By Deborah Eisenhut

Although lemons and limes may not be what you would choose for an afternoon snack, they are powerhouses when you want to bring out the flavor of other foods. While both are available throughout the year, lemons are in the peak of their season around May, June and August while limes are at their peak from May through October. They can be either sour or sweet depending on the variety. Like many of the fruits and vegetables, lemons and limes contain unique flavonoid compounds that have antioxidant and anti-cancer properties.

In addition to their unique phytonutrient properties, lemons and limes are an excellent source of vitamin C, one of the most important antioxidants in nature.  Since free radicals can damage blood vessels and can change cholesterol to make it more likely to build up in artery walls, vitamin C can be helpful for preventing the development and progression of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease.   

One of the tricks to finding a good quality lemon is to find one that is rather thin-skinned since those with thicker peels will have less flesh and therefore be less juicy. Fresh lemons are available all year round. Lemons will stay fresh kept at room temperature, away from exposure to sunlight, for about one week. If you will not be using them within this time period, you can store the lemons in the refrigerator crisper where they will keep for about four weeks. Lemon juice and zest can also be stored for later use. Place freshly squeezed lemon juice in ice cube trays until frozen, subsequently storing them in plastic bags in the freezer. Dried lemon zest should be stored in a cool and dry place in an airtight glass container. Choose limes that are firm and heavy for their size, free of decay and mold. They should have a glossy skin that is deep green in color.  Limes are available in the marketplace throughout the year, although they are usually in greater supply from mid-spring through mid-fall. Limes can be kept out at room temperature where they will stay fresh for up to one week. Make sure to keep them away from sunlight exposure since it will cause them to turn yellow and will alter their flavor. Limes can be stored in the refrigerator crisper, wrapped in a loosely sealed plastic bag, where they will keep fresh for about 10-14 days. While they can be kept longer than that, for another several weeks, they will begin to lose their characteristic flavor. Lime juice and zest can also be stored for later use. Place freshly squeezed lime juice in ice cube trays until frozen, subsequently storing them in plastic bags in the freezer. Dried lime zest should be stored in a cool and dry place in an airtight glass container.

Lemons and limes are often called for in recipes in the form of juice. As they will produce more juice when warmer, always juice them when they are at room temperature or place them in a bowl of warm water for several minutes. Rolling them under the palm of your hand on a flat surface will also help to extract more juice.  Before cutting the lemon or lime in half horizontally through the center, wash the skin so that any dirt or bacteria residing on the surface will not be transferred to the fruit’s interior. While you could remove any visible seeds before juicing the halves, you could also wait until after the process is complete, since there are bound to be some seeds that reside deeper and are not visible from the surface. You can dry the seeds and place them in a windowsill pot of dirt.  They grow quickly and add a nice aroma to the kitchen.  The juice can then be extracted in a variety of ways. You can either use a juicer, reamer or do it the old fashioned way, squeezing by hand.

If your recipe calls for lemon or lime zest, organically grown is best since most conventionally grown fruits will have pesticide residues on their skin. After washing and drying the lemon or lime, use a zester, paring knife or vegetable peeler to remove the zest, which is the colored part of the peel. Make sure not to remove too much of the peel as the white pith underneath is bitter and should not be used. The zest can then be more finely chopped or diced if necessary. Place thinly sliced lemons, peel and all, underneath and around fish before cooking. Baking or broiling will soften the slices so that they can be eaten along with the fish. Combine lemon juice with olive or flax oil, freshly crushed garlic and pepper to make a light and refreshing salad dressing. If you are watching your salt intake (and even if you are not), serve lemon wedges with meals as their tartness makes a great salt substitute. Combine freshly squeezed lime juice, evaporated cane juice and either plain or sparkling water to make limeade. Add an-easy-to-prepare zing to dinner tonight by tossing seasoned cooked brown rice with garden peas, chicken pieces, scallions, pumpkin seeds, lime juice and lime zest. Squeeze some lime juice onto an avocado quarter and eat as is.  Adding lemon or lime juice to sparkling water, iced tea or any light summer alcoholic drink is always a plus.  Lemon juice over bananas, apples or avocados to keep fruit from turning dark.

Lemon-Limeade

1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice, approx 4 large lemons

1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice, approx 8 limes

4 cups simple syrup (1 cup sugar to 1 cup hot water; stir well for each cup simple syrup needed)

2 liter lemon-lime tonic water or club soda

Fill serving glasses half full of mixture and ice, top off with soda.  Garnish with thin slices of lemon and limes or sprigs of mint, raspberries or blueberries.  Grown up time add some lemon flavored vodka!