Better Than Lemonade: How to Cook With Lemons, In Season Now

When winter gives you lemons, let them shine in these seasonal recipes
TIMEJanuary 13, 2022

Sunny citrus fruits are in season during the winter months—just when we need them to cheer us up—so now is the perfect time to make the most of them.

Consider the lemon. This humble kitchen powerhouse adds acidity and brightness to myriad dishes, from sweet to savory, often helping balance other flavors or providing some needed pizzaz.

I always have a bowl of lemons on my kitchen counter. Lemon tea is the perfect drink for a mid-morning break, and just as ideal for a nightcap before bed. The freshly squeezed juice adds just the right amount of gentle acidity to salad dressings, an essential element of brightness to a classic roast chicken, and a refreshing finish to an otherwise heavy soup or stew. On the sweet side of the spectrum, lemon pound cake, made with olive oil and lemon zest, is one of my favorites—and only one of endless recipe possibilities.

The recipes I’m sharing here spotlight the savory side of lemons, and are meant to be made when you have an abundance of them.

Preserved lemons, an essential ingredient in North African, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern cuisines, are like nothing else. Packed in salt and left to pickle, their flavor becomes deeply savory, tangy, and a touch sweet, rather than purely acidic, while the texture turns soft and tender. Yes, they’ll take about a month to pickle, but the results will convince you to make them over and over again and make them a staple in your kitchen. Use them to add brightness and complexity to stews, sauces, rice dishes, salads, and dips, such as hummus and baba ganoush.

For an easy midweek supper, try my chicken tagine with lemons and olives, slow-simmered until juicy and full of flavor. I use fresh lemon slices, but preserved lemons would also work beautifully here. You can easily turn this into a casual entertaining dish by serving it with more garnishes and side dishes, such as couscous or rice.

Finally, lemon risotto is unexpectedly bright, and yes, beautifully rich and creamy. The vibrant, lemony flavor shines through and melds with the white wine and Parmesan cheese to make this one of my favorite risottos. It’s perfect to serve by itself as a first course, or as part of the main dish alongside grilled fish.

So make room in your kitchen for a bowl of lemons, and on a dark, wintry day, turn them into one of these recipes—even better than lemonade.

Using and Storing

If using waxed lemons, it’s a good idea to wash off the waxy outer layer by rinsing them under warm water and then rubbing them with a towel. I leave my lemons on the kitchen counter and roll them a couple of times to release their juices before slicing them. A large lemon will yield about 3 to 4 tablespoons of juice.

If you have more lemons than you need, freeze them for later. Lemon slices are easily frozen flat and then transferred to plastic bags to save for future use in drinks and garnishes. Lemon zest is also easily frozen in jars or ice trays to add to baked goods, and lemon juice can be frozen into ice cubes to add to soups, stews, and jams. Better yet, think beyond the freezer and make a batch of preserved lemons. Your future self will thank you.


RECIPE: Preserved Lemons

RECIPE: Chicken Tagine With Lemons and Olives

RECIPE: Lemon Risotto

Victoria de la Maza is an award-winning cookbook author, columnist, and international TV host. Passionate about great food, she combines American traditions with her European heritage to create classic-with-a-twist recipes and ideas for stylish entertaining at home. Subscribe to her weekly newsletter, "Diary of a Serial Hostess,” at