Saturday, October 16, 2010

When life hands you lemon zest

Sometimes you're just in the mood for that incomparable flavor that lemon zest brings to food. But you're ready to cook and, OMG, that fresh lemon you thought you had has turned into a beautiful greenish-blue science project....and you really don't want to go out to the market just to pick up a fresh lemon.

Well, here's a cool idea for keeping that fresh lemon-y flavor in good supply: Air-dry your own lemon zest*. Here's how:

With a vegetable peeler, take off strips of lemon zest (1), making sure to only take the very thin colored portion of the lemon peel, the part with all that great lemon-y flavor.

Set them aside on a plate (leaving space between the strips of zest) for a couple of days. They will shrivel up (2) and turn a brown-yellow color.

Put them into an airtight container.

When you're ready to use them, you can either throw them straight into a soup, stew, or stock; or add them to the cooking water for rice or beans.

Or, if you want fresh lemon zest for salads or baking, all you have to do it reconstitute the lemon zest. Let it sit in cold water for 1 hour and it will regain its original yellow color and will be easy to sliver or mince or whatever. (You might be able to hasten this process by throwing some boiling water on the zest, though somehow I imagine that'll wash off some of the great lemon oils. But maybe not. Worth a try.)

Do this with fresh lemons that you bought just for the juice (pull off the zest strips before you squeeze them). Or do it with lemons you bought "just in case." Surprisingly, the lemons that have the zest taken off them (but with the white pith still intact) don't seem to go bad any sooner than a lemon with its full peel still on.

This is one of those things that made me think: How come I didn't always know I could do this?

*Of course you can buy dried lemon peel. But that's different. That's the zest plus the spongy white pith part, which tends to be bitter.

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