Foodie Firsts: Meyer Lemons (Plus, A Recipe: Meyer Lemon Linguini with Kale Raab and Cherry Tomatoes)

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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!

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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.)

Whole Close Up - edited

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?

Meyer Lemon Collage

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.

Plated 5 - edited

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!

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Meyer Lemon Linguini with Kale Raab & Cherry Tomatoes

Serves 4

Ingredients:In Pan 2 - edited

  • 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

Directions:

  1. Prepare noodles according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Add steamed kale raab, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and thyme to pan.  Stir to combine all ingredients well and cook for 1-2 minutes.
  5. 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.
  6. Remove from heat and add Parmesan, tossing to coat other ingredients.  Serve with fresh Italian parsley garnish.

Recipe: Lemony Lentil, Orzo, and Broccoli Bake (Plus, New Beginnings in Old Territory)

I’m starting a new journey today.  Or maybe it’s more apt to say I’m returning to an old one?  I work in human services and for the last year and a half I’ve worked to provide services for seniors and people living with disabilities.  Prior to this role, though, I worked for about 7 years in domestic violence advocacy.  I loved doing anti-violence work.  I have a tremendous amount of passion for it and, frankly, I thought I was pretty good at it.  Plus, the women (and men, but mostly women, if we’re honest) that I got to know in my years doing that work are incredible, both co-workers and program participants.  You see some amazing spirit and humanity in that work.  When I left it a year and a half ago, it was one of the most difficult decisions I had to make.

I left for a combination of reasons.  As much as it pains me to admit it, one of the biggest ones was money.  I don’t work for money the way some people might, but I was flailing with debts racking up, student loan bills growing, and my weekly paychecks stagnantly low (I could write a tirade on the pay rates for people who do that and similar work, let me tell you).  It wasn’t sustainable and I needed to make a move to keep from drowning.

So I did.

Finished in dish 5 - edited

I looked outside of the field, at other focuses within human service work that might allow me to create a more stable economical platform with which to build my life on.  I ended up landing the job with seniors and people living with disabilities.  The financial change was significant and I’ve learned a great deal of valuable information about systems I didn’t know much at all about before, but the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t ignite the same fire in me that my old work did.

But sometimes careers take interesting turns.

The job I’ve been in is part of a larger entity (a government entity, to be precise) and one very small part of that entity is a unit that does domestic violence work.  When I saw a rare opening posted in that unit, I didn’t have much expectation it would pan out, but it has.  So, today, I return to familiar work, in a new environment.

My work will be less direct service than I did before and will involve more time spent supporting others who are doing direct service work.  I’m pretty excited about it, really.  I get to return to a field that really matters to me, maintain a sustainable income, and put a new spin on work that I feel really comfortable doing.  I hope it’s not too good to be true!

On plated with bread 3 - edited

Now, let’s get on to the recipe.  For me, this recipe has some of the same qualities as what I am experiencing with this job change.  This dish is warm, comforting, and something about feels familiar despite this having been the first time I’ve made it.  Yet, it’s also kind of new and exciting.  The brightness from the lemon adds a zing that contrasts (but harmonizes with) the hearty comfort of the dish.  I loved eating this fresh from the oven and for leftovers throughout the week.

I hope you will too.

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Lemony Lentil, Orzo, and Broccoli Bake

Adapted from Vegetarian Times Finished in dish 4 - edited

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 tblspns olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 6 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 medium head of broccoli, stem discarded (or saved for veggie stock!), chopped
  • 1 tspn red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup dry brown lentils, picked through and rinsed
  • 1 tblspn chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tblspn chopped fresh basil
  • 3 cups low-sodium or homemade vegetable stock
  • 6 oz (1 cup) dry orzo
  • 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, drained
  • Juice of one medium lemon
  • 1 tspn lemon zest
  • ½ tspn kosher salt
  • ¼ tspn black pepper
  • 1 – 1 ¼ cups hot water
  • 1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 2 tblspns chopped fresh Italian parsley

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare a 3-quart casserole dish by coating lightly with cooking spray.
  2. In a Dutch oven or other large pot, heat ½ tblspn olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions and carrots to pot and cook until softened, about 5-7 minutes (stir often).
  3. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring almost constantly, for 1 minute.
  4. Add lentils, thyme, and basil to the pot and stir to distribute.  Add broth and lemon juice.  Bring mixture to a simmer.  Then, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. After 20 minutes, add in the chopped broccoli and stir.  Re-cover and let broccoli soften 2-3 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat.  Add to pot the lemon zest, the drained tomatoes, orzo, salt, and pepper and stir until everything is well combined.  Pour all contents into the prepared casserole dish.  If needed, pour just enough hot water over mixture to ensure orzo is covered with liquid.  Cover with foil and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile combine the breadcrumbs, 1 tblspn olive oil, and parsley in a small bowl.  Mix well.
  8. After the first 20 minutes of baking, remove foil and sprinkle breadcrumb mixture evenly over the top.  Return to oven and bake, uncovered, for 20 more minutes.  Let sit 5 minutes or so before serving.