One Ingredient, Many Ways: Lemons
Enlarge Image Credit: Todd ColemanLemonade may be summer's signature libation, but lemons truly belong to the winter. In this extended season of gray skies and comfort food, there's no better way to enlighten a pan of root vegetables, brighten a simmering pot of lentils, or add a layer of citrusy flavor to roast chicken than with a squeeze of lemon juice or a dusting of finely grated zest. It's the simplest way to invoke the color, light, and warmth that are notoriously absent this time of year—not to mention to spruce up that cocktail sipped indoors while waiting out winter's doldrums.
Craving a touch of sunshine, and seeking inspiration for the bowl of lemons staring at me from their counter-top perch, I called chef Michael Solomonov. The James Beard Award-winner and owner of the modern Israeli restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia, Solomonov has become a de facto lemon expert. After all, as he put it, "lemons are at the heart of Israeli and Middle Eastern cuisine. They have that ultimate balance of the bitter, the sour and the sweet."
"Lemons have that ultimate balance of the bitter, the sour and the sweet."Solomonov told me that the chefs at Zahav juice about a case and a half of lemons every day—"two on the weekends." That fresh juice ends up all over Zahav's menu, like in the lemonnana cocktail—a sweet-tart mix of lemon verbena syrup, fresh lemon juice, mint, soda water, and bourbon that riffs on a popular Israeli street drink. He also whisks lemon juice into hummus and stirs it into preserved vegetables and fruits, like the restaurant's pickled kumquats. And he told me that he likes to blanch whole lemons and puree them with sugar and olive oil, making a creamy sauce ideal served alongside fried salt cod.
All that talk of fried foods reminded me of a standout dish of fried cauliflower I ate at Zahav several months back. The restaurant's version dresses up the crisped florets with mint, garlic and tart labneh. But a little research turned up a traditional Sephardic Jewish dish, culupidia frita con limón, or fried cauliflower bathed in lemon juice. Bingo. Zester in hand, I stirred wisps of lemon peel into a flour and egg batter, fried the coated cauliflower in oil, then showered each bite with fresh lemon juice. Crunchy, tender, and brimming with fresh, tangy flavor, I expect this dish will be on heavy rotation in my kitchen until spring.
See the recipe for Lemony Fried Cauliflower »
Credit: Yossy Arefi
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