In Season: Lemons
Lemons are one of the kitchen’s most familiar sights, and possibly one of the most widely useful ingredients you can keep stocked. Although the lemon was introduced to Italy in the second century, it took until the Renaissance for it to reach wide usage throughout Europe. Spanish colonizers brought the fruit to the New World, where it became a popular ornamental tree throughout California.
Aside from being a diverse and essential cooking ingredient, lemon makes for a great cleaner due to it’s natural acidity. A halved lemon rubbed with baking powder can be used around the kitchen to remove grease stains from stoves and plastic food storage containers, to clean and brighten copper cookware, and to scrub out sinks. Lemon juice can be used to kill bacteria, and is useful for rubbing down cutting boards. A slice of lemon can be put down a stinky garbage disposal to easily restore its freshness and leave your kitchen smelling clean and pleasantly citrusy.
Culinarily, the application of lemons seems absolutely endless. Lemon juice can be used to prevent cut vegetables and fruits, such as apples or bananas, from turning brown. The juice can also be used in marinades to help make meat tender. Not to mention all the cocktail uses for lemon juice. Meanwhile, the rind can be used to give dishes a bit of lemon flavor without the acidity, and is often used in cookies, cakes, dry rubs, tea blends, and candies.
Lemon is popular the world around, and appears in many different dishes in many different places. Lemon chicken is a familiar take on the popular Chinese food dish of orange chicken, where a thick, savory sauce is made by simmering lemon slices in broth along with soy sauce, honey, and other ingredients and then used to coat fried chicken. In Greece, they enjoy galaktoboureko, a pastry made of phyllo dough surrounding lemon custard. It’s commonly added to soups for a little bit of acidity, such as in Russian solyanka. Lemon juice is an essential ingredient in the making of aioli, and pickled lemon is a common condiment in South Asia and North Africa.
SOUR & SMOKY SOLYANKA SOUP
1/2 lbs thick cut bacon, diced
2 lbs beef shank (or other bone-in cut of beef)
1 lbs bratwurst (or kielbasa)
2 lbs smoked ham
2 tsp peppercorns (or 1 tsp ground black pepper)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp allspice
2 tsp smoked paprika
6 cloves garlic, sliced
1 Tbs olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/3 cup tomato sauce
2 Tbs tomato paste
1 large lemon
1 cup dill pickles, cut into matchsticks
1/4 cup capers
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the beef shank and sausage in a large pot and pour in fresh, cold water until meat is just covered. Add bay leaves, peppercorns, and allspice. Bring to a boil and then back the heat down to a simmer. Cover and cook until the meat is fork tender, about one hour. Remove meat and set aside, reserving the liquid in it’s pot.In a cold skillet, add bacon and turn on heat to medium. Cook bacon until crisp and remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Add olive oil to skillet and then add chopped onions and cook until translucent before adding garlic. Once the garlic grows aromatic, add smoked paprika and sauté in olive oil and bacon fat for thirty seconds. Clear a space in the middle of the skillet and add tomato paste and cool, stirring, for two minutes, then mix paste together with other ingredients in skillets and sauté for an additional thirty seconds before adding contents of the skillet to the soup pot.Heat soup pot to a boil and then back down the heat to a simmer. Cut beef, ham, and sausage into bite size pieces, discarding the bones from the beef. Add tomato sauce, bacon, beef, ham, and sausage to soup pot and let simmer together for ten minutes, covered. Add juice of one lemon, pickles, capers, and olives and then turn off the heat.Let the solyanka sit, covered, with the heat off, for twenty minutes to develop the flavor. Taste for salt and pepper, adjusting if necessary, and then serve.
LEMON CREME PIE
2 medium sized lemons 3/4 cup sugar
6 large eggs
1 pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup cream, well chilled
1 cup butter
2 cups shortbread cookie crumbs 1 tsp dried lavender, finely chopped
To create lemon curd, add sugar to six large, fresh eggs, along with a pinch of salt and the zest of two lemons in a cold saucepan. Whisk this mixture together until it’s entirely smooth before adding one stick’s worth of slices of cold butter and the juice of the two lemons to the saucepan. Place the saucepan on low heat, continuing to whisk, and cook until the mixture comes together and grows thick. Pass this lemon curd mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Once the curd is strained, cover the surface with plastic wrap and place in fridge until cold and thick, about three hours.Preheat oven to 350°. To create a crust, crush shortbread cookies, or other cookie of choice, in a food storage bag until you have around two cups of fine crumbs. In a mixing bowl, combine these crumbs with dried lavender and mix well. Then add ½ a cup, or one stick, of melted butter and mix until crumbs are well coated.Pour the wet crumb mixture into your pie pan and use your fingers to press it down, coating the bottom and sides of the pan with a tightly packed layer of crumbs. Place pan in preheated oven and cook for about 15 minutes, or until your crust is firm and golden brown. Remove and let cool entirely.
When your lemon curd is cold, prepare a whip cream mixture. Add cold heavy cream to a mixing bowl with vanilla extract. Using an electric mixer, beat cream until it forms stiff peaks. Add cold lemon curd to whipped cream and carefully fold it in, stopping when just mixed. Add this mixture to cooled pie crust and place in the fridge, allowing to cool until set, about six hours.
If you would like to top your pie with whipped cream, pour one cup of cream and add a splash of vanilla into a mixing bowl. Add ¼ cup white sugar to cream and beat until cream holds stiff peaks. Dollop whipped cream on top of pie as desired, and garnish with a sprinkle of lemon zest.