Lemon Love

I love my salt and pepper. My oil, too. But if I had to dash away with only one ingredient to help me cook, it would be, hands down, the lemon.

The little ol' lemon, that staple of the household cleaning world found in soaps, detergents and furniture polish that we all take for granted, is also a culinary powerhouse. It is modest yet strong, assertive yet understated, and a hero when you really need one in the kitchen.

The mighty all-purpose lemon. (Kim O'Donnel)

I always have at least one lemon on hand -- and not just for an impending cold. Below, 36 ways I love the lemon -- and I'm sure I'm missing something. Please add to the list in the comments area. Oh, and if you don't already own a zester (a mere five bucks), do yourself a favor and pick one up, zest up a lemon and just take in the aromatherapy. You can thank me tomorrow.

36 Ways to Love the Lemon

With the peel and zest, aka the peel without the white pith
1. In rice, just before serving; add toasted cashews or black mustard seeds for even more kapow
2. Atop roasted asparagus, spinach, broccoli, green beans and any other green veg that turns brown with the addition of lemon juice
3. Atop pasta, just before serving
4. In pizza dough
5. In tart dough
6. In cake and muffin batter or biscotti
7. In sorbet, granita or ice cream
8. In buttercream and cream cheese frosting
9. Mixed with cured olives, pepper flakes and thyme
10. With garlic and herbs, to make gremolata, the world's simplest flavor enhancer -- which can zip up bruschetta, soup, grilled meats and fish, potatoes -- a great salt-free seasoning
11. As part of a compound butter, with shallots and herbs, molded, frozen and then sliced, to be used atop steamed veg, under the skin of a chicken or turkey or into a bowl of macaroni
12. To infuse and flavor vodka
13. Atop fresh blueberries
14. In fruit cobbler filling
15. Peel can be candied for garnish, to serve with coffee or after-dinner drinks, to be dipped in chocolate

Squeezing it for the juice
16. As part of a vinaigrette, or to help save a vinaigrette in distress
17. As part of a marinade -- for lamb, large cuts of pork, chicken
18. A key component of homemade mayonnaise
19. Lemon curd -- for scones, raspberries, in a tart shell, on toast or on a spoon by itself
20. Spritz up a soup just before serving
21. Rescue lentils or legumes that need zip, but not salt
22. Freshen up a bowl of hummus
23. As part of a broth for risotto, poached fish, a chickpea stew
24. For lemonade...or if you're feeling precocious, limoncello
25. Make a sauce -- either a butter-intensive hollandaise for eggs Bendedict brunches or something a bit lighter like the Turks do (see Claudia Roden's "Arabesque" for details), a combination of warmed beaten egg yolks, lots of lemon juice and a wee bit of sugar, thickened and then poured over leeks, celery root, asparagus or seared tuna.
26. As part of a Greek salad -- with feta, cucumber, mint and fennel
27. With a spoonful of honey, the juice of one lemon can shake a cold, keep one away or help that medicine go down

Using wedges
28. In the cavity of a roasted chicken, with thyme or rosemary
29. Lined up on a skewer for grilling, teamed up with pearl onions, zucchini rounds, red peppers
30. Packed into the cavity of a whole fish, with herbs and leeks, for grilling or roasting
31. The ultimate garnish -- for cocktails (shrimp, oyster shooters, tequila shots, a summer beer)
32. As a companion for raw oysters or clams, a zinger over a fried fish sandwich
33. To flavor sweet tea

Using the whole fruit

34. Do like Moroccan cooks do and preserve a bunch of lemons in salt in a sterilized jar for a few weeks and use the transformed peels (no longer bitter) for use in salads, with cooked veg as well as couscous and other stews.

All sliced up
35. Dipped in cornmeal and flour and fried, as part of a fritto misto plate
36. Dipped in a boiling sugar syrup and allowed to dry, for candied garnish or a puckery sugar high

Did you know that.... if you heat up a lemon, even by placing it in a bowl of warm water, that it will yield more juice? ...That one lemon yields about 3 tablespoons of juice....

By Kim ODonnel |  March 21, 2007; 12:21 PM ET Discoveries
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Lets see:
With Mango (green that is) salt, and hot sauce.
with Jicama
With pasta, I make a lemony sauce that goes wonderful as a side of fish

Posted by: Annandale | March 21, 2007 2:15 PM


Why would I add lemon juice if it turns my green veggies brown? Shouldn't it prevent that sort of thing like adding it to sliced apples, pears or bananas to keep them from browning?

Posted by: LisaLuvs2Cook | March 21, 2007 2:25 PM

Could you post the method for candying the peel as suggested in # 15?

Posted by: Delaware | March 21, 2007 2:30 PM

Lisa, sorry if I confused. My point is, DON'T add lemon juice to green veg, which contain chlorophyll. When you add an acid like lemon, and in particular, when you cover the pot, the veggies will turn yucky army green/brown. But, if you add lemon zest to those veg, you get the volatile oils and the desired lemony flavor w/o the undesirable color.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | March 21, 2007 2:31 PM

If you go to an ethnic grocery, you can get one of those perfect Mexican lime/lemon squeezers (with a hinge, that you press together) for about four bucks.

At a kitchen supply store the same thing costs $12 to $18.

Posted by: lemonophile | March 21, 2007 2:41 PM

To add just a few more:
1) Squeezed over avocado and spread on toast (or pita)
2) Use zest in meat sauce
3) Use zest or juice over cold beef/steak in a salad
4) Squeeze juice into plain yogurt and use as either a sweet or savory base
5) Put thin slices in big pitchers of ice water for flavor(can also do this with cucumber, lime, etc)

Also, throw lemon peels (or a whole lemon, quartered, past its prime) in the garbage disposal to get rid of bad smells!

Posted by: teri | March 21, 2007 2:46 PM

lemon juice with white wine, garlic and parsley does quick wonders over pork or fish.

and sometimes dash of juice helps brighten my pesto.

Posted by: g | March 21, 2007 2:49 PM

My daughter, bless her heart, just likes to quarter them and eats them that way. The pucker doesn't bother her a bit.

Posted by: rmh | March 21, 2007 2:50 PM

i use lemon juice many of the ways kim and the chatters do all the time. please keep them coming!

also use the fresh juice to rid my hands of fresh garlic smell after i've chopped up a ton.

Posted by: m | March 21, 2007 2:52 PM

The lady who lets her daughter eat lemons should be careful. The acid can etch teeth. The daughter should, if she absolutely MUST eat lemons raw, carefully brush her teeth and rinse her mouth to get rid of the acid.

Posted by: Aspasia | March 21, 2007 3:08 PM

My two additions:
1) Make lemon oil: Place lemon peel and sprigs of another fresh herb of your choice (such as rosemary, thyme or basil) and/or a couple of unpeeled garlic cloves in a saucepan with a couple of cups of LIGHT olive, canola, or vegetable oil. Heat gently to a low simmer for 10 minutes, turn off the heat and let cool to room temp. Store in the fridge and use for salad dressing or drizzle as a condiment onto a bowl of soup or sliced tomatoes or fish or bruschetta or risotto, etc.
2) Use those cut lemon halves to deodorize wooden cutting boards: Drizzle a little baking soda on your cutting board and lightly scrub with a used lemon half. You'll get a lemon fresh fizz and clean your board in no time!

Posted by: Sean | March 21, 2007 3:15 PM

Pasta al Limone - tagliatelle swirled with a lemon/butter/cream and parmigina reggiano sauce that I had in a restaurant in Rome. So light and delicious, I can still taste it to this day. What a wonderful surprise for a lemon lover! Nigella Lawson also has a great recipe to make at home.

Posted by: Harriet | March 21, 2007 4:25 PM

Wedges: Corona and Corona Light. Can't believe you missed that, Kim.

Posted by: Important | March 21, 2007 4:41 PM

Half cup sour cream with the zest and juice of a lemon, a little salt. Serve with salmon. Yes, low fat sour cream works just fine!!

Posted by: Paula | March 21, 2007 4:49 PM

(Important -- she did mention in beer).

What about as a clotter for making creme fraiche? Also, today I made homemade cheese with whole milk and lemon juice. Good in mid-east dips! Fab with gin! Good in a whiskey soda! Brings up the flavor in risoto! I like it in tea or just hot water.

Posted by: Rita | March 21, 2007 4:53 PM

Use instead of vinegar with raw garlic and olive oil for the yummiest salad dressing ever

Posted by: Maggie | March 21, 2007 5:35 PM

You put a lime in a Corona, Not a Lemon

Posted by: Tom | March 21, 2007 6:07 PM

A question -- have lemons been getting sweeter over the last 25 years? I find myself "dialing down" the amount of sugar in my lemonade recipe drastically -- and it was one the whole family liked back in the early '80s.

Or are we just all getting older and having less of a sweet-tooth problem?

Posted by: wenholdra | March 21, 2007 6:47 PM

What?! No mention of Meyer lemons? You ain't had lemons until you've tried a Meyer lemon. Alas, I understand that they're not so useful in cooking, but have never tried.

Posted by: gcm | March 21, 2007 7:15 PM

I use grated lemon zest (or other citrus zest) in my granola recipe. It adds a subtle flavor.

Posted by: carole612 | March 21, 2007 7:41 PM

Tom, I put a lemon wedge in my Corona (or any other beer). I like it better that way. It's my preference.

Posted by: Important | March 21, 2007 7:42 PM

Meyer lemons are THE best! And I use them in cooking, with a roasted Moroccan chicken recipe and also in a cake recipe --never found them wanting. Has anyone tried a Sambo lemon? I understand they are very sweet....

Posted by: carole612 | March 21, 2007 7:44 PM

Zest and juice in cheesecake. Other flavors don't interest me in this dessert.

Zest, juice, and slices for chicken cutlets.

Whole in a bowl--just makes everything look fresher.

Posted by: Maxine | March 22, 2007 7:28 AM

Lemon juice (or lime) also rescues those dreary chunks of honeydew melon and cantaloupe you find everywhere in the winter...

Posted by: Reine de Saba | March 22, 2007 9:15 AM

Kim you have made me so happy! Lemon is my absolute favorite flavor--sweet and savory! You have given me a few new ideas. Now I need to run out and buy another abg of lemons!

Posted by: JN | March 22, 2007 9:58 AM

Harriet wrote:

"Pasta al Limone - tagliatelle swirled with a lemon/butter/cream and parmigina reggiano sauce that I had in a restaurant in Rome. So light and delicious, I can still taste it to this day. What a wonderful surprise for a lemon lover! Nigella Lawson also has a great recipe to make at home."

I agree! Pasta al Limone is fabulous! I've had it served in many European cities, but not here. Well, there was a place in NYC that served it in the early '90s. Their version lacked pizazz. Sadly, this appears to be a pasta dish that has never captured the attention of many chefs, restaurateurs -- and I suppose diners in the U.S.

It's easy enough to make -- time to find that recipe again! Thanks for the reminder.

Posted by: Ann Drew | March 22, 2007 10:12 AM

At the legendary watering hole Peter Café Sport in Horta, on the island of Faial in the Azores (see John Deiner's big Travel article this past Sunday, BTW!), they serve ice-cold Coca-Cola in actual glass(!) glasses, and cut a slice of fresh lemon while you watch and wait for your drink. And they even let you take your drink outside to consume across the street, so you can take in the view of the Marina; they depend upon customers to return the glasses on the honor system. One of my fondest travel memories.

Posted by: I (heart) the Azores | March 22, 2007 2:12 PM

Thank you!
You might try "Bistecca alla Fiorentina", or, if you can't get to Firenze soon enough, my version: Tenderloin Filet (not porterhouse) pre-seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, grilled to preference and then dressed very simply and elegantly with a squeeze of a wedge of lemon and a touch of parsley.

If you like beef, you might also try this roll up: Flour Tortilla, Spread with Original Boursin Cheese, a slice or two of roast beef, a squeeze of lemon wedge, roll and slice into bite size pieces. Picnic ready..

Also, has smoked salmon and lemon's affinity for each other been mentioned yet.. or lemon and creme fraiche?

And finally, lemon on mashed potatoes is quite tasty actually...


Posted by: Floriana | March 22, 2007 7:56 PM

Just used them in dinner tonight, and didn't exactly see my use listed (it was listed as inserted in a fish):
Use it to cook on. Tonight's dinner was a bunch of dill sprigs and slices of lemon with cod placed on top and microwaved. I've also grilled with the lemons not only flavoring but keeping it from sticking to the rack.

And then inserted slices under the skin of a chicken before roasting, or juicing and pouring the juice over a mixture of chunked potatoes, oregano and chicken parts before roasting to make a kind of Greek chicken. (I usually cheat and make in the Crock Pot)

Posted by: JJ | March 23, 2007 8:02 PM

I love eating whole lemons, peel and all. I know it's supposed to be bad for your teeth, but the dentist hasn't said anything yet....

Posted by: j123 | March 27, 2007 10:43 AM

After cooking and using the lemon all sorts of waysCut a lemon in half, put some kosher salt on the copper pot and rub with lemon, rinse and wipe dry with cloth. No chemicals and safe. Throw it in the garbage disposal when finished.

Posted by: Deb | March 29, 2007 10:50 AM

Indians make a wonderful lemon pickle by combining lemons with spices and storing it in brown pickle jars for a couple of months. these are also available in Indian grocery stores and go wonderfully with vegetables and lentils.

Posted by: RM | March 29, 2007 10:53 AM

Does anyone have a recipe for Pasta al Limone? I would love to make it.

Posted by: Charlene Washington | March 29, 2007 11:57 AM

you must have hit a massive societal tastebud with your description of the Lemon -- and it's many uses! Great post -- I appreciate all the ideas in one place -- and everyone's comments with ideas. Now, off to find that lemon in the back of the veggie drawer ...

Posted by: maureen | March 29, 2007 12:16 PM

The other night I sauteed eggplant in garlic, olive oil and lemon. The lemon makes it taste divine!

I also notice that the pumpkin served at afghan restaurants often have a very lemony flavor that is really memorable - - the tart with the sweet.

Posted by: Cin | March 29, 2007 12:25 PM

Juice of 1/4 lemon in a glass of warm water the first thing upon awakening in the morning is said to be "healthy for the liver". I have no idea why this is, medically. It can't hurt, I guess.

Posted by: Hedda | March 29, 2007 1:31 PM

for over forty years, i have be blessed with a meyers lemon tree outside my bedroom window. it's bloom is wonderful. and in it's prime as tree is aging, i could get more than a cup of juice from a single lemon. this for a short time screwed up recipes that called for the juice of one lemon.

Posted by: titus | March 29, 2007 2:15 PM

An old Baltimore tradition is the lemon and peppermint stick. You cut one end off and insert a porous peppermint stick into the lemon. Suck real hard and you get the lemon juice traveling up the peppermint stick. Yummy sweet & tart.

My husband likes to eat lemons liberally sprinkled with salt.

Posted by: Janet | March 29, 2007 3:42 PM

Some recipes need 'unwaxed' lemons. I'm in the Midwest, so no lemon trees in my yard. Can store-bought waxed lemons be unwaxed some way? Thinking of a baked chicken recipe with slices of unwaxed lemons on top...

Posted by: Carla | March 29, 2007 5:59 PM

This is to Carole. Your comment on Sambo Lemons, what is a sambo lemon? How dooes it taste and can you purchase them locally?

Posted by: Leigh Penny | March 30, 2007 9:28 AM

If I'm making a recipe that calls for only the juice or meat of a lemon, I'll remove the zest with a vegetable peeler and let it air-dry. I then grind it in the spice mill and use it to season just about everything. It's particularly handy when preparing a dry-rub for grilling meats.
Some years ago, I made a kind of relish with a friend of mine, but I can barely recall what went in it. By my recollection, we salted or brined the skins (including the pith) of about a half dozen lemons. We then chopped those fine and mixed them with paprika and I don't know what else. What stands out most in my memory is that the prepaation seemed to last longer than the product; it was that good.
If anyone has any idea what the concoction was called and where I might find again the recipe, I'd be much obliged.

Posted by: Bentley | April 1, 2007 2:15 AM

With Easter approaching, I can't help but remark how the lovely lemon is a center piece in the medley of flavors of Italian-American Easter desserts. In particular, in rice and ricotta pies.

Posted by: Donna DiM | April 1, 2007 9:49 PM

Meyer lemons are very popular right now. They are a cross between a regular lemon and an orange. They are bigger and sweeter than regular lemons and lots of people like them because of that. As far using them in recipes, you have to reduce the sugar in a recipe unless it was developed using Meyer lemons. The sweeter Meyer may be the reason someone above is using less sugar in her lemonade. They are good but I still like the tartness of a regular lemon.

Posted by: CaliforniaGirl | April 3, 2007 2:38 AM

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