By Ron Mikulak
As yellow as the midday sun, as vibrant and assertive as we dream of being, adaptable to whatever interesting possibilities may arise - these are the qualities that make lemons the quintessential summer fruit.
Citrus fruits are generally winter pleasures. After March, few oranges or grapefruits maintain the robust, juicy tang that is so satisfying on dark January mornings.
Lemons, however, stay in season year-round but really come into their glory in the summer. Just when we most need lemonade and lemony iced tea, lemons pop up in stores juicier - and generally cheaper - than they are at other times of the year.
Fresh lemonade is so easy to make and is so superior to any frozen or, worse, powdered mix that it is mysterious that there is a demand for those products at all.
Lemonade can be made by the glass (as the French do, at sidewalk cafe tables) or by the pitcher (as Americans do, at backyard cookouts).
Lemons have many culinary uses in addition to refreshing drinks.
For those on sodium-restricted diets, fresh lemon juice is a godsend, providing the boost that heightens otherwise flat or bland flavors. They are so commonly used to complement fish that in some supermarkets you will find a stack of lemons displayed next to the seafood cabinets.
But lemon marries very well with chicken, too. British cookbook writer Nigel Slater advocates squeezing a wedge of lemon over lamb or pork in his book Appetite: So What Do You Want to Eat Today? (Clarkson N. Potter; $35). The lemon juice brings an extra sparkle to those cooked meats.
The citric acid in lemon juice - and lime juice, too - oxidizes the tissues in raw fish and squid, in effect "cooking" them for dishes such as seviche.
Lemon juice has a similar effect on raw garlic: Mix pressed, pureed or finely minced garlic with lemon juice and salt to mellow that raw-garlic bite before adding it to raw sauces or spreads such as hummus or fresh salsas.
If you want the refreshing pucker of a cold lemon dessert, go for a granita, a coarse fruit ice, a sort of frozen lemonade, or match an espresso with the subtle but satisfying delicacy of a lemon "thin" - a crisp, lemon cookie.
Whether as a drink, a marinade or a dessert, lemons embody the best of summer.
6 large lemons
1 cup sugar
2 quarts cold water
Cut the lemons in half. Squeeze the juice into a large measuring cup. Strain the juice, discarding the seeds, but don't get rid of all the pulp. Measure out 1 and one-half cups lemon juice, using any leftovers for another batch.
Combine the juice with the sugar and stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Add the water. If you are going to put the ice in the pitcher as well as the cups, use less water. Taste it until the flavor is what you want.
Lemon-Marinated Flank Steak
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup dry white wine
Scant 1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed flat with the back of a knife
2- or 3-inch sprig of fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf, crumbled
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large flank steak (2 pounds)
In a small bowl, mix together all ingredients except flank steak. Beat vigorously. Place flank steak in a large plastic zipper-lock plastic bag. Pour marinade over meat, seal bag and swish around. Marinate in the refrigerator 30 minutes to two hours.
When grill is ready, remove meat, pat dry and grill to medium rare.
Slice across the grain. Makes 4 servings with leftovers.
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