Familiar and ubiquitous, lemons appear on menus all year long in everything from cocktails to cupcakes. While market researchers at Datassential report that chain operators are most likely to use them in spring and summer, when iced tea consumption reaches high tide, many chefs are taking advantage of lemons’ vivid color and vibrant flavor to banish late-winter-menu blahs.
Preservation worthy. Pantry staples throughout the Mediterranean region, preserved lemons that are cured in salt and lemon juice to produce a citrusy flavor bomb are having a moment. They do double duty at Seasons 52, where Grilled Artichokes with Preserved Lemon Hummus are accompanied by celery hearts, radishes and green olives; this same hummus appears with Wood-Grilled Handline Tuna, together with mint tabbouleh and tomato salad. At Urbans Plate, preserved lemon is part of the Moroccan Chicken Braise along with winter squash, olives and ginger. A recent special at Black Seed Bagels in New York City, the Mah Ze Dahr Bagel Sandwich, also paid homage to flavors of North Africa; the sesame bagel was filled with Moroccan-style chicken salad, fresh cilantro, saffron, olives, tahini and preserved lemon.
Independent restaurants use preserved lemon to add zest to complex dishes, as at Sqirl in Los Angeles, where patrons can breakfast any time of day on the Sorrel Pesto Rice Bowl with brown rice, watermelon radish, feta cheese, poached egg and preserved Meyer lemon. Brunchers in New York City can get a wake-up call at Dirt Candy with the Kale Belgian Waffle, Avocado Toast Style, plated with soft scrambled egg, radishes, cucumber and preserved lemon. In Philadelphia, Vedge’s vegetarian bill of fare has included a Cauliflower Tagine, a take on the classic North African stew made with farro, green olive and preserved lemon.
Prep ready. For many chefs, the lemon is more than just another pretty garnish; crucial in many dishes behind the scenes, it can also contribute real depth of flavor in a more overt way. At The Copper Onion in Salt Lake City, Utah, the rainbow trout entrée is plated with lentils, yogurt and charred lemon. At spanking new Gallucci, a Neapolitan pizzeria on Chicago’s northside, the menu touts its authenticity with pies like Norcino with mozzarella and ricotta di bufala, anchovies, shaved black truffle and lemon; and the house salad is made simply with arugula, extra virgin olive oil, shaved Parmigiano cheese and freshly squeezed lemon. Grilled lemon makes frequent appearances on the Seasons 52 menu; currently it adds pizzazz to the Lemon-Grilled Shrimp skewer.
Salad spinners. There’s nothing newsworthy about lemon vinaigrette, of course, but that standard is receiving a second wind with the addition of some unexpected ingredients. At Los Angeles-based fast-casual concept Lemonade, the winter seasonal menu features a nifty Grilled Artichoke Asparagus Salad with arugula, snap peas, Manchego cheese and toasted pine nuts, topped with lemon-artichoke vinaigrette. The health-centric chain Flower Child promotes the Vegan Ingredient Salad, which comprises cauliflower, avocado, corn, tomato, and sunflower seed on romaine crowned with lemon-tahini vinaigrette. Other salads on the menu are offered with a sugar- and dairy-free lemon-avocado dressing. The pretty Local Mixed Beet Salad at Urban Plates gets a bright finish from preserved lemon vinaigrette, while the salads at Cava, the Mediterranean fast-casual operation, sport a lemon-herb-tahini vinaigrette.
Going green. (PLS REINSTATE BOLD) Another citrus fruit that has often been a passive participant on the rim of a glass or the side of a platter, limes are also coming into their own. At Seasons 52, cumin-lime vinaigrette tops the BBQ Chicken Salad and avocado-lime crema accompanies the Grilled Shrimp and Avocado Cocktail. Roasted red pepper and lime butter sauce perks up the crab cakes at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar.
Many chefs are feeling the heat as they pair the fruit with varietal chiles, as with Modern Market’s Mérida Salad, which gets a boost from guajillo-lime vinaigrette, or Urban Plates’ Grilled Steak Salad with jalapeño-lime dressing and Desert BBQ Chicken Salad with chipotle-lime dressing. At California Pizza Kitchen, the Banh Mi Bowl is served with chile-lime vinaigrette and serrano peppers.
Kaffir or Thai lime hails from Southeast Asia, and while it gets little play outside of Thai kitchens here, it appears throughout the cocktail menu at RockSugar Southeast Asian Kitchen, a sibling concept of The Cheesecake Factory. It punches up the Passion Fruit Cosmopolitan and Strawberry Lychee Martini, and along with yuzu, it gives the signature RockSugar Gin and Tonic a contemporary attitude.
Nancy Kruse, President of the Kruse Company, is a menu trends analyst based in Atlanta. As one of Linked In’s Top 100 Influencers in the US, she blogs regularly on food-related subjects on the Linked In website.