Unleash the lemon: The most versatile ingredient in and out of the kitchen

Published on Wednesday, 23 April 2014 01:02 - Written by Christine Gardner, food@tylerpaper.com


They are bright, tart, acidic, sweet and sour, but with all these properties combined it’s what makes lemons the most versatile fruit in the world. Even outside the kitchen, the lemon is used for cleaning, disinfecting, beauty and health products.

In the new cookbook “Favorite FLAVOR” lemons are used in numerous recipes for multiple reasons. Keeping a bowl of fresh lemons in the kitchen can serve many purposes.

Yellow Power

Vitamin C: One lemon contains a full day’s supply of ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, but that’s the whole fruit; the juice holds about a third.

Chemical reaction: Lemon juice can be used to “cook” proteins such as shrimp and fish. The proteins are denatured by the acid rather than by heat. This technique is used in ceviche. It is also one of the reasons why seafood and chicken should not be marinated for too long in acidic liquids like vinegar, lemon or lime juice.


Lemon Juice

Full potential: Fresh lemons are always best because bottle juice is usually harsh and overly acidic. Before juicing, roll a lemon under your palm to break down the cells inside the fruit that hold liquid. If the lemon has begun to harden, microwave for 20 seconds. You should get 2 to 3 tablespoons of juice per fruit.

Prevents browning: Use on potatoes, apples, pears, bananas and avocadoes to prevent browning. Squeeze the juice directly on the food item, toss in a bowl to coat the food or soak in acidulated water. (1 tablespoon lemon juice per 1 cup of water.)

Brighten colors: When blanching vegetables add 2 tablespoons of lemon to the simmering water. It will help keep the color of the vegetable bright. When making pies or using fresh fruit for a dessert, tossing the fruit in a small amount of lemon juice achieves the same type of brightness.

Brighten flavor: While vegetables are grilling or roasting squeeze half a lemon over the top. It doesn’t make the food taste lemony, but rather it brightens the natural flavors. The same works for fruits and meat.

Balance acidity: Adding some lemon juice to dressings or sauces can tone down acidic flavors from vinegar and keep a creamy sauce from tasting too heavy.

Grill or roast lemons: Adding lemon halves or wedges to the grill or roasting pan will elevate the flavor of whatever you are cooking. The sugars in the lemons caramelize and release a sweet roasted flavor that can be a standalone sauce for anything on the grill.

Fishy fish: If your fish seems a little fishy squeezing lemon over it cuts the fishiness.

Soggy lettuce: When lettuce becomes moist and limp from being in the refrigerator, add the juice of half a lemon to a bowl of cold water. Put the soggy lettuce in it and refrigerate for one hour. Make sure to dry the leaves completely before using in a salad.

Sticky rice: Keep rice flaky and light by adding a spoonful of lemon juice to the boiling water. When the rice is done, let it cool for a few minutes, then fluff with a fork before serving.

Substitute for white wine: When deglazing a pan, lemon juice can be used in place of wine.


Lemon Zest

Don’t just use the juice, the lemon zest is also a powerful flavor agent. Adding zest as an ingredient elevates the flavor in ways that juice alone cannot do.

Begin by using it sparingly because a little goes a long way. Then add more if you think you need it.

Try a teaspoon or two of zest in pasta sauces, baked goods, pesto, vegetable dishes, grilled chicken, fish and desserts – anything you serve that needs a fresh zest of flavor.

Use a microplane to take off the top layer of skin from the lemon. Grate over the area only once because the white part underneath is bitter. When cooking with zest it will melt into whatever you are making, in other dishes the delicate yellow flakes are a beautiful addition and also serve as a bright edible garnish.


Lemony Clean

Freshen fridge: Remove refrigerator odors with ease. Dab lemon juice on a cotton ball or sponge and leave in the fridge for several hours.

Brighten aluminum: Make dull pots and pans sparkle by rubbing half a lemon all over them and then buff with a soft cloth.

Clean brass: For tarnish on brass, copper, or stainless steel, make a paste of lemon juice and salt (or substitute baking soda or cream of tartar for the salt.) Coat the affected area. Let it stay on for 5 minutes. Wash in warm water, rinse and polish dry. Use the same mixture to clean metal kitchen sinks too.

Refresh cutting boards: After using cutting boards for onions, garlic, meat or vegetables that stain, deodorize and sanitize by sprinkling the board with salt and rubbing with half a lemon. After, rinse with warm water.

Clean microwave: Clean the inside of the microwave by mixing 3 tablespoons lemon juice into 1 1/2 cups water in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 5-10 minutes, allowing the steam to condense on the inside walls and ceiling of the oven. Then wipe clean with a towel.

Deodorize garbage disposal: If odors are coming from your garbage disposal deodorize it with a few lemon peels. Repeat once a month to prolong freshness.

Clean hands: After handling onions or garlic, squeeze lemon juice over your hands to remove odors. The same can be done to remove stains on your hands from berries or beets.

All recipes in today’s feature are from “Favorite FLAVOR” by Christine Gardner. The book compiles favorite recipes from the Tyler Paper from the last three years. It is available in Tyler at FRESH by Brookshire’s, Sweet Gourmet and the Tyler Paper newspaper office. In Palestine it is available at Texas Art Depot and O’Sweet Pea Kitchen Boutique. To purchase and copy through mail call 903-597-1121 or email food@tylerpaper.com.

Lemon-Marinated Squash & Zucchini Salad



2 yellow squash

2 zucchini

1 large lemon, juice and zest

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon each, salt and black pepper



Cut the ends off the squash and zucchini. Going down the length of the vegetables, peel off the top layer of skin and discard. Using a mandoline or vegetable peeler, continue to peel off very thin ribbon-like vertical slices. Place in a medium size bowl. Add the lemon zest and juice. Roughly chop crushed red pepper flakes and add to the bowl. Add remaining 3 ingredients and toss well. Place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Serve cold as a salad or side dish.

Recipe from “Favorite FLAVOR” by Christine Gardner


Seared Scallops with Whole Wheat Pasta & Lemon Pesto



1 pound sea scallops

1/2 pound whole wheat linguine

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons basil pesto

1/2 cup white wine

2 lemons

Salt and cracked black pepper, to taste

Grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish



Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions. Remove from heat and set aside. Keep warm by only draining half the water. Rinse scallops and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat oil in a sauté pan over high heat. Add scallops to the pan, turn after 2 to 3 minutes. If they are still sticking to the pan do not turn yet. When they release on their own they are ready to turn. After turning, cook for 1 minute. Add the wine and the juice of one lemon. Tilt the pan forward and spoon some of the liquid over the scallops. Turn off the heat and move to a cool burner. Continue to spoon the liquid over the scallops until they are cooked through for about 2 minutes. Drain remaining water from pasta. Add the pesto and the juice from the other lemon. Toss the pasta to coat thoroughly. Add the scallops and all of the juices. Add black pepper to taste. Toss gently to combine. Garnish with grated Parmesan.

Recipe from “Favorite FLAVOR” by Christine Gardner


Honey-Citrus Roast Chicken



2 lemons

2 limes

2 oranges

10 fresh thyme sprigs, whole

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup honey, plus 1 tablespoon

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped

3 shallots, peeled and cut into fourths

1 whole chicken



Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut one lemon, lime and orange into wedges and the others into thin rounds. Place all in a bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon of honey. In a measuring cup combine lemon juice, remaining honey, olive oil and chopped thyme leaves. Rinse chicken inside and out and pat dry. Place in a roasting pan breast side up. With your fingers reach under the breast skin and gently separate the skin from the meat. Be careful not to puncture or tear the skin. Pour the lemon juice mixture over the chicken, under the skin and inside the cavity. Place a few rounds of lemon, lime and orange under the skin of the chicken and around the legs and wings. Stuff the inside of the chicken with the lemon, lime and orange wedges, shallots and thyme sprigs. Place the remaining wedges and rounds in the roasting pan alongside the chicken. Roast for 15 minutes and then lower the heat to 375 degrees. Continue to roast until juices run clear or a meat thermometer inserted into the thigh registers 165 degrees. If the breasts or legs start to get too dark cover with foil. The chicken should take approximately 7 minutes per pound. When the chicken reaches 165 degrees, remove from the oven. Cover with foil and let rest for 15 minutes. Remove fruit and shallots from the cavity and baste with some of the juices. Carve and serve.

Recipe from “Favorite FLAVOR” by Christine Gardner


Honey-Balsamic Grilled Salmon



1 pound fresh salmon

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper, for seasoning

3 lemons, halved



In a small bowl heat the honey for 15 seconds in the microwave. Add the balsamic vinegar and stir to combine. Season the salmon with salt and pepper on both sides and brush with honey sauce. Also brush the flesh side of the lemons with the honey sauce. Heat the grill or grill pan to high. Be sure the grates are very clean and well oiled. If the salmon still has its skin, place flesh side down on the grill. Baste with more honey sauce. Grill for 2 minutes or until the salmon easily releases and has prominent grill marks. Add the lemons to the grill. Turn the salmon, grill for an additional 2 minutes and brush again with the honey sauce. If using an outdoor grill turn off the heat and close the lid until the salmon cooks through to desired doneness. If cooking on a grill pan, place the salmon in a 450 degree oven for 3 to 5 minutes to cook through. Serve with the grilled lemons that can be squeezed over the salmon before eating.

Recipe from “Favorite FLAVOR” by Christine Gardner


Sparkling Sangria


1 bottle sparkling wine

12 ounces sparkling water, fruit or citrus flavor

1/4 cup orange liqueur

1/2 cup brandy

2 oranges, pears and peaches, sliced

1 lemon and lime, sliced

1 cup blueberries, frozen



Place the oranges, lemons, limes, pears and peaches in the bottom of a large pitcher. Pour the triple sec and brandy over the fruit and stir. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight. When ready to serve, pour in the sparkling wine and sparkling water. Add the frozen blueberries. Fill wine glasses with ice and pour sangria into each glass.

Recipe from “Favorite FLAVOR” by Christine Gardner


Kiwi Green Lemonade



4 kiwis

1 cup fresh lemon juice

3/4 cup sugar

2 quarts water, plus 1/2 cup



Peel the kiwis and puree in a blender with the lemon juice. Combine the sugar and 1/2 cup of water in a measuring cup. Microwave for 30 seconds and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add the sugar water to the kiwis and lemon juice. Strain the mixture into a large pitcher and add the remaining water. Serve over ice with kiwi and lemon slices as garnish.

Recipe from “Favorite FLAVOR” by Christine Gardner