One of our family friends in Malaysia is a renowned doctor with over 50 years of experience. At breakfast one morning, as we spoke, his water bottle for the day was being topped up and into it went a whole lemon cut in half. He said it wasn’t just because he liked the taste of lemon but also because of its alkaline properties.
That’s a characteristic of the lemon that not too many people are aware of. We think of citrus as acidic but that is only on the outside. Once they enter the system, they have an entirely different effect, which is greatly beneficial to the working of the human body. It’s no secret that lemons are hugely popular at our home. It’s one of those very versatile ingredients.
The best way to get a good dose of Vitamin C is to drink “lemon shots” or the juice of an entire lemon swallowed in one gulp. Ideally it would be good start to the day when taken on an empty stomach. Friends who do so recommend it highly as a great way to kick-start one’s metabolism. I follow this remedy to relieve any kind of stomach discomfort. It never fails and works in a jiffy. Just a couple of days ago, a jet-lagged relative was feeling very uneasy after a heavy in-flight meal. She was unable to bear the thought of lemon juice straight up, so I diluted it with about 15ml of water. A few gulps and she was fine in minutes.
When used in cooking, the flavour of lemon complements both sweet and savoury dishes. Whatever be the weather, one can bank on a lemon dish to comfort the taste buds. A lemon rasam with hot rice is great for keeping colds at bay. Just the thought of wrapping one’s fingers around a big bowl of warm lemon-and-coriander soup with buttery croutons is so inviting.
It’s an ingredient I turn to when rustling up a meal for guests. Yellumicham saadham is a favourite with many foreign friends. The Germans refer to it as ‘citrone rice’ and find the flavour both familiar and exotic.
Even when we’re unwell, lemon comes to the rescue. This time, though, in pickle form. The best meal while battling high temperature is rice kanji with a pinch of salt and a thin sliver of lemon pickle with the masala washed off. Though I fussed at eating this as a child, it comforts me now when I am unwell. My kids face this diet when they are sick; the only difference being that the sliver of pickle has gotten much bigger.
My husband too is of the opinion that a squeeze of lemon juice sets right any shortcoming in taste. So when we visit a restaurant, the one thing we constantly ask for is a bowl of lemon wedges. No kebab escapes a dousing of this tart juice. Lemon rind and the juice are the main components of most of my salad dressings. A lemon marinade acts as a tenderizer for meats and allows the flavours of the spices to seep in. Lemon goes well with many herbs, tomatoes, onions and root vegetables. Green chutneys with the sour kick of the lemon give a much-needed balance when paired with heavy dishes like pau bhaji or vada pau.
However, it’s not an ingredient that can be subjected to a great deal of heat. It can turn slightly bitter when cooked for too long.
Mediterranean cuisine uses a lot of ‘preserved lemons’. They offer a different dimension of the lemony tang. Lemons are cut in half and packed tightly in glass bottles with huge quantities of rock salt. A bit of water is added on top to prevent air from filling the spaces in between. It is tightly sealed and left for a few months before being used to flavour the different tagine meals .
Even chocoholics like us at home cannot resist a warm lemon cake fresh out of the oven. It’s the one thing that needs no frosting to be gobbled up in a trice ! Lemon meringue pie, lemon curd tarts, lemon butter …the list goes on. The lust for lemons runs deep indeed.