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The Sour Days of Summer

June 29, 1995|MICHAEL ROBERTS

Citrus fruits--limes, lemons, pommelos, grapefruit, tangerines and oranges--are favorites of mine any time of the year, but at the moment I'm in a lemon frenzy. Lemons make hot summer days bearable. They cleanse and they cool. Would it really feel like summer without a quaff of lemonade, for example?

Lemons add freshness to all summer dishes, cooked or not, because their tart flavor cuts through all others. They make summer meals seem light as a feather. Their crisp aroma can send a shiver, like a cool breeze that comes up quickly, then disappears.

I choose thin-skinned lemons, the ones that come from humid climates. The oil in the skin is what gives the predominant aroma. It's lemony without being too tart. The pithy white layer between the skin and the flesh contains the bitterness, so when you're zesting lemons, avoid any white.

Aside from cooking purposes, the oily zests can be added to a bottle of water to make lemon water, refreshing both to drink and to splash on your face. Tie the zest in a cheesecloth and leave it in a bottle of water overnight. Grated zest is also good for flavoring vodka and gin, by the way, and will enhance your tall summer drinks.

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Now, I've warned against grating the white bits of the lemon into your zest because of its bitterness. But remember, salt acts to temper bitter and sour sensations. If you salt thin slices of unpeeled seedless lemons you can eat the entire fruit--peel, pith and flesh. North African cooks take this idea a step further by brining whole lemons until they ferment into a sour lemon pickle. The rinds are them peeled off and used in stewed tagines , especially with chicken.

Lemon juice is a versatile liquid. It can be sweetened and used in desserts; it can be used as is in salad dressings; uncooked as a marinade it is a powerful liquid that can partially "cook" seafood, as in ceviche. Lemon juice can be cooked and concentrated and used in sauces. When cooked, it loses the aroma it began with, so I always add some zest to the juice if I'm going to cook it.

Lemons, like all citrus fruits, should be completely ripe when picked. They won't get sweeter after harvesting because there is no carbohydrate that converts to sugar after they're off the tree.

LEMON AND RAISIN SALAD

Serve this "salad" as an accompaniment to grilled chicken or fish.

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3 seedless lemons

1/4 cup golden raisins

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

1 teaspoon kosher salt

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* Rinse lemons. Wipe dry and slice into paper-thin rounds. Place lemon slices in nonreactive bowl along with raisins, cilantro, cumin, pepper and salt. Toss well. Cover and leave at room temperature 6 hours before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

LEMON CURD

Spoon this curd over fresh berries. To make a lemon pie, fill a prebaked nine-inch pie shell with the curd and bake at 375 degrees 15 minutes.

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5 whole eggs

5 egg yolks

2 cups sugar

1 cup fresh lemon juice

Grated zest 2 lemons

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces

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* Combine eggs, egg yolks and sugar in mixing bowl and beat until smooth. Add lemon juice and zest. Mix. Place bowl over pan of boiling water or in top of double boiler over simmering water and cook, stirring vigorously with wooden spoon, until mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Mixture will not curdle so don't worry about overcooking little.

* Remove bowl from boiling water. Stir in butter until melts. Use curd as desired. Curd can be covered and refrigerated up to 3 months.

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Makes 1 quart.

CEVICHE

1 1/2 pounds bay scallops

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 teaspoons chopped cilantro

Salt

Few drops hot pepper sauce

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped tomatoes

1/4 cup finely chopped green pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

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* Combine scallops, lemon juice, cilantro, salt to taste, hot pepper sauce and pepper in nonreactive bowl. Cover and refrigerate 6 hours.

* When scallops have turned opaque, mix in onion, tomatoes, green pepper and oil.

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Makes 4 servings.

CREAMY LEMON-OLIVE OIL DRESSING

Although many recipes call for uncooked eggs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found them to be a potential carrier of food-borne illness and recommends that diners avoid eating raw eggs. Commercial egg substitutes that have been pasteurized may be used in place of raw eggs in certain circumstances. Check egg substitute package for applications.

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1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 egg

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

2/3 cup virgin olive oil

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* Place lemon juice, egg, salt and pepper in blender. Process on medium speed while slowly adding olive oil in steady stream.

Makes 1 cup.

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