We all know about using lemon juice, zest, peel, slices and preserved lemons in the kitchen, but what about the leaves?
Although often overlooked, lemon leaves have a refined and distinctive flavour, a fabulous smell and pop up in cuisines as a wrapping for other foods, a garnish or salad component, an infusion to drink and in stocks and sauces. They are also said to have anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties.
The key thing is to make sure they haven’t been treated with pesticides or other chemicals, as any residues of such should not be consumed. So look for them in organic greengrocers or wholefood stores.They are available pre-packed, however fresh is better.
Things to try at home
Fish or meat rolls:
Use the leaves to wrap smallish chunks and pin them in place with a cocktail stick. The fish will cook very quickly in a pan on the hob or in the oven, the meat will take a little longer and it may be useful to keep a meat thermometer handy if you are unsure. In both cases the leaves impart a wonderful aroma.
Wrap up and pin a little mozzarella or sweet scamorza and pop this package under the grill until the cheese starts to melt. Again, it won’t take long. This works fine with plant-based cheeses too.
Sauté or stir fry:
Cook whole leaves in butter or oil but be careful not to burn them as the aim is to extract flavour, not release bitterness. Use this as the basis for a pasta sauce but remove the leaves before serving. For stir-frying, they can go in late, chopped or whole, and take a minute or two to cook through. They will even flavour the water you cook your pasta in.
In a broth or stock:
The leaves impart a delicate flavour that will complement other ingredients.
Coatings with added zing:
Chop the leaves finely and add to a breadcrumb mix, apply to fish or meat in the usual way.
Time for a tea break:
Chop into a cup or mug and pour in some boiling water. Sweeten with honey if you wish or add a different flavour dimension with chopped root ginger.
Preserving lemon leaves
Fresh lemon leaves are certainly more fragrant but if you want to keep them all year round, you can dry and store them in an airtight container. There are two methods.
1. Open air: place the leaves on a cloth or tray and put them outside for a few days, avoiding direct sun, which will burn them.
2. In the oven: place the leaves on a baking tray and cook for about an hour in a very low heat, 30-40C, turning halfway through. They should be crispy without being burnt.