Make Lemons Your Aide In Cooking

By Joe Stumpe | May 31, 2024

When life gives you lemons, you can make a lot more than just lemonade.

Sour, yes, but also bright as sunshine, lemons are an ingredient that seems to grow on cooks the more they use it.

While some fans love the summery feel a lemon brings to dishes during the winter, I actually prefer the way it lightens recipes during warm weather months.

My mom always added lemon juice to her fruit pie fillings. My wife goes through bags of them for iced tea. I like to lay slices on fish fillets as they bake and stuff halves into the cavities of roasting chickens.

Of course, the internet is full of non-cooking uses for the fruit, from cleaning windows and stainless steel to deodorizing garbage disposals. This seems almost disrespectful to me. Do we ask chocolate to do something other than taste good?

One great thing about lemons is that the zest — the yellow outer layer — can be used to flavor dishes as well as the juice. 

Here are a couple recipes that utilize lemon to good advantage. 


Lemony White Bean Dip

1 can cannellini or great northern beans, drained and rinsed

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

to 2 garlic cloves

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

2 to 4 tablespoons water, if needed

Fresh basil or parsley, chopped, for garnish

Crackers, toast points, pita or veggie crudites, for dipping

Place beans, olive oil, lemon juice and zest and garlic in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper, adding water to adjust texture if needed. Garnish with fresh herbs and serve.

Lemon Pasta

This recipe gets its creamy sauce not from heavy cream, but instead from the starchy water used to cook the pasta.

8 oz. spaghetti

Kosher salt, divided use

¼ cup olive oil or 4 tablespoons butter

3 to 6 garlic cloves, minced

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

¼ to ½ cup Parmesan cheese 

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste 

1/2 cup freshly chopped parsley or basil

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Use a little less water than usual. Cook the pasta until al dente. Before draining, reserve 1 cup of the pasta water (you won’t need it all).

When pasta is done, heat the oil or butter over medium heat in a skillet large enough to hold the cooked pasta. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, if using, and cook until garlic is just fragrant. Using tongs, add the pasta to the skillet along with the lemon zest and juice and ½ cup of the pasta cooking water. Toss until a light sauce coats the pasta. Add the cheese and stir again, adding a bit more pasta cooking water if needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper, garnish with fresh basil or parsley and serve.