- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Tempting though it is to describe a lemon as the little black dress of the culinary world because both are appropriate to any occasion, there’s really no comparison. The little black dress stays in the background. The lemon is quite forward with its charms.

How much zing can a little bundle of yellow bring to your cooking? Lemon power is limitless, adding lively taste to everything from tea to soup.

Lemons can be a great kitchen aid to a small household. For example, if you’re serving reheated frozen chili or a bean or beef soup, you know how flat the flavor can become after freezing. Add a dash of lemon juice, and the seasonings are refreshed.

Starches can be bland-tasting, especially if you’re cutting back on salt. Add the grated rind of a lemon to a dish of rice or a pasta salad and see if the scented zest doesn’t improve the flavor. Water is, well, plain. Again, add a splash of lemon juice and see how appealing and thirst-quenching water can be.

Despite their many virtues, you’re probably not buying a lot of lemons. Americans consume just 31/2 pounds a year, which translates to about 10 to 15 lemons, depending on size.

Knowing how to choose a good lemon may encourage you to use more. Feel the fruit. Is it heavy for its size? That’s a sign of a juicy lemon. Does the fruit give slightly? That’s also a plus. It should tell you the skin isn’t very thick.

A thin-skinned lemon means you’re getting more usable fruit and juice. Is the lemon free of scars and bruises? That’s another clue to quality. Once you find the perfect samples, load up. Lemons will keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks.

If you’re using lemon for the zest — the yellow part of the skin — you’ll find it easier to grate the lemon while it’s cold. If you’re going for the juice, roll the lemon on a countertop before squeezing it. You’ll get a higher yield.

The following luscious lemon cream recipe uses both the zest and the juice. Make this dessert often enough during the summer, and you can double the U.S. per capita consumption of lemons.

Lemon cream with strawberries

Lemon curd (recipe follows)

2 cups sliced strawberries (about 1 pint)

2 tablespoons sugar, divided

½ cup whipping cream

Prepare lemon curd and chill. Combine strawberries and 1 tablespoon sugar in a bowl. Stir well and set aside for 10 minutes. Whip cream at low speed of electric mixer until frothy. Add remaining 1 tablespoon sugar and whip until stiff.

To assemble dish, gently fold lemon curd into whipped cream. Drain any accumulated liquid from strawberries. Alternate strawberries and lemon cream layers in an attractive glass bowl. Serve immediately or refrigerate up to 1 hour.

Makes 2 generous — or 4 modest — servings.

LEMON CURD

2 eggs

5 tablespoons sugar

Grated rind of 1 lemon

1/4 cup lemon juice (1 large lemon)

1/4 cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into small chunks

Whisk eggs, sugar, lemon rind and lemon juice together in heavy-bottomed stainless-steel pot. Warm over low heat. Gradually add butter while whisking constantly, until mixture is smooth and slightly thickened.

Allow each piece of butter to melt before adding more. Do not let mixture come to a boil. When all butter is incorporated and mixture is thick, remove from heat.

Strain lemon mixture through fine sieve into a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and chill.

Bev Bennett is the author of “30-Minute Meals for Dummies” (John Wiley & Sons).

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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