Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food. Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie. In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts. Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you. My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined. Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you. You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try. Let’s be bold and eat good food!
Meyer lemons are one of those foods that people have very strong opinions about. They almost have a cult-like following. Devotees talk animatedly about their return each season, preserve what they can for the dark days when fresh ones are not available, and fill their lives with Meyer lemon goodness when the season is right. If food were science-fiction, you might say that Meyer lemons are the Doctor Who of the food world. (Or maybe, I’m just excited about Doctor Who right now and it’s infiltrating my other life spaces.)
As you might have guessed given the focus of this column, I had never had a Meyer lemon. So when people started blogging excitedly about them or expressing joy in the supermarket at their return, I just wasn’t getting it. What was all the fuss? Could they really be that much different from a ‘regular’ lemon??
Let me say that I am a BIG FAN of lemons. I happen to believe that they are one of the most endlessly useful items to have in a kitchen. Their zest and juice can transform baked goods to a whole other level of awesomeness, add zingy interest to soups, brighten up pasta in a flash, elevate salad from dull to exciting, and, heck, a slice in a glass of water (or, ahem, gin) can go a long way to increasing taste and experience.
Lemons are good stuff.
So, I had to ask, was a Meyer lemon going to be much different? And, if in fact it was that different, was that going to actually be a good thing?
I think I can say that it WAS THAT different. I decided to try Meyer lemons two ways – sweet and savory. Plus, I just sampled a bit of the juice itself. The difference, of course, starts right from the get-go with the visual aspect of the fruit. It’s lemon-shaped and lemon-sized, but the color is not the same. Less bright and catchy, the Meyer lemons I purchased had a flatter hue. When I placed them side by side on my counter with a standard lemon, there was no confusing which was which.
Tasting the Meyer lemon juice on its own, it was clear that the taste is definitely a different experience from standard lemons. I could tell it wasn’t as sharp or acidic and I was curious to see how this would impact my food. I had 6 lemons and decided I would put 3 to work in a savory dish (pasta) and 3 would be used in a sweet dish (lemon bars).
I’ll start with the bad (because the good was REALLY good). The lemon bars didn’t quite come out right. To be fair, I don’t think it was entirely the fault of the Meyer lemons themselves. The recipe I used just didn’t work quite right for some reason and I needed to have baked them longer, I think, as they didn’t set up quite right. So, there were some serious fundamental flaws. What I will say is that regardless of these issues, if you want a traditional lemon bar, with loads of wake-up-and-stimulate-your-senses sharp flavors, Meyer lemons aren’t going to do that for you. If you want a smoother, more subtle, and possibly more sweet lemon bar, than the Meyers just might work.
Moving on to the good. I made pasta. Meyer lemon linguini with cherry tomatoes and kale raab to be specific about it, and it was tremendously satisfying. Maybe I was just having a good night in the kitchen, but the Meyers really worked with this dish. That lack of bold lemon punch was a really good thing in this case, as the Meyer lemons actually added a rounder, more full-bodied flavor to the dish, rather than just a zap of acid and tartness. I would venture to say that they added a richness to this dish that a standard lemon just would not have done and it elevated the flavor to something a bit more complex. This dish made me excited about Meyer lemons the way I have seen others be.
What about all of you? Are you a Meyer lemon convert? Do you get excited when their time rolls around each year?
Notes & Final Thoughts:
Lessons Learned: As I said, I really love lemons. I can’t say that Meyer lemons have won over my heart from their more common counterparts quite yet. I certainly don’t think they have the versatility of their lemon cousins. I was really excited about the pasta dish though and, in that context, totally understand how they could be used differently, uniquely, to make a dish their own. That gives me enough incentive to want to experiment with them further.
Serving Suggestions: Well, the pasta below, of course. But also, I’ve seen a variety of recipes for Meyer lemon muffins and bread. I am pretty much always in favor of a good muffin or bread, so those seem like an excellent thing to try. Also, probably one of the most popular things to do is snag some while they’re in season and preserve them for later use.
Lessons Learned: I was struck by how it really is quite possible for two items to be so closely related to one another and yet be so very unique in the outcomes they produce. It has caused me to give more consideration to the subtle differences between similar food items and how they will impact a dish. It is fun to notice how my own palate is becoming more discerning as I continue to try new things with an open mind and attention to subtle details!
Meyer Lemon Linguini with Kale Raab & Cherry Tomatoes
- 8 oz linguini (I used spinach linguini)
- 2 small batches kale raab, stems discarded, leaves and flowers chopped
- 3 tblspns water
- 1 tblspn olive oil
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tspn red pepper flakes
- Juice of 3 medium Meyer lemons
- 1 tspn kosher salt
- ½ tspn black pepper
- 1 tblspn fresh thyme, minced
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese (vegan or dairy, per preference)
- Handful of Italian parsley, chopped
- Prepare noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
- Warm sauté pan over medium heat. Add chopped kale raab, along with 3 tblspns water. Cover immediately and let steam in pan for 2-3 minutes. Remove steamed kale raab from pan and set aside.
- Return sauté pan to stovetop, over medium heat. Add oil. Once warmed add garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring frequently for 1-2 minutes, or until garlic begins to lightly brown.
- Add steamed kale raab, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and thyme to pan. Stir to combine all ingredients well and cook for 1-2 minutes.
- Add cooked noodles and cherry tomatoes to pan and toss all ingredients together. Cook 2-3 more minutes until all components are heated and combined.
- Remove from heat and add Parmesan, tossing to coat other ingredients. Serve with fresh Italian parsley garnish.