Growing up, I hated lemon. I didn’t want it in or anywhere near my food. Not in my iced tea. Not in my salad. Not in cookies. Nowhere…except lollipops; for some reason, I liked lemon lollipops. Today, I love lemons. I make sure to always have a bowl filled with them, and I use them in everything!
It couldn’t work out any better that lemons are at their peak during winter. While the days are shorter, colder and darker, lemons bring us much-needed sunshine. This pretty citrus fruit can brighten up any dish with just a squeeze. Lemons are versatile – they can be used in sweet and savory dishes as well as in salads, dressings, beverages, and desserts. Lemons are inexpensive, and since the whole fruit can be used including the juice and peel, they are a great economical choice. Good for our bodies and our health, lemons can also be useful outside the kitchen for beauty and cleaning needs. The little lemon can a whole lot – here’s the squeeze on how to use them.
1. Selection and Storage
Lemons are in peak season during the winter when they get flown in from warm climates. Look for lemons that feel heavy, are bright yellow, and have a shiny skin. Lemons that have green areas are unripe and will be more acidic. Dark spots or shriveled skin can mean they were harvested too late or have been sitting around too long. Older lemons lose their acidity and give less juice.
You can store lemons at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, for a week to ten days. They can be stored in the fridge for two to three weeks. Cut lemons should be wrapped up and can last 2-3 days.
2. Meyer Lemons
There are half a dozen types of lemons, but the one you hear about most is the Meyer lemon. Chefs love using Meyer lemons because they are slightly sweeter than other types. The Meyer lemon is thought to be a cross between lemon and mandarin orange with a hint of orange color and a flavor that tastes like lemon mixed with a bit of tangerine. Recipes using these special Meyer lemons include this Meyer Lemon Coconut Cream Tarts With Mint and Lavender and this Lemon Poppy Seed Bundt Cake.
Lemon juice can be used to make marinades since acid is an important part of every marinade. Simply substitute lemon juice for vinegar in marinade recipes. Read The Ultimate Guide to Making Flavor-Packed Marinades for Plant-Based Dishes and Why You Should Always Marinate Your Plant-Based Proteins and How to Do It to learn everything you need to know about marinades.
Here’s a Simple Mediterranean Marinade that’s great for a wide variety of dishes: combine 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice, 3 minced garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, ½ teaspoon black pepper, and salt to taste. Dishes with lemon marinades you’ll want to try include this Lemony Baked Tofu, Marinated Tempeh Salad, and Raw Vegan Curry with Marinated Mushrooms and Onions.
4. Salad Dressings
Simple salad dressings, known as vinaigrettes, use oil and vinegar but you can use lemon juice as the acid instead or in addition to the vinegar. Try making my Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette: in a blender or food processor, combine 4 chopped sun-dried tomatoes, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1 minced garlic clove, the zest and juice of one lemon, and salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth and taste for seasoning adjustments. It’s perfect for salads. Check out 10 Ways to Make Amazing Salad Dressings and 19 Salad Dressings You Won’t Believe are Vegan for lots of recipes.
Lemon is a traditional ingredient in Caesar Dressing and it’s part of a yummy dressing for this Lemon Herb Pasta Salad. Lemon pairs well with tahini so you’ll see them together in lots of dishes like this Arugula Fennel Salad with Creamy Lemon Dressing, Kale and Cranberry Salad With Lemon Tahini Dressing, and this Nourishing Power Bowl with Lemon Tahini Dressing. You should definitely try this Quinoa Power Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette and this Mixed Kale Salad With Rosemary Ciabatta Croutons and Lemon Poppy Vinaigrette. Besides using lemon vinaigrettes and dressings on salads, you can also use them to dress veggies like my Fried Smashed Potatoes with Lemon Vinaigrette.
Lemons make delicious sauces that have tang and brightness to them. Plus, adding lemon to sauces helps improve digestion. Lemon is one of the last ingredients to add to a sauce and many times, after the heat is turned off to prevent the lemon from becoming bitter. Hollandaise sauce is one of the classic mother sauces vegan hollandaise sauce is just as creamy and delicious without the eggs. Try my Asparagus Tartines with Light Hollandaise Sauce, this Eggs Benny and Flo, and this Portobello Florentine With Lemony Hollandaise Sauce. Lemons are also part of Alfredo sauce and Piccata sauce. Try this Creamy Cashew Alfredo Pasta, Creamy Rotini Alfredo with Asparagus and Peas, Tofu Piccata, and this Cauliflower Piccata. Add lemon to cashew cream to make this Pumpkin Gnocchi in Spiced Butter with Lemon Cashew Cream and this Moussaka with Cashew Cream.
Other recipes with lemon sauce include Roasted Vegetables with Lemon Cannellini Sauce, Hoppin’ John Sliders With Smoky Lemon Aioli Sauce and Sautéed Greens, Cold Soba Bowl With Lemon Miso Sauce, Moroccan Tofu in Lemon-Olive Sauce, and Creamy Lemon Ziti With Roasted Asparagus.
Lemons give baked goods and desserts a light, fresh flavor. Whether you’re making ice cream, sorbet, pudding, cake or muffins, lemon adds a unique brightness. First, learn how to make your own Homemade Lemon Curd that you can use in other desserts like this Lemon Curd and Cupcakes and this Lemon Curd Ice Cream Cake with Taco Crunch. Adding lemon to sweet cashew cream helps you make incredible desserts like this Raw Lemon Lime Cheesecake and these Lemon Cashew Tarts.
Other lemony desserts include this Lemon Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache, Simple No-Churn Lemon Balm Ice Cream, No-Bake Lemon Squares, Cranberry Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins, Raw Lemon Meringue Pie, Lemon Coconut Protein Bars and this Zucchini Poppy Seed Cake with Lemon Drizzle Icing.
7. Zest, Peels, and Preserving
Lemon juice is delicious but the zest and peel is also useful in cooking. Use a zester to grate some of the rind into sauces, stews, soups, and desserts. Who wouldn’t want one of these Strawberry Lemon Zest Bagels? I want one! Lemon zest is added to breadcrumbs to make this Whole Wheat Pasta With Sundried Tomatoes and Lemon Breadcrumbs. Lemon rind is used to make this Lemon and Walnut Linguine With Roasted Broccoli while the lemon peel is part of these Rosemary Lemon Sandwich Cookies and this Creamy Hummus Soup.
Lemons preserved in salt are a fragrant and distinctive flavoring used in Moroccan and Middle Eastern stews, tagines, and other dishes. Known as lemon confit, the flavor is zippy, salty, and complex. Try it in this Roasted Carrot and Beet Salad with Lemon Confit Dressing.
8. Other Cooking Uses
There are lots of other ways to use lemons in cooking. Did you know that adding lemon juice to the water while cooking rice leads to fluffier grains? Try it when you make this Tofu Chorizo with Lemon Cauliflower Rice or this Lemony Butternut Squash Risotto. Squeezing lemon on fruit and veggies can help prevent them from oxidizing and discoloring as well as enhancing their flavor. Adding lemon to beverages can really freshen up a drink, even if it’s just water or tea like this Turmeric Ginger Tea. Of course, lemon can also be used as a garnish so people can squeeze the juice over their food.
9. Around the House
Lemons can also be put to use in rooms outside the kitchen. Lemons are great for home beauty treatments to rejuvenate skin and hair. Read How to Use Ginger, Turmeric, and Lemon to Care for the Body Naturally, Foods That Double as DIY Beauty Products, and 5 Amazing DIY Hacks with Lemons.
Lemon juice can also be used to clean the house and laundry. It acts as a natural bleach to get rid of stains and remove odors. If you dip half a lemon in salt, it can be used as an abrasive sponge to clean pots and pans. Add lemons to the garbage pail to help deodorize it. Learn more in How to Tackle 10 Home Cleaning Tasks With Just 5 Green Ingredients and 5 Cleaning Products You Make With the Fruit in Your Kitchen. Lastly, if you need to bring a little luck into your life, put nine lemons in a bowl. Feng shui experts say this will bring good luck.
Wow! That’s just the beginning of all you can do with lemons. For such a little fruit, they are really amazing. If you’re a lemon lover or need ideas, check out 24 Fresh Vegan Recipes for Lemon Lovers and When Life Hands You Lemons, Make These 30 Sweet and Savory Recipes. I’m so glad I learned to love lemons!
Lead image source: Raw Lemon Meringue Pie