From Chris Halpin
Lemons are used all over the world in all sorts of ways. They are so versatile and have some remarkable properties – lemons will preserve food, cure seafood, tenderize meats, clot cream or eggs and, of course, delight our palates in dishes that run the full range of flavours from savoury to sweet. In March and April, lemons, for me, are the promise of spring.
1. Preserved Lemons
These are used in many Moroccan and Middle Eastern recipes. The lemons become quite mellow and savoury after they have finished curing. It is a transformative ingredient for many dishes, most notably tagines. You can use any lemons that are available, but the Meyer lemon is the variety I prefer. Meyers are thin skinned and sweeter, with a slight floral tone. Wash and dry 4 lemons. Nip the tops and bottoms off to the flesh and quarter them. In the bottom of a quart-sized glass jar sprinkle 1 t. salt then press in 5 or 6 lemon quarters to make a layer. Sprinkle another 1 t. salt and repeat with the lemon quarters until the jar is filled to the neck. Be sure to really press the lemons in and add extra lemon juice, if needed, to ensure the lemons are covered with juice. Screw the lid on snugly and let stand on the counter for 3 days, turning upside-down a couple of times a day. Then refrigerate for a week before using them. Makes 1 quart. In most recipes, you will use only the rind and discard the pulp.
2. Chicken Salad
With preserved lemons and pistachios, this is a main course salad I would typically serve with mixed greens and a simple pasta salad. Whisk together in a small bowl 1/2 c. yogurt, 2 T. mayonnaise, 1/4 c. white wine vinegar, 1 t. Dijon mustard and 1 t. salt. In a large bowl put 4 c. diced, cooked chicken, 1/4 c. preserved lemon rind, thinly sliced, 1/4 c. chives, chopped, 1/2 fennel bulb, shaved, 1 red pepper, julienned, and the dressing. Gently stir until well mixed and adjust salt, if needed.
Garnish with 1/2 c. pistachios and some torn fennel fronds. Serves 4
3. Avgolemono Soup
A traditional Greek soup thickened with egg, it’s one of the quickest soups I know and it is wonderful served either hot or chilled. This is my twist on it. Heat 4 c. chicken stock in a pot over medium heat with salt and white pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, add 1/2 c. finely sliced leeks and reduce the heat to simmer. In a bowl, whisk together 2 eggs and the juice of 1 lemon. Whisk in the hot broth, one ladle at a time, until the egg mixture is quite warm – about 4 or 5 ladles should do it. Now whisk the egg mixture vigorously into the pot of broth and bring back to the boil. Remove from the heat and stir in 1 c. sliced fresh spinach. Adjust the salt and pepper and serve garnished with chopped chives or parsley, if you like. When I serve this soup chilled, I omit the spinach, spoon the ceviche – the recipe that follows this one – in the centre and garnish with chives. So good! Serves 4.
4. Shrimp and Scallop Ceviche
I like to use very small scallops and shrimp for this – it’s a textural thing for me. Ceviche is seafood of some variety that is citrus- and salt-cured and is popular in Latin cuisines. In this recipe, I have frenchified the ceviche. In a bowl, gently mix together 1-1/2 c. raw scallops (100-150 count), 1-1/2 c. raw shrimp (70-90 count), juice of 2 lemons, 1 t. salt, 1 t. Sriracha hot sauce, 1 garlic clove, crushed, and 1 T. fresh thyme leaves. Let marinate in the fridge for 3 hours before serving. This can be served as an appetizer, with endive or crostini, on top of a bed of greens, or as a garnish on a chilled soup, like an avocado velouté or the Avgolemono, recipe #3. Serves 4.
5. Lemon, Pepper, Parmesan Shortbread
This savoury biscuit has a delightful balance of flavours and simply melts in your mouth. In a bowl, put 2 c. flour, 1 t. white pepper, 1 t. lemon zest, 1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese and mix well. Add 1 c. soft salted butter and, with your hands, work the butter into the flour mixture until it’s smooth. Add the juice of 1 lemon and work the dough until it has been fully incorporated and has come back into a ball. Divide the dough into four pieces, and on a floured surface, roll each piece into a tube about two inches thick. Wrap each tube in plastic-wrap, and with your index finger and thumb, make an “OK” sign. Pull each tube through the “OK” sign to even out any “wobbles.” Chill the dough tubes in the fridge for one hour or freeze for later use. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F., unwrap a tube and slice it into 1/2-inch-thick coins. Arrange them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they’ve turned a gentle gold colour. These are a showstopper when I use them as part of a cheese course – they stand-up nicely against flavourful cheeses and are great on their own. Makes about 40.
6. Lemon Rose Posset
This is a fascinating recipe –- a pudding that’s thickened by clotting cream with citrus and will only work with whipping cream. (If you try this recipe with half & half or milk, it will curdle into a terrible mess.) But this is fast, easy and reliable; it will work every time. In a pot over medium heat, bring 2 c. whipping cream and 3/4 c. sugar to a boil, stirring until the sugar has fully dissolved. Reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in 1/2 t. lemon zest, 1/2 c. lemon juice and 1/4 t. rose water. Gently stir to fully incorporate, then stir 10 more times. Ladle into ramekins or decorative glasses and chill for at least 2 hours before serving. When ready to serve, drizzle 1 t. cream around the edge of each one and garnish with your fave fresh fruit. Move over crème brûlée! Serves 4 to 6. (Find rose water at Mediterranean groceries and specialty food stores.)