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Lemon Zest: More Than 175 Recipes with a Twist

Lemon Zest: More Than 175 Recipes with a Twist

by Lori Longbotham
As a main ingredient or an aromatic accent, the distinct flavor of lemon is part of virtually every cuisine in the world. Now the best of these zesty ideas come together in a truly vibrant collection. From breakfast to cocktail hour to bedtime snacking, and every meal in between, Lemon Zest delivers a refreshing range of unbeatable offerings:


As a main ingredient or an aromatic accent, the distinct flavor of lemon is part of virtually every cuisine in the world. Now the best of these zesty ideas come together in a truly vibrant collection. From breakfast to cocktail hour to bedtime snacking, and every meal in between, Lemon Zest delivers a refreshing range of unbeatable offerings: Lemon-Blueberry Scones, Pork Tenderloin with Lemon and Fennel, Creamy Lemon Fettuccine, Tangy Tabbouleh, Ginger-Lemon Dipping Sauce, Lemongrass Lemonade, and even homemade Lemon Vodka–all highlighting the irresistible flavor of this fabulous fruit.

Lemon Zest also brims with juicy tidbits of lemon lore, as well as household hints for making the most of this all-natural cleanser throughout the home. Complete information on using every part of the lemon, along with advice for selecting and storing–and even growing them!--is included, too. Lemon Zest is a burst of brilliant flavors sure to please every palate.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The same author expounds on her tasty theme in Lemon Zest: More Than 175 Recipes with a Twist, which serves up drinks (from Lemon Barley Water to Lemon Vodka); appetizers (Lemon-Cucumber Sandwiches, Lemon-Ginger Garlic Bread); main courses (Snapper with Lemon Browned Butter and Capers, Pork Tenderloin with Lemon and Fennel) and desserts (Lemon-Blueberry Scones with Lemon Curd). Along with such recipes, Longbotham explains the differences between various types of lemons and offers tips on the art of zesting, explaining that "most of the joy of the lemon is in the... aptly named zest...." As writer Margaret Visser observed and Longbotham quotes "Almost everything we eat contains at least a tiny amount of acid, or we would find it insipid." ( June 5) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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Broadway Books
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Read an Excerpt

all about lemons

The versatile lemon plays an integral role in the culinary process--the skin, seeds, juice, and flesh all contribute in their own right and collectively to the chemistry of food. The lemon activates change--it is the revolutionary of the food world.

--Christine Manfield, Paramount Cooking

Buying Lemons

Whether you are buying your lemons at a farm stand or a supermarket, you don't have to worry about ripeness. Every lemon in the market is fully ripe and ready to use, so you can pick and choose according to what you'll be using them for.

If you're looking for juice, choose firm but not rock-hard lemons that are heavy for their size. Very hard ones invariably yield little juice. Slightly softer, medium-sized, and thin-skinned lemons are juicier. Heaviness indicates that lemons are fresh and full of juice; heft them and compare to find the weightiest fruit.

If you're looking for zest, thicker-skinned lemons usually have more abundant, flavorful zest and are easier to grate.

Lemons should be as bright as the sunshine, with a glossy sheen, a firmness to the touch, finely textured skin, and a pleasant citrus fragrance. The condition of the skin is important. A very coarse exterior may indicate an excessively thick skin, which in turn may mean less flesh and juice. Lemons should be vibrant, bright, and uniform in color, with unbroken skin, free of moist or brittle spots or shriveling. The fruit beneath the skin should feel firm, with no evidence of softness.

A small, very green stem is a sign of freshness. Lemons from warmer climates may have slightly green skin--it does not mean they are not ripe. But fruits that have aslightly greenish cast are likely to be more acidic than those that are a deep yellow. Deep yellow lemons are usually more mature than lighter yellow ones, and not quite as acidic.

Avoid lemons that are hard and rigid; they may have been frost-damaged. Also avoid lemons that are soft, spongy, wrinkled, or have bumpy, rough, or hard skin. A dark yellow or dull color or hardened or shriveled skin indicates old age. Soft spots, mold, or broken skin indicate decay, but brownish spots or patches may have been caused when branches rubbed against the immature fruit and are not a sign of damage.

Dampness is a great enemy to lemons. It's best not to buy lemons that have been displayed on ice or sprinkled with water in the store. Damp lemons will deteriorate quickly if they touch one another; mold, which spreads rapidly, will form and the lemons will soften and rot. That's why lemons used to be packed in boxes lined with sawdust--to absorb the moisture. (I remember when each lemon was wrapped in a twist of tissue paper to keep the damp away from the fruit.) And lemons are never picked in the morning, for the same reason; if the fruit is damp with the morning dew, it will deteriorate quickly.

You'll also want to stay away from lemons that have been stored near fruits with strong odors or ethylene-gas-producing fruits, such as apples. Pitting of the skin, that tinge of red interior dis-coloration, and loss of juice are all indications of a chill injury, when the fruit is damaged by cold temperature.

If you are going to use the peel, don't buy lemons that have been colored. Almost all of our lemons come from California and Arizona, neither of which allows lemon growers to color their fruit. If possible, check the box the fruit came in to see if the telltale words "color added" are there. You can't always tell a dyed lemon by looking at the skin, but sometimes you can: often a red dye that doesn't completely cover the greenish skin is used. As always, it pays to buy from a greengrocer you trust, one who knows if the fruit has been colored and will tell you so.

The primary varieties of commercially available lemons are the Lisbon and Eureka from California, Arizona, Chile, and Spain. Those grown in the U.S. are given one of four grades: U.S. 1, U.S. Export 1, U.S. Combination, and U.S. 2. The difference in grades relates primarily to appearance, mostly size. Organic lemons are becoming increasingly available.

Storing Lemons

Lemons store well, and they keep longer than any other citrus fruit. They are picked according to size, rather than ripeness, and are then placed in large temperature- and humidity-controlled rooms to "cure," or ripen. They are often kept this way for up to six months.

If you maintain similar storage conditions, you can keep lemons for quite a long time. Just remember that they like the same kind of temperature for storage as they do for growing, not too warm and not too humid--the proverbial cool, dry place. Lemons will keep at room temperature for up to 2 weeks and in the refrigerator for as long as 6 weeks. Be extra careful with them in humid weather, even more so than in the heat; humid conditions will make them rot quickly. Your refrigerator's vegetable bin is always best for long-term storage. Some authorities recommend storing refrigerated lemons immersed in water in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, to prevent loss of moisture, and they may last even longer that way. If you want to store lemons at room temperature, keep them in a cool room on a tray or in an open basket so that air can circulate around them, and turn them over now and then to make sure that they are not getting moldy (one moldy lemon will ruin the rest very quickly). Whether in or out of the refrigerator, lemons should not be stored in plastic, which encourages moistness and mold.

Whole lemons should never be frozen; the juice sacs burst, and when the fruit thaws, the pulp may be dry and mushy. But both lemon zest and juice freeze well. If you have more lemons on hand than you can use before they are likely to spoil, remove the zest and juice them, then freeze each separately. Or, if you don't remove the zest, the juiced shells can be frozen to use as containers for sauces, sorbets or other desserts, or relishes.

Freeze freshly grated lemon zest or strips of zest removed with a vegetable peeler in small self-sealing plastic bags for up to 3 months. You'll have it ready to add flavor and aroma to your meals anytime. You can freeze freshly squeezed lemon juice for up to 4 months. Many cooks prefer to freeze the juice in ice cube trays, 2 tablespoons per cube, rather than in larger quantities, so they don't have a big block of frozen juice. Then transfer the frozen cubes to plastic bags. Fresh lemon juice can also be kept in the refrigerator, in a tightly covered container, for 2 to 3 days without significant loss of flavor.

Frozen lemon slices or wedges are great for adding to iced tea, lemonade, and many other drinks. Cut lemons into paper-thin slices or wedges, lay them on baking sheets, and freeze until solid. Then carefully remove them and transfer to a self-sealing plastic bag until you need them. Lemon twists can be frozen in the same way.

Always refrigerate a zested lemon and juice it within a few days, since the fruit quickly deteriorates without its protective skin. When you only need half a lemon, store the remaining half cut side down on a small plate in the refrigerator, and use it as soon as possible.

If some lemons do get away from you, don't use those past their prime for cooking. Their taste will have turned metallic and very unpleasant. Use them instead for polishing copper pans or for other household chores.

Deconstructing Lemons

Elliptically shaped lemons have a neck on the stem, or peduncle, end, and a nipple on the opposite, or stylar, end. There are three layers to the lemon's elegant structure. The thin colored outer layer is called the epicarp, also known as the zest or the rind. For culinary purposes, the zest is the bright yellow outer covering of the fruit and the peel is the whole of the skin, composed of both the zest and the pith attached to it. (In the fruit's immature state, the green pigment on the outside of the lemon is chlorophyll; as the fruit ripens, this gives rise to the yellow carotene.) Beneath the epicarp lies the mesocarp, or, commonly, the pith. This white connective tissue joining the peel to the pulp is nearly tasteless but bitter. It is the chief source of commercial grades of pectin, which is used to set jams and jellies and thicken shampoos.

The pulp, or endocarp, is the flesh of the fruit. The pulp of lemons, and most citrus fruits, is naturally divided into segments called locules. The juice is contained in vesicles that grow from hair-like tubes on the segment membranes. Within each vesicle are many juice cells, or vacuoles.

Lemon Juice

There are many ways to juice a lemon. Probably the simplest method is cutting it crosswise in half and inserting a fork while squeezing the lemon over a bowl to catch the juice. Or you might use a "reamer juicer," either manual or electric: simply a ribbed cone-shaped tool that releases the juice when the cut fruit is pressed down and rotated against it. Countertop pressers, with a rack-and-pinion gearing controlled by a lever or a handle, mean business. They exert hundreds of pounds of pressure on the lemon half to extract the maximum juice. Some are tall and others short, but you do need counter space for them. If you often juice many lemons, you might prefer an electric juicer, but you'll want a quiet one.

A "lemon trumpet," or "lemon faucet," available from kitchenware shops and through the Williams-Sonoma catalog (800-451-2233), allows you to extract a small amount of lemon juice without slicing the fruit. Simply twist it into the lemon and squeeze the fruit; the juice flows freely through the tube, and the seeds are strained out automatically. You can even store the lemon in the refrigerator with the trumpet still in place, until you need juice again. It's made of stainless steel and is dishwasher-safe.

Roll a room-temperature lemon on the counter a few times or drop it into hot water for a few minutes before you squeeze it--the lemon will give up its juice more easily.

When using lemon juice for baked goods, discard the seeds, of course, but don't strain out the pulp--it will add flavor and texture.

For maximum nutritional benefit, use freshly squeezed lemon juice immediately. Because vitamin C is a very volatile substance, most of this nutrient will be lost if you let the juice stand overnight, even if tightly covered. You can freeze lemon juice, but it will lose nutritional value, just as the commercially frozen product does.

Bottled lemon juice can have a peculiar metallic undertaste, perhaps because it's the older, past-their-prime lemons that are processed. Always use freshly squeezed lemon juice, never the lemon juice sold in bottles or plastic containers.

Lemon Zest

For me, most of the joy of a lemon is in the zest. The juice is wonderfully refreshing and perfect for balancing flavors in a dish, but it's the aptly named zest that has an insistent lemon flavor. It's much more than just pretty packaging. Fragrant with aromatic natural oils, the zest imparts a freshness and a subtle yet lively layering of flavors whenever you use it. With its complex floral and tangy tastes as well as its slight, sophisticated bitterness, it heightens and accents other flavors.

If you wish to intensify the lemon flavor in a recipe, most often the thing to do is to add finely grated zest rather than more juice. The zest contains more flavor and will not affect the balance of the other ingredients. I find I almost always add a pinch of grated zest to a dish, even if initially I think I'll just use lemon juice; the zest underscores the citrus flavor and announces its presence both visually and texturally.

Zest can be used to brighten all kinds of dishes, sweet and savory, as a garnish, accent, or key ingredient. It adds a colorful counterpoint to fresh berry fillings, dried fruit compotes, suave custards, and creamy frostings. Mellowed when baked, it insinuates its sunny personality into cakes and cookies. A sprinkling of grated zest can brighten a rich stew, perk up a salad, or add zing to a stir-fry or vegetable saute.

Always use fresh or frozen lemon zest, not dried (unless you dry your own; see page 15). Store-bought dried zest generally has lots of preservatives and little flavor.

A vividly colored peel is usually an indication of flavorful zest. Scratch the lemon with a fingernail--the more fragrant the fruit, the more flavorful the zest.

Remember, overzealous grating will result in bitterness. What you want is only the thin yellow part of the skin. Precise measurement is crucial to the final balance of flavors, and that's especially true for lemon zest. Too much zest can also make a dish bitter. If you want to add more zest to a recipe, add it a little at a time, tasting after each addition.

Before zesting a lemon, wash it thoroughly. Fortunately, most of the insecticides used on commercially grown citrus fruits are washed off after harvesting. But after they are disinfected, they are coated with a water-soluble wax for protection during shipping. So lemons need to be washed thoroughly, even scrubbed with soap and warm water, to remove the wax. If you want to avoid pesticides completely, buy organic lemons, but they too should be washed thoroughly before using, as they are also usually coated with wax.

Removing lemon zest

There are a number of tools that can be used for removing the zest from lemons. The one you use will be determined by how you plan to use the zest.

Graters--I used the Microplane grater for every recipe that calls for grated zest. A rasp, like those you would find in a carpenter's tool chest, it works better than any other implement for grating lemon zest. (The wife of a tool distributor, fed up with her dull kitchen grater, used one of her husband's rasps instead, and the Microplane was born.) The Microplane's razor-sharp teeth shave instead of ripping and shredding, and it removes a lot more zest than other graters and gadgets; you'll get at least a tablespoon of zest from each large lemon. It also seems never to remove the white pith, which is a minor miracle in itself. I love the larger model that has a molded rubber handle; it's very comfortable to hold and use and is well balanced, like a good knife. Just stroke the lemon across the Microplane--as if you were playing the violin--and you'll have fine, fluffy wisps of zest that are easy to collect and measure. It's easier to grate lemons if you draw them diagonally across the grater rather than up and down. The Microplane is made of stainless steel, easy to clean, and dishwasher-safe. For information on the Microplane grater, call 800-555-2767 or go to www.microplane.com. It's also available through The Baker's Catalogue (800-827-6836) and in many kitchenware shops. It's the one "must have" tool for lemon lovers.

Meet the Author

Lori Longbotham is a professional food writer and recipe developer whose articles have appeared in numerous national publications, such as Martha Stewart Living, Food & Wine, and Good Housekeeping. Also the former food editor for Gourmet and American Health magazines, she lives in Jackson Heights, New York.

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