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Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Lemons (Λεμόνια)

Lemon in Greek cooking is commonly taken for granted that it is amazing to think it only existed in Europe since Ancient Rome. Lemon is the main dressing ingredient in Greek cuisine. How we managed to survive without lemons in the past is a mystery, because Greeks use a lot of lemon juice in their food. Boiled vegetables and greens are always dressed with lemon juice, along with olive oil and salt; lemon juice is absolutely essential on horta, fish and BBQ meat, while most Greek soups and white sauces are lemon-based. In Crete, green olives are preserved in lemon juice and salt.

In countries where lemons are in short supply, sour-tasting sumac is used as a substitute. A Middle-Eastern student of mine tells me that the common weed clover is also used for the same purpose, cut finely like a herb, to release its acidic flavour. Although lemons are grown all over Greece, the winter period poses a problem in finding locally grown lemons, even in Crete.

lemon tree
It's always a sad time in our house when we realise we've run out of lemons.
lemons lemons

In the village, we have a lemon tree that is laden with fruit every year. In theory, we can have all the lemons we want, but the problem is that they aren't in season all year round. Fresh lemon juice can be frozen in ice cube trays and used in winter greens. One ice-cube placed over one serving of steaming hot horta is enough to get that tangy flavour always present in Greek-style boiled greens. This is an excellent way to preserve lemon juice, and it doesn't take up a lot of space in the freezer, especially for use in the winter when access to fresh lemons is limited. Lemons are often imported in Hania at this time, mainly from South America. They taste less tangy than locally grown ones.

CIMG7835

In the summer, I love home-made lemonade. It is so refreshing and so simple to make. Elise gives a very simple recipe, which you can make up freshly each time you want to make lemonade. Her lemon syrup recipe keeps for a couple of weeks in the fridge, if you prefer to make it in bulk; just don't mix it with extra water until you're ready to serve it.

And when you're squeezing so many lemons, you'll notice your hands looking clean and shiny - lemon juice is a great cleansing agent.

lemonade

Another way to use up excess lemons Greek-style is to turn them into spoon sweets preserved in syrup or add them to orange marmalade. Many cultures around the world also have their own unique lemon recipes: lemon meringue pie, lemon curd, lemon herb butter and lemon granita ice-cream have become universal favorites. But my absolute favourite internationally inspired use for lemon would have to be that delicious refreshing Italian limoncello, enjoyed outdoors on a warm summer’s evening.

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