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Image: Getty / Archi Banal
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KaiJanuary 14, 2023

Ingredient of the week: Lemons

Image: Getty / Archi Banal
Image: Getty / Archi Banal

Were there a New Year honour for a fruit, it should go to the lemon. Hear me out…

I’ve been accused of being lemon obsessed, to which I say, yup.

Not only do lemons have nearly countless culinary uses and the most beautiful-smelling flowers, you can also use them as a battery to power a digital watch, the base ingredient to produce invisible ink, a cleaning agent, and a bleach for blonde-ifying damp hair in the sun. They were the early cure for scurvy and the first main commercial source of citric acid.

I love that you can leave a cut and zested lemon on the kitchen windowsill, and three days later it’ll be dried up and shrivelled, but its juice will taste as fresh as just off the tree. I love that even when riddled with grey “citrus scab” disease, as my own homegrown lemons always have been, their flesh and juice is just as delicious (though not, sadly, their infected zest). That’s resilience for you.

I love the look of lemons, the delicacy of their zest, and their pure sourness. Lemon juice is 5-6% citric acid, which is a higher percentage than limes, twice as much as grapefruit, and five times as much as oranges. Sour and lovely. That’s lemons for you.

Where to find them

This is a lemon lament, one could say, as our lovely yellow friends are scarce over summer – even more so as Covid shipping delays continue to play havoc with lemon imports. The last few water-logged lemons are just hanging on our tree at home, and we’ll have to wait until winter to see local fruit flocking back to the supermarkets.

If you’re lucky, you might find some pricey imported US lemons – $12.99/kg at New World, or a 1kg sack for $10 at Countdown – or even more pricey local lemons for $15.99/kg at Pak’nSave. If you’re inclined to pay $47/kg for some locally grown limes, there’s another happy option for you too.

How to make them terrible

How to ruin something with lemon? A difficult question for a lemon lover like myself. You could over-lemon and overpower a dish, sure. You could squeeze so much over your avo toast that the bread goes soggy and sour. That’s quite gross. Or you could grip a lemon too aggressively and squirt yourself in the eye.

Otherwise, I say no, sir. The lemon is on the right side of history.

How to make them amazing

Lemon and sugar crepes. Lemon vinaigrette. Lemonade. Lemon drizzle cake. Lemon, honey and ginger tea to soothe an ailing throat. Lemon curd. Lemon meringue pie. Chewy lemon cookies. Lemon zest in pastry dough. Roast chicken thighs with lemon. Any sort of fish with a wedge on the side. Marmalade. That’s to name but a few.

Roast lemon and thyme chicken thighs with potato gratin. (Photo: Wyoming Paul)

One of my go-to dinners, and well worth purchasing a $2 lemon for, is creamy lemon spaghetti. Five ingredients, incredibly delicious, easy yet sophisticated, and a way to use every bit of that lemon – rind and juice. I’d happily make it for a date night or for dinner with friends.

Five ingredients, zero complaints: creamy lemon spaghetti. (Photo: Wyoming Paul)

Another recipe tip: quick preserved lemons. Typically a jar of preserved lemons will set you back about $16, or enough to ensure I would never buy them – which is a shame, because they’re a glorious addition to plenty of Moroccan, Greek, Italian and French dishes. Instead of buying a jar, you can preserve them yourself the usual way (if you have weeks of foresight), or try this quick hacky method:

  • Quarter two lemons and flick out the seeds
  • Boil them in a cup of water and 2 Tbsp of salt for 30 minutes or until tender

Done and dusted, ready to be sliced and added to a delicious salad or tray bake.

As well as being a delight on its own, lemon also makes other fruit and veggies better. What a good samaritan! Squeeze some lemon juice over sliced avocado, apple, pear, or banana, and it’ll last longer without oxidising and turning brown, as the citric acid shuts down their enzymes.

That’s why all the fruit I remember eating as child tasted like lemons, and maybe why I’m so fond of the fruit now – I was taught that everything goes well with lemon. I stand by it.

Wyoming Paul is the co-founder of Grossr, a meal kit alternative. 

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