Versatile lemons get a bad rap

Daniel Neman
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Lemons get a bad rap.

When we buy a car that doesn’t run, we call it a lemon. When life gives you lemons, we say you should make lemonade, as if lemons were something merely to be endured.

It’s not fair.

Lemons are bright and sunshiny, brisk and invigorating. They add a delicious splash of life to food, they sprinkle it with the essence of spring.

I say, when life gives you lemons, you should celebrate.

It’s time we elevate the humble lemon to the pantheon of culinary flavors and take full advantage of this most versatile of citrus fruits.

Lemon-Boiled Shrimp

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water

1 pound shrimp, with or without shells

For optional cocktail sauce

3/4 cup chili sauce

1/3 cup ketchup

1 or 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish

11/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Juice from 1 or 2 wedges of lemon

In a large pot, bring lemon juice and water to a boil. Add shrimp and boil until shrimp are pink and curled; the time will vary depending on the size of the shrimp. Serve hot or cold.

If making a cocktail sauce, combine chili sauce, ketchup, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice in a bowl. Serve with shrimp.

Yields 4 servings

Per serving: 183 calories; 1 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; 183 mg cholesterol; 24 g protein; 21 g carbohydrate; 14 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 1,072 mg sodium; 91 mg calcium

Lemon Lamb Chops

2 pounds lamb chops

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 garlic clove

1 tablespoon roughly chopped shallots

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme or rosemary leaves

1/4 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons oil (not olive oil), if cooking on stove

Place lamb chops in a flat dish. Put lemon juice, garlic, shallots, mustard, thyme or rosemary, olive oil and salt and pepper in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour marinade over both sides of lamb and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour, turning once or twice.

Set up grill for direct heat or place a large, heavy skillet over high heat and add 2 tablespoons oil. Cook meat, turning once or twice, until desired doneness (about 5 minutes total for medium rare for 3/4-inch chops).

Yields 4 servings

Per serving: 413 calories; 25 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; 150 mg cholesterol; 48 g protein; 2 g carbohydrate; 5 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 217 mg sodium; 28 mg calcium

Lemon Shaker Tart

For the crust

11/2 cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup powdered sugar

11/2 teaspoons salt

12 tablespoons (11/2 sticks) melted

Unsalted butter

For the filling

1 Meyer lemon or 1 regular lemon, very thinly sliced, seeds removed (see notes)

1 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup Meyer lemon juice or regular lemon juice

3 large egg yolks

2 large eggs

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

Notes: Use a sharp knife to cut the lemons; do not use a mandoline. Crust can be baked 2 days ahead, tart can be baked 1 day ahead.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For crust: Combine the flour, powdered sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Drizzle in the melted butter and mix until it’s well combined (it will have a Play-Doh-type texture). Press this into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch tart pan or 9-inch springform pan. Use a measuring cup to flatten it and make sure it’s all even.

Bake the tart shell until it’s a pale golden brown on the edges and baked through on the bottom (it will lose that greasy shine), about 20 minutes.

For filling: Toss lemon slices, granulated sugar and lemon juice in a bowl. Let this sit out at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours to soften the peels.

Whisk the egg yolks, eggs, flour and salt in a medium bowl, making sure zero lumps remain (if there are stubborn bits of flour, then strain the mixture; otherwise they’ll float to the top and won’t disappear when baked), and add the mixture to the bowl with the lemon slices. Toss everything to combine, then transfer to the crust.

Bake the tart until the edges are set and the center just barely jiggles, about 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool completely before slicing.

Yields 8 servings

Per serving: 327 calories; 21 g fat; 12 g saturated fat; 162 mg cholesterol; 6 g protein; 58 g carbohydrate; 36 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 533 mg sodium; 28 mg calcium

— Adapted from “Dining In” by Alison Roman