Lemons in Hiding
Lemony Herbs, Fruits, and Aromatics
by Kate Heyhoe
A stroll down a supermarket cleaning aisle is ample evidence: lemons smell good. Manufacturers inject lemon scent into everything from furniture polish to floor cleaners to body soaps. Why? Because we love citrus aromas-all kinds, including orange and lime-and we're especially partial to lemon.
Mother Nature knows this. Which is why she's allowed lemon essence to cross over from tree fruit to her other culinary babies. For instance, lemon finds a home in herbs by way of lemon thyme (pictured), lemon basil, lemon mint, lemon balm, and lemon verbena. In Southeast Asia, fibrous stalks of lemongrass perfume soups, sauces, and marinades. This summer, my husband and I grew yet another version of lemon in the form of spectacular Lemon Boy tomatoes.
Why bother to seek out lemony-tasting foods, rather than just squirt fresh lemon into a dish? Because it's all about nuance. Lemon thyme, for instance, carries a subtler flavor of thyme than its traditional counterparts, with a distinct lemony aroma and flavor. Tossed in salads, it's like a touch of spring, and the lemony-scent is less pronounced and sweeter than true lemon juice. Almost the opposite though for lemon verbena, which bears a strong citrus tone, almost like lemon drops, especially with fruits and desserts.
Lemongrass is subtle, more like a waft of lemon blowing off a distant breeze. Its best asset is the ability to function as a low-key, back flavor, than as a sharp citrus blast, which in Vietnam and Thailand comes more from fresh limes and lime leaves.
If you're interested in sparkling up the lemon essence in your cooking without using lemons, give these gifts from Mother Nature a try:
Lemon Cucumber: You may need to grow these round, little gems from seed, as I've yet to locate a national distributor of the mature vegetable. Or perhaps your local farmers market carries them. One heirloom variety of this cucumber dates back to 1894. Best when harvested at about gold-ball size (though they will grow to about 3 inches), it has pale, mild, sweet flesh encased in lemon-colored skin. I've also read about a different variety of cucumber known as Crystal Lemon, which is tangy and lemon-sized, but I've yet to try it.
Lemon Boy Tomatoes: Pretty as they are, yellow tomatoes aren't always the most flavorful. Not so with Lemon Boy, a successful hybrid that's consistently lemon-colored, sweet, round, and great for salads and slicing. The lemony flavor is pronounced without being tart or acidic, and the color is outstanding.
Lemon Verbena: You probably knew that corn, avocados, and potatoes originated the Americas, but did you know that the lovely lemon verbena was native to Argentina and Chile? This leafy herb, actually a shrub, traveled to Europe via the 17th Century Spanish explorers, where it became more popular than in North America. At least, until recently. Cooks and chefs are infusing all sorts of desserts and sauces with its aromatic essence.
Anyone remember the old Trini Lopez hit: "Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet, but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat..." Give these lemony alternatives a try and see how they make your cooking sing.
Alternative Lemon Recipes
Kate's Global Kitchen for September 2003:
9/05/03 Looks Can Be Deceiving: Specialty Fruit and Produce
9/12/03 Squash Blossom Fever
9/19/03 Eating Well: It's All in Who You Know
9/26/03 Lemons in Hiding
Copyright © 2003, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created September 2003