June/July 2024 Issue

Culinary Corner: Lemons
By Michelle Dudash, RDN
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 26 No. 6 P. 44

Add Brightness and Depth to Meals

I learned the importance of lemons during culinary school and as a line cook in fine dining. As I journeyed on as a private chef and cookbook author, lemons became frequent additions to my cooking, and I quickly discovered how lemons helped reduce reliance on added salt while bringing out the flavors in a dish.

With a bright, acidic taste, lemons balance everything from mocktails, salads, and marinades to dips and sauces. For this reason, you’ll always find a bag of seedless lemons in my produce drawer.

Lemons aren’t just flavor enhancers but they also provide nutritional benefits. One lemon offers 17 kcal, 5 g carbohydrate (including 1 g fiber and 1 g total sugar), and 50% of the DV of vitamin C.1 Lemon zest, the top layer of bright yellow skin, boasts antioxidants including flavonoids and polyphenols, which have demonstrated free radical scavenging activity.2

Lemon Pairings
I commonly pair lemon with seafood; legumes; chicken; vegetables like broccoli, spinach, asparagus, and artichokes; fruits like pomegranate and berries; pistachios and walnuts; basil and mint; ricotta and goat cheese; and grains.

Mediterranean countries, including Lebanon, Italy, Morocco, Israel, and France, frequently feature lemons in their cuisine. Not surprisingly, the Mediterranean shares the same latitude and temperate climate as California, which produced 95% of the United States lemon crop in 2022–2023.3

Preparing Lemons
As with all fruit, rinse lemons before cutting, and zest the lemon using a fine grater or vegetable peeler. Add zest to dishes before cooking or twist over a beverage to release its flavorful volatile oils. However, avoid the bitter white pith underneath.

With lemons, it’s important to avoid the seeds since they impart an extremely bitter taste. Seeds can be removed with a paring knife or strained out with a lemon press. Thankfully, due to natural, non-GMO breeding practices, seedless lemons are now available without pesky seeds, saving you time in the kitchen and retaining the same juicy flavor as seeded lemons.

Before juicing lemons, roll them with the heel of your hand to break down membranes. Proceed to hand squeeze, press, or ream. For the brightest taste, add lemon juice after cooking.

Storing Lemons
For the longest shelf life, store whole lemons in the produce drawer to help retain water content and delay spoilage, keeping them fresh for about one month.

Finally, for the brightest, most beautiful, flavorful dishes, keep a few fresh lemons on hand to add to your favorite recipes.

— Michelle Dudash, RDN, is a Cordon Bleu–certified chef; author of Clean Eating Kitchen: The Low-Carb Mediterranean Cookbook (Fair Winds Press, 2021) and creator of Spicekick® Seasoning Mix: Your Sidekick in the Kitchen. Michelle Dudash, RDN, reports the following relevant disclosure: She enjoys working as a dietitian spokesperson for Wonderful Seedless Lemons.


1. Lemons, raw, without peel. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service website. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/167746/nutrients. Published April 1, 2019. Accessed March 3, 2024.

2. Saleem M, Durani AI, Asari A, et al. Investigation of antioxidant and antibacterial effects of citrus fruits peels using different extracting agents: phytochemical analysis with in silico studies. Heliyon. 2023;9(4):e15433.

3. Weber C, Simnitt S, Wechsler S, Wakefield H. Fruit and tree nuts outlook: September 2023 (Report No. FTS-377). US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Published 2023.


Lemon Baked Cod With Pistachio Crust

Total prep and cook time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

This 30-minute recipe is light and satisfying, offering a nice crunch from the pistachios. The flavor profile also works great with other seafood such as salmon, trout, and tilapia.

3 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 lemon, zest finely grated, then cut fruit into wedges
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb cod or pollock fillet, cut into 4 pieces
1/3 cup roasted and salted shelled pistachios, finely chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

2. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, lemon zest, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. Place the cod on the prepared baking sheet and spoon the seasoned oil on the fillet, rubbing it on all sides.

3. Dip the tops of the cod into the pistachios and press gently, forming a top crust, and place back on the pan. Bake until the fish is sizzling around the edges and opaque and nearly firm in the middle, about 15 minutes. Serve with the lemon wedges.

Suggestions and Variations
My husband’s must-have accompaniment with most seafood dishes is tartar sauce. And his is the best! He makes it quickly with just a handful of ingredients: mayonnaise, chopped dill pickles, lemon juice, Cajun seasoning, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. While it isn’t required to make this dish, it’s a nice addition if tartar sauce is a must for you, too.

Make It for the Whole Family
Your kids may be more inclined to try simple fish fingers. Cut up one of the fillets into strips and season with salt and pepper. You can bake them on the same pan, but they may cook a little faster than the other portions.

Nutrient Analysis per 4-oz serving
Calories: 220 kcal; Total fat: 15 g; Sat fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 26 mg; Sodium: 489 mg; Total carbohydrate: 3 g; Total sugars: 0 g; Added sugars: 0 g; Dietary fiber: 1 g; Protein: 19