Lemon adds bright flavor

Courtesy of the Decadent DiabeticLemons add bright flavor to any food, while reducing the amount of salt needed.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Did diabetes serve you up a life of lemons?

Most of us, even those expecting it, feel sour when our medical professional serves us up the diagnosis of diabetes or any other condition that requires us to change our

eating habits. Yes, I know it is over used, but what better choice do you have when life serves you lemons … make lemonade or lemon chicken or …

I am a big fan of using lemons in cooking. Lemon, if nothing else, helps you reduce the amount of salt you need in food preparation. And there is so much more.

If you have never had a cup of espresso with a bit of lemon peel, you have missed a great flavor treat. The tart lemon peel smoothes out the most bitter of espressos.

It is in cooking that this bright yellow fruit shows its stuff. Perhaps the best thing is that this little gem is a “free” food for those of us with diabetes.

I am surprised at the positive responses I get on my lemon dessert recipes. From the classic Tart au Citron (lemon tart) to my infamous Little Lydia’s Lovely Lemon Tea Cake, readers who want something light to finish up a meal always choose lemon desserts. Lemon is almost always an ingredient in my cheesecakes. It helps to enhance the flavor of the cheese and another favorite, vanilla.

Hopefully we have all stopped cooking the flavor out of our vegetables. A quick blanching (plunging in boiling water for a few minutes) or steaming helps keep the flavors, and yes, the nutrients in the vegetables. Roasting in a hot (425-degree) oven is another great way to retain the flavor. A squeeze of lemon at the end of cooking boosts the flavors even more. You will not believe how a touch of lemon makes that presidential nonfavorite (broccoli) taste really good.

The basic vinaigrette is not only the base of a great dressing; it is traditionally made with lemon … NOT vinegar. Fresh lemon juice is a great dressing for all kinds of salads that have tomatoes as a major ingredient. For that matter, lemon makes a great light quick dressing for almost any simple vegetable salad.

For my reader so many years ago who complained about boring chicken, I hope he has mended his ways and taken my suggestions for making it less boring. The first suggestion all those years ago was lemon. Lemon as in: lemon chicken, lemon curry chicken, chicken piccata, chicken with lemon and ginger.

So the next time you feel like diabetes has handed you a bowlful of lemons: pucker up and give your diabetes-compatible dishes a kiss of … lemon.

Chef Ward Alper retired to Albuquerque after being a professional chef in Boston and New York City. He blogs as “The Decadent Diabetic: Taking Back My Life and Table,” thedecadentdiabetic.com.

CHICKEN PICCATA

Carbohydrates: 2 grams

1-2 cloves of garlic, grated (or ½ teaspoon powdered)

1 small shallot, minced OR 2 scallions, minced

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ cup low-sodium chicken stock or broth

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

¼ cup dry white wine (you can substitute more chicken stock)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

2 tablespoons drained capers

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons olive oil for cooking

For the marinade, combine garlic, shallot, pepper, salt, chicken stock, mustard, olive oil and the zest only in a bowl.

Place chicken breasts between two sheets of waxed paper or plastic wrap. Using a rolling pin or heavy frying pan, pound the breasts slightly to an EVEN ¼ inch thickness. Add to the marinade, cover and marinate for at least one hour up to overnight.

Pat down the breasts, reserving the marinade. Cook in the remaining olive oil over medium heat until light brown on each side and cooked through (about six minutes a side). Remove from pan and cover with foil to keep warm. Add the lemon juice to the marinade, pour into the pan and cook over high heat until reduced by half. Add the capers. Spoon the reduced sauce over the chicken breasts.

GREEK STYLE SPINACH SOUP

Serves 6 as a meal

Net carbohydrates: 4 grams

1 medium to large sweet onion, sliced

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

2-4 cloves crushed garlic (to your taste)

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons flour

2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth

Juice and zest of 2 lemons

2 teaspoons oregano (1 tablespoon fresh)

1 teaspoon basil (4 teaspoons fresh)

3 boxes frozen chopped spinach (thawed)

30 small meatballs, cooked

Parmesan cheese

OPTIONAL: 2 well-beaten eggs

In a good sized soup pot sauté onion in olive oil until soft but not brown. Add salt and pepper about one minute into the process.

Add garlic and flour. Cook for one minute or so. Slowly add the chicken broth, stirring so as not to have lumps. Add the juice and zest of the lemons and the cooked meatballs. Cook for 15-20 minutes on low heat. Raise heat, add the thawed spinach and bring to a boil.

OPTIONAL: At this point you can very slowly add the beaten eggs.

Pour into bowls and top with Parmesan cheese.

LITTLE LYDIA’S LOVELY LEMON TEA CAKE

Serves 6-8

Net carbohydrates: 11 grams

½ stick (4 tablespoons) butter at room temperature

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 cup or equivalent of sugar substitute

3 large eggs at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons sour cream

½ teaspoon cider vinegar

2/3 cup flour

½ cup toasted almonds, cooled

½ teaspoon cardamom

1 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda (½ into dry mix, ½ into wet mix)

Pinch of salt

Juice and zest of 1-2 lemons (about ¼ cup)

½ cup or equivalent sugar substitute

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter or spray an 8-inch spring-form or 6-cup bundt pan.

In a food processor, combine nuts, salt, and 1/3 cup flour. Pulse until the nuts are totally pulverized. Add 1/3 cup more flour, and spices. Pulse until combined. Add baking soda and powder and pulse until combined. (I often do this a day ahead.)

Cream butter and granulated sugar substitute until light and fluffy. Add the oil and beat until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add vanilla. Add remaining ½ teaspoon of baking soda to the sour cream and stir.

Alternately add the dry ingredients, the eggs and sour cream mixture. Start with the dry. Mix only until just incorporated, otherwise you wind up with bread.

When the wet and dry ingredients are combined, add the lemon zest and stir to combine.

Spoon into baking pan and bake for 26-28 minutes or until tester comes out dry from the center.

Combine the lemon juice and the remaining ½ cup of sugar substitute.

Let the cake cool for 10 minutes and remove from the baking pan. Poke holes into the cake with a toothpick and slowly spoon the lemon juice mixture over the cake.

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