meyer Lemons, are a little harder to find but can be bought in many specialty markets, or in some regional farmers’ markets (such as California) during their season.
How Do I Pick the Best Lemons?
Lemons should be firm and bright in color. Make sure they are free of soft or brown spots and bruises.
What Do Lemons Taste Like?
Regular lemons are quite sour. They are high in acidity, and to bite into one raw, or taste straight lemon juice will make you pucker right up. But they are also extremely refreshing. When its juice is diluted by combining with other ingredients, or tempered by adding sugar, lemons add a tart, fragrant, and “bright” flavor. The yellow of the peel, called the zest, is much less tart, but still very pronouncedly citrusy.
How Do I Prepare Lemons?
Different recipes call for lemons to be prepared in different ways. It is wise to always wash and dry lemons before using so as to remove a possible waxy outer layer which may have been sprayed on to preserve them during shipping. This is mostly important if you are using the zest or peel in a recipe.
If you are juicing the lemon, you’ll get the most juice from the fruit if you gently but firmly roll the lemon back and forth with the palm of your hand on a firm surface. This “tenderizes” the lemon and makes it easier for juice to be extracted. Cut the lemon in half, and use a reamer, a handheld juicer, or any other juicing apparatus you like to remove the juice. You can also use a fork and stidck it into the flesh as you squeeze the lemon to help release the juice.
If a recipe calls for lemon zest, you will want to use a zester to remove the outer layer of the peel, just scraping off the bright yellow part, and making sure to leave the bitter white pith behind. You can use a vegetable peeler to remove strips, and then mince the zest as needed, or a microplane which will scrape the zest off the lemon in fine shreds. There are also zesters available, which will remove the zest in long thin strips.
You may also use slices or wedges of lemons in recipes. Whether you are using the fruit itself, or the juice, make sure you remove any pits. There are small fine mesh strainers perfect for this purpose.
How Do I Cook With Lemons?
Lemons are used in hundreds of savory and sweet dishes. They can add subtle or powerful flavoring in beverages, vinaigrettes, dips, marinades, sauces, meats and seafood, pastas, and desserts and baked goods of all kinds. Preserved lemons are a staple in Moroccan dishes but good in so much more – add bits of the peel to salads for a pop of salty citrus.
Thinly sliced lemons are wonderful fanned over pork or seafood or chicken before cooking, which then caramelize as they cook and infuses the dish with a sweet-sour flavor. Wedges of uncooked lemons are also often served with seafood or other savory dishes to squeeze over before eating.
When are Lemons in Season?
Lemons are available easily year-round at supermarkets Meyer lemons are more seasonal and are most easily found between December and May.
How Do I Store Lemons?
The best way to get the longest life out of your lemons is to store them in the crisper or vegetable drawer of your refrigerator. They can last approximately 3 weeks. Left on your countertop, they will likely last a week before getting soft or maybe moldy. If you have some leftover lemon, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store in the fridge. Even if it hardens and shrivels a bit, you can still extract good juice out of it.
Are Lemons Nutritious?
Lemons are very low in calories and contain a very high amount of Vitamin C.
Here are some recipes that use lemons: