- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Lemon should be called a miracle food. Not because it has the power to feed millions but because it has the power to improve the flavor of almost any ingredient, allowing you to elevate a recipe from pretty good to magnificent in just a few seconds.

Whether you are folding grated fresh lemon zest into a simple butter-cream frosting or squeezing fresh lemon juice onto grilled fish, this simple, clean citrus is a busy cook’s best friend.

Take the following recipe for grilled shrimp kebabs served over couscous.

On its own, couscous can be bland and boring, but when you add lemon juice and zest, as well as parsley and olive oil, it becomes a dramatic Mediterranean grain on which to lay the freshly grilled shrimp wrapped in basil and prosciutto.

Add a green salad tossed with one of my favorite salad dressings, also containing lemon; crusty bread; and a gooey chocolate pecan pie of your liking, and your salute to lemon begins.

Five time-shaving ways to dress up food with lemon:

• Lightly bread chicken-breast tenders in seasoned crumbs, saute in olive oil until done, then garnish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a handful of chopped fresh parsley.

• Leftover cooked pasta turns into tomorrow’s pasta salad with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, steamed shrimp, black olives, feta cheese and oregano.

• Squeeze lemon juice into the dressing of a Caesar salad kit to perk it up.

• For a quickie appetizer, arrange smoked salmon slices on a pretty plate. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the top, then sprinkle with chopped sweet onion and black pepper. Serve with crackers.

• Swab poundcake slices with lemon juice sweetened with sugar. Arrange on dessert plates and spoon sweetened fresh strawberries or peach slices over the top.

Grilled prosciutto-wrapped shrimp on a bed of lemon couscous

The preparation time is 10 minutes, the marinating time is 1 to 6 hours, and the cooking time is 4 to 6 minutes.

SHRIMP:

1 cup bottled balsamic vinaigrette

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Black pepper

16 peeled and deveined jumbo shrimp, tails on

16 large basil leaves

16 thin slices of prosciutto (4 ounces)

LEMON COUSCOUS:

3/4 cup couscous

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil, or as needed

To make the shrimp, place the balsamic vinaigrette and mustard in a medium glass bowl and whisk to combine. Season with pepper to taste. Add the shrimp; stir to coat them with the marinade. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, up to 6 hours.

One hour before serving, make the lemon couscous. Pour 11/2 cups water into a 2-quart saucepan and bring it to a boil over high heat. Stir in the couscous, then remove the pan from the heat and cover it. Let couscous sit for 5 minutes.

Fluff couscous with a fork, then stir in the parsley, lemon zest and juice and enough olive oil to moisten the mixture (start with 1 tablespoon). Set couscous aside.

Heat grill to medium. Remove shrimp from marinade, setting aside marinade. Wrap each shrimp first with a basil leaf and then with a slice of prosciutto. Thread 4 shrimp onto each of 4 metal skewers.

Grill shrimp, basting them with a little of the marinade, until they turn pink and opaque and are cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Serve the grilled shrimp on or off the skewers on top of the couscous. Makes 2 to 4 servings.

Mindy’s lemon-soy dressing

If green-salad boredom sets in, enliven your salad with this easy dressing made with fresh lemon juice.

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

Whisk lemon juice, soy sauce and sugar into vegetable oil. Pour over the salad greens of your choice.

Share favorite cooking tips, ask questions and access Anne Byrn’s free online newsletter at www.dinnerdoc.com.

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