I had never cooked with Meyer lemon before this winter. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever even tried Meyer lemon before this winter. Not that this need be particularly surprising. After all, Meyer lemons tend to be the provenance of California back yards and farmer’s markets, neither of which are exactly easy to find in New England. And, if you’re not in California it’s a little bit harder to come by Meyer lemons because they have a delicate constitution and don’t much like traveling. So, you mostly have to head to high end or specialty grocer’s to find them. And there they cost a few pretty pennies more than your plain old workhorse lemons, which has always led me to pass them by.
But somehow about a month ago I found myself with my hand hovering over the sunny pile of Meyer’s tumbling voluptuously out of a barrel at the market. I mean, maybe it was time to find out what all the fuss was about. Or maybe it was just that the saturated goldenrod color of the lemons, the same radiant hue as the yolk of an egg from a very happy chicken, was too appealing in cold, dark mid-January to pass by. I bought one. Then I had to start searching for what to do with it. There is certainly no shortage of options. You can add zest and juice from Meyer lemons to pastas, sauces and soups or any variety of baked goods. Because the skin of the Meyer is paper thin and supple you can eat it along with the rest of the lemon, allowing you to slice the lemon thinly and tuck it within the folds of the batter of cakes or quick breads or casseroles. You can even batter and fry pieces of the lemon as a crispy appetizer. I decided to go with making a tart. Which was lovely, but left me with the distinct feeling that the custard filling of the tart was actually enveloping some of the character of the lemon in a haze (albeit a delicious creamy haze), preventing it from shining as much as I had a sneaking suspicion it could.
That’s when I made the Meyer lemon and olive salsa to pair with fish tacos. There the lemon burst forth from any restraint. Oh my! How could I have ever doubted Meyer lemon was worth the extra investment?! This is lemon that has stepped out of its robes, shed the sour and acid, to reveal its pure essence. Lemon! It is lemon the way you would sing the word. I am hooked. Regular lemons still absolutely have their place, indeed sometimes their bright acidity is just what you need, but the Meyer lemon now has my allegiance as an important character in its own right, gracefully bestowing gorgeous fragrant, round, slightly sweet citrusy flavor to whatever it touches. The combination of the Meyer lemon and the green olives in the salsa was so amazing it stayed with me for weeks, lingering like the memory of a first kiss or a haunting melody. I couldn’t shake it and knew I had to try it again. The sweet sunniness of the lemons somehow beckoned the idea of figs into my mind as well, so I decided I would try making a relish with Meyer lemons, green olives, and dried figs. Wow! The riotous combination of flavors and colors is like a Mardi Gras parade in your mouth. It is simply wonderful and unlike anything else you might taste. I tried a variety of partners for my relish, including using it as a salsa for corn chips which works perfectly well. But, my favorite, the one that lifts the flavors up and sets them off like fireworks is crispy crostini smeared with goat cheese. With each bite you get the crunch of the toasted bread, the smooth creaminess of the cheese, and the heady flavors of the relish all partying together. Perfect for, oh say, a Mardi Gras celebration next week? (…Or an Oscar party last night. Oops, missed the boat on that one, she admitted sheepishly.) But, don’t feel limited to eating these as h’ors d’oeuvres! Paired with a salad, I’ve been happily enjoying them for lunch. I will be sad when this Meyer lemon season is over.
Goat cheese crostini with Meyer lemon, olive and fig relish (serves about 8.)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 Meyer lemon
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 pinch sea salt
- 1/2 cup pitted and chopped green olives
- 1/2 cup finely chopped dried figs
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus a bit more for brushing bread
- 1 good baguette
- 6 ounces chevre, at room temperature
- In a medium bowl stir together the red onion with the vinegars and set aside for 5 minutes.
- Remove the ends from the Meyer lemon, then cut it into small dice (including the peel). Discard any seeds. Add this to the onion.
- Stir a pinch of salt and the honey in with the lemon and onion. Then, stir in the chopped olives, figs, and parsley. Finally, stir in the olive oil. Refrigerate until you’re ready to assemble the crostini.
- Preheat your oven to 350F. Cut the baguette on the diagonal into 1/2 inch thick slices. Brush the slices lightly with olive oil, spread them on a baking sheet and bake until lightly browned and crusty, about 10 minutes. Allow to cool at least somewhat.
- Spread the toasted bread pieces with the chevre, then top each with a scoop of the relish. Put out on a platter and serve along with wine or cocktails.