If life hands you lemons...

If life hands you lemons...

If life hands you lemons...

The juice and zest of lemons can be used as a marinade for fish and chicken, as flavouring in cakes and cookies and in pickle-making. Pics by June Carvalho

For many years I managed without them — those sunshine yellow citrus things, also known as lemons, always substituting them in recipes, with their poor but plentiful cousins — the humble limes. That is, until they started appearing on supermarket shelves about the same time as exotic veggies such as red, yellow and orange bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, asparagus stalks, artichokes, broccoli and the so-called red cabbages which look more a shade of purple than a blushing red.

 But their appearance is rather sporadic, which is to say, that when you really need them, you won’t find them. And so my quirky way of ensuring that a few are always stocked in the fridge is to place them as a constant on the shopping list of an unquestioning husband who flies in every other month from the Gulf. Why waste time looking for them when the next lot is due to arrive soon? They are as commonly available there as the glittering gold in the souks. What a waste, you may say, when it might be more worthwhile to put 24-carat biscuits on the list, but hey, these yellow wonders are more precious than the yellow metal for anyone who loves living in the kitchen.

You’ve got to experience them once, with their beautiful, textured skin, smell and tartness, to be hooked forever, after which their commonplace cousins simply won’t add up as worthy substitutes, except in a desperate situation. Lemons store very well for weeks and keeping them handy at all times gives me the same feeling of reassurance as a salt jar that’s never allowed to go empty.

Magic ingredient

That old song claims that the lemon tree is very pretty and that its fruit is impossible to eat, but it doesn’t tell you that the juice and zest of the lemons are like magic ingredients in the hands of an enthusiastic cook — used as a marinade for fish and chicken, as flavouring in cakes, cookies and desserts and in pickle-making. Lemons preserved in their own juice, brine and olive oil are an important condiment in the cuisine of the Maghreb region of northern Africa, notably in Morocco. Rich in anti-oxidants and vitamin C, lemons also have healing and curative properties apart from other household uses such as banishing odour, as a cleaning agent, stain remover and as a natural astringent for an oily scalp and skin.

 A firm, loving squeeze is all they demand to add zing to a vegetable or a fruit salad while a dribble of their juice over chopped bananas and apples prevents discolouration of the fruit. A twist of lemon in certain cocktails elevates them and the drinker to supreme heights, even as wedges of it are used to beautify those drinks.
Icing on the cake

When life hands you a few lemons, squeeze the hell out of them with a vengeance and make lemonade. But don’t stop at that. Flip through some recipe books and try out lemon cake, tarts, cookies, puddings and soufflés. Of all those, my all-time favourite is the light and airy lemon sponge cake, simply because it can be made even with eyes closed, with no fear of it ever going wrong!

 To make it, you will need to sift 200gm of flour (maida) with ¾ teaspoon of baking powder. Add the grated rind of one lemon to it and set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream together 200gm each of butter and powdered sugar till light and creamy. Add four eggs, one by one, beating well after each addition.

Gently fold in the flour, ensuring that all of it gets moist and the batter is of dropping consistency. This quantity fills a ring mould of 9.5-inch diameter.

Grease and dust the mould before filling it. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 170 degrees C for half an hour to 40 minutes, or until cake tester comes clean. Invert on a wire rack to cool. Now comes, literally, the icing on the cake.

Crown it with an easy to make glace icing, by mixing until smooth, 125gm of sifted icing sugar, two tablespoons of warmed lemon juice and a teaspoon of butter. Add a few more drops of the juice if needed, to ensure it’s of pouring consistency, but not runny. Pour all over the inverted cake.

It’s fun to watch the icing set as it flows unevenly down the sides, creating a wavy pattern. Decorate with glace cherries. Serve sliced and watch it disappear like magic, down to the last crumb.