Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A longing for lemons

On a recent almost-spring late afternoon, I was participating in my favorite sport: sitting on my patio, reading food magazines, sipping wine and watching the squirrel circus. Well, actually my dog was watching the squirrel circus and I was watching my dog be Elmer Fudd.  She unfortunately does not excel at this.

However, I digress.  As I was sipping and thinking about dinner in the late afternoon sunlight, I noticed how light and citrusy the pinot grigio was.  I seemed to be at that perfect nexus of inspiration and hunger, having just read about lemons, and having just read a lot of lemon recipes, and really liking lemons, and really liking my glass of wine, and really liking the idea of eating soon.  I decided that it was time to cook.

Some of you may already have guessed the plot and its predictable outcome: woman sitting on patio reading food magazines about lemons and drinking wine that tastes of lemons and, having several lemons and lemony condiments in her possession, decides to make dinner with the primary ingredient of ...LEMONS!  Music swells, angels sing, fade to black as smiling woman gracefully (in her 50's June Cleaver dress, heels and pearls) gets up--and not the least bit tipsy as she balances wine glass and food magazines--enters house, presumably kitchen.

Readers, it's not hard to come up with a dinner idea given enough hints, an ample larder, and of course, plenty of good grape juice.  It's also much easier to do this after allowing yourself time to decompress after work and having a husband who waits patiently while his wife goes about preparing a meal for the both of them like she is at a Zen meditation retreat (minus the detox diet of tofu and green tea).

The distillation of this lemon-and-pinot-grigio-infused kitchen mediation follows.  The menu consisted of Tilapia with Lemon Chutney Aioli, Fried Smashed Potatoes with Lemons, and Butter Lettuce and Baby Spinach with Red Onion and Lemon Basil Vinaigrette. What you also need to know is that second helpings were had and plates were cleaned.  Hoovered.  Compliments from the patient husband were effusive. 

Tilapia with Lemon Chutney Aioli

2 tipalia fillets
2 Tbs. lemon chutney (recipe follows)
1 Tbs. mayonnaise
fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

1.  Place tilapia fillets on a greased baking pan.
2.  Combine lemon chutney and mayonnaise.
3.  Spread mixture evenly over tilapia.
4.  Broil 6 to 8 inches from heat until bubbly and just starting to brown.
5.  Garnish with cilantro leaves (optional).  Serves 2.

Lemon Chutney

   This is a recipe from the wonderful World Vegetarian cookbook by Madhur Jaffrey.  I keep this condiment in my fridge not only to accompany Indian food, but to use as you would catsup or other condiments.  It keeps for a long time.

2 large, fresh lemons
2 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. cayenne, or to taste
7 Tbs. sugar
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

1.  Wash the lemons and cut into 1/8 inch slices.
2.  Dice lemon slices into 1/8 inch thick pieces and remove the seeds.
3.  Put the lemons and their juice into a non-reactive saucepan and add the salt, turmeric, cayenne, sugar and lemon juice. 
4.  Bring to a simmer and cook gently for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the chutney has thickened slightly.  It will thicken more as it cools.
5.  Transfer chutney into a glass jar with a non-reactive lid.  Store in refrigerator.  It tastes better after it cures for 5 to 7 days.  Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups.

Fried Smashed Potatoes with Lemons

A good friend passed the next recipe on to me, insisting that these potatoes were Really Good.  They are not.  They are Really Addictive and should come with a warning.  The recipe is Giada de Laurentiis' and can be found here.

Butter Lettuce and Baby Spinach with Red Onion and Lemon Basil Vinaigrette

4 butter lettuce leaves, washed and dried gently
1/2 cup baby spinach leaves
2 paper-thin slices red onion
Lemon Basil Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Arrange 2 lettuce leaves on two small plates.  Divide spinach leave between plates.  Separate onion slices into rings and arrange over greens.  Drizzle with Lemon Basil Vinaigrette.  Serves 2.

Lemon Basil Vinaigrette

½  cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (or 2 Tbs. dried)
½ cup fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
garlic powder (optional)
milk or half and half for thinning (optional)

Mix sour cream, mayonnaise, basil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and garlic powder (if using).  Whisk until smooth.  Thin to desired consistency with milk or half and half.  Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

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