11 February 2012

Op ALPHABET SOUP: L is for lemon – or is it for lime?

Fresh lemons and limes are one of those things that we always have on hand – either in the fridge, or if it's too full, perched in a bowl on the counter. They're a cheap, long-lasting type of produce, handy for just about every type of dish. If we're out of lemons and limes, I know it's really beyond time to get more groceries.

We pretty much only use fresh citrus in this household. Those concentrated lemon and lime juices are pretty nasty if they're used too freely. Given that a lime will last about 6 to 8 weeks in the fridge, I just can't justify using the plastic squeeze bottle variety.

When I say lemons and limes are handy for everything, I mean it. Whether it's in salad dressing, marinades, sauces, added directly to main dishes, or perking up dessert, these babies are always on call. And beyond the juice of the tangy citrus, there's another whole slate of uses for their grated rind. Don't believe in lemon beyond your circa-1984 filet of sole? Read on. Pretty sure that the only lime you ever liked was in a margarita on the beach in Mexico? Try one of the recipes below to broaden your horizons!

The recipes below feature lemons and limes in their more obvious states, but don't hesitate to use lemon or lime to add a background zing to your dishes. For example, I'll often use the juice of half a lemon on chicken as I'm sautéeing it to add to a pesto or alfredo pasta dish. Squeezing a bit of lemon juice over the meat while it cooks seems to give it enough time to soak up the flavour without becoming too strong. The flavour is subtle – even unidentifiable – but it gives a little boost to the otherwise meek and mild chicken.

This holds true for a lot of dishes. A spritz of lemon juice on your vegetables perks them up without screaming too loudly at anyone's taste buds. A spritz of lime or lemon juice over a fruit salad gives it a whole new layer of flavours – particularly helpful if you're dealing with the typically mealy and bland selection of fruits available in the middle of winter.

So go to the produce section, pick yourself up a handful limes and a few lemons, and start living on the citrus side of life. Below is a series of recipes to get you into the lemon and lime vibe.

The high level of citric acid in this marinade makes for a super-quick marinating process. If you use it on something as delicate as fish, including shellfish, you'll only need to marinate for about 30 to 60 minutes. On chicken or pork, give it a couple of hours, or longer. For beef, you can let it work from 3 to 18 hours. Whatever you marinate, go directly from the marinade to the grill or pan, and discard the remaining liquid. 

3 limes
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 or 2 green onions (aka scallions) or 1/6 of a white onion
1 Tbsp granulated (white) sugar
1 tsp chili powder
Pinch salt
Black pepper
Optional: Pinch dried red pepper flakes or 1 tsp finely chopped jalapeno pepper
Optional: Cilantro to taste

Cut the limes in half, then ream or squeeze every last bit of their juice into a glass bowl. Add the sugar, and whisk until dissolved (about 30 seconds). Add the olive oil, and whisk for another 30 seconds.

Wash and peel off the outer skin of the green onions. Finely chop the onions, using the white bottom portion as well as about 1 to 2 inches of the green stalk. Add to the bowl.

Peel and mince the garlic. Add to the bowl, along with the chili powder, salt, black pepper, and the optional ingredients if you're using them. Give a quick whisk to mix. Put in a large resealable plastic bag (yeah, that's a Ziploc bag!), and add your fish or meat.

Gently squeeze out the air from the bag, seal, and give a few shakes/pats/rubs to ensure the marinade is completely covering your meat. Place on a plate, and refrigerate for as long as needed.

Forget paying a premium for the newest hot thing in yogurts – the low-fat "Greek style" yogurts. Buy some plain 2 or 3% yogurt, and make your own, with a zesty twist. It's all about straining your yogurt. I suppose you could even go so far as to make your own yogurt, but let's just keep this to the realm of the reasonable! 

All you need to make this is a medium or large wire mesh sieve (not a colander!) and some cloth or cheesecloth. You can vary the sugar as you see fit, but don't be afraid of making this a bit sweet. It works well with the natural tang of the yogurt and the lemon.

On its own, this makes a fantastic snack or fruit dip, or use it as an exquisite drizzle for desserts and fruit salads – a delicious replacement for whipped cream or ice cream. Served alongside rich, dense chocolate desserts, it provides a nice balance of slight acidity (from the citrus and the yogurt) but with a light, smooth and creamy texture. 

If you don't want to add the vanilla, it's still a great dish. Just use the lemon zest, or for that matter, some lime zest.

1 750ml container plain (unflavoured) yogurt, 2% or 3% fat content
3 Tbsp white sugar
2 Tbsp lemon zest
1 vanilla bean (or 2 drops of the best quality vanilla extract that you can find)

Take a piece of cheesecloth (best place to buy it is the Home Depot, in the paint/varnish section of the store!) and lay it in a wire sieve, which you have balanced over a large bowl. A clean dishtowel will do the same thing, but cheesecloth is best. In a pinch, we've even used stacked sheets of high-quality paper towel.

Dump your yogurt in a medium sized bowl. Add the white sugar, and mix gently.

Wash your lemon, and pat it dry. Zest over a fine micro plane or the zesting panel of your handy cheese grater to give yourself up to 2 tablespoons of zest. Toss this in the bowl of yogurt and give a quick stir.

If you're using vanilla bean, slit the bean lengthwise with the tip of a cooking knife. Open the bean up along the slice, and scrape out the sticky delicious middle of the bean. Add this tarry goodness to the bowl of yogurt and lemon. If you're not using vanilla beans, just add a scant two drops of vanilla to your yogurt mixture instead.

Give the mixture a thorough but gentle stir to ensure it's fully blended. Now spoon it into your prepared (lined) sieve. Cover loosely with plastic wrap to protect it from the odd smells in your fridge.

Making sure that your sieve is perched over a bowl to catch the drips, place in your fridge and allow to drain for a minimum of 4 hours, but up to 2 days. As the liquid drains from your yogurt, it thickens up to some wickedly smooth and decadent yogurt.

Remove the drained yogurt from the sieve, either into serving dishes, or for storing, in a covered glass or plastic dish. You can store the finished product in your fridge for a day or two, so long as you give it a good stir before consuming. After that, it's easy enough to make more!

I've only made this as mini-cupcakes, but once I had made them, I wished they were full-sized! This is slightly modified from Dorie Greenspan's "Baking" cookbook recipe for a  coconut tea cake. 

They're like a delicious cocktail turned into a dessert (and still kid-friendly). Quite honestly, they'd work just as well with lemon, but there's something about the combination of lime and coconut that's irresistible to me.

Note that I used light coconut milk, but you could easily stick with regular old milk and get comparable results. 

There are two options for topping your cupcakes below. One requires that the cupcakes are still warm, the other that they're cooled – so best to have your plan for action determined before you pull the cupcakes out of the oven.

Cupcakes are ever-so-trendy right now, and let's face it, highly portable cake is just awesome. However, if you'd rather cook this as a full big cake, just grease a bundt or tube pan well, and use it instead of smaller tins. Bake for 60 to 65 minutes. 

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup light coconut milk (stir very well before use)
1/3 cup butter
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons dark rum (or white rum if that's all you have!)
3/4 cup shredded coconut
1 lime (for zest and juice)

Put the sugar in a small bowl. Wash and dry the lime. Zest the full lime into the granulated sugar, stirring to mix completely. Slice the naked lime in half and set aside for use in the next step.

Preheat your oven to 350º F. Line your mini or regular muffin tins with cupcake papers.

Put a small saucepan over low heat. Add the coconut milk, butter, and squeeze or ream in the juice of the lime. Stir constantly until butter melts. Turn off the heat but leave the saucepan in place to keep warm.

In a deep bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together, either with a stand mixer or hand mixer. Beat for about 3 minutes, until the mixture has essentially doubled in size. Add the vanilla and rum, beat another 30 seconds.

Sift together your flour, baking powder, and salt together. Add this to your wet mixture, and on low speed, beat until flour disappears. Don't overdo it at this point. Using a spatula, make sure the sides of the bowl are scraped down and everything is smoothly blended together.

With your spatula, gently mix in the coconut.

Now, with the mixer on low speed, add in the coconut milk mixture. Again, just mix until blended. Give the bowl a few turns with your spatula to make sure you don't have any pockets of dry ingredients at the bottom or sides of the bowl.

Pour this mixture into your lined cupcake tins, and place on middle rack of oven. Bake for about 14 minutes (mini) or 20 minutes (large), keeping an eye on the tins to ensure they don't overcook. These times are very rough, so stick around the kitchen and keep an eye on the cupcakes. If the tops start to brown, pull them out right away.

Test the centres of the cupcakes with a toothpick to ensure they're done. If the toothpick comes out clean, you can move them to cool in the tins on racks.

If you'll ice the cupcakes, let them cool completely. However, if you want to glaze them, immediately drizzle them with the glaze so it soaks in as they cool.

Lime & Coconut glaze:
Juice of 1 lime
1 Tbsp white sugar
Splash of white, dark, or coconut rum, approx. 1 teaspoon (optional)
1 Tbsp shredded coconut

In a small saucepan over low heat, dissolve the sugar in the lime juice, stirring constantly preferably with a silicon whisk or spatula. Allow to come to a gentle boil, still stirring constantly.

Remove from heat, add the rum, and the coconut. Taste, and adjust sugar as needed.

Drizzle this over your cupcakes while it and they are both still warm.

Coconut Icing:
As above, use regular milk if you don't have coconut milk on hand. Just add a bit more coconut to the mixture to make sure the flavour is still strong. Or for that matter, use coconut rum as your flavouring! 

4 Tbsp butter, softened but not melted
1 1/2 cups icing sugar, plus extra as needed
2 Tbsp light coconut milk (stir very well before using)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla or dark rum
Scant pinch of salt
1 Tbsp shredded coconut (plus more for garnish)

Using a hand mixer or good spatula, cream the butter with 1 cup of the icing sugar and the salt. Beat in the coconut milk and vanilla and/or rum. Add in more of the icing sugar until you get the icing to the smooth, thick consistency you want -- then spread generously on the cooled cupcakes.

Garnish with more shredded coconut if you wish. I'm not a big fan of artificially coloured adornments on my food, but if you have some of those eerie translucent green sprinkles on hand, a very scant sprinkle of these would work as a topping to the icing instead of coconut (or use yellow if you're making this whole recipe with lemon instead of lime!).

If you want to achieve a little colour the natural way, add 1 tsp of lime zest to the icing sugar before you mix the icing up. The tiny bits of green add a cool dimension to the icing.

1 comment:

Nora McLernon said...

You can also freeze lemons if you want to make the most of sales. They come out soft-with but no change in flavour.
Nora (Marshal's very proud mom)