For people in the Southwest with legit lemon trees, it’s lemon season. I thought that I would be one of those people, as the first new purchase I made in Tucson upon arrival was a dwarf Meyer lemon tree. In the last three months it’s almost doubled in size, and began blooming with miniature lemon buds like Christmas ornaments. I thought by the time I wrote this article I would be swimming through a tart, acidic sea of citrus possibilities.
Then the buds began dropping. One and another, until the tree was barren save for some plush-looking leaves. Apparently for an immature lemon tree, this is normal. For an immature gardener and avid cook, it’s heartbreaking.
However! Lemons are around, so I refuse to claim that this is Spectrum UnSeasonal. And no matter where you are, summer is not so far off. It’s a perfect time to start brushing off on lighter, easy-to-grill recipes that don’t demand that you crank up the oven and spend another $20 mitigating with air conditioning. Lemons bring more than flavor to recipes—their juice’s acid is indispensable in marinades, as it breaks down meat proteins, lending them more tender and flavor-spiked after a long Ziploc-sealed soak. Lemon juice is common in marinades with an Asian or Italian-spiced flavor, but one of my favorite summer marinades is a goopy mess of Middle Eastern flair.
Why goopy spiked yogurt marinade? Well, have you ever asked why every down-home and chi-chi comfort food bistro features buttermilk-brined fried chicken? Same principle, less calories. The yogurt has similar, mildly acidic natural qualities as buttermilk, and just like lemon, works to tenderize the meat. By combining the two acids, you’re left with chicken that’s moist enough to stand up to barbecue flame-up damage and has a distinct, refreshing taste. The marinade transforms ho-hum boneless and skinless chicken breasts into nuggets of lusciously textured poultry ambrosia.
I kabob the chicken pieces and serve them with pita bread and hummus. They would also be fabulous on a mix of arugula and romaine with feta cheese, Marcona almonds and balsamic dressing. Definitely enough possibilities to last until my own lemon tree decides to do something worthwhile.
Pink Peppercorn Lemon Yogurt Chicken Kabobs
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1” cubes
2 cups plain yogurt (I prefer Fage Greek style)
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp fresh grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pink peppercorns, coarsely chopped
8 lemon wedges
The night before grilling, mix together yogurt, lemon juice, and spices in a mixing bowl until blended. Toss in chicken until all pieces are evenly coated. Cover and marinate overnight.
Prepare grill at medium-low setting. Remove chicken from the marinade and discard the leftover marinade. Shake excess yogurt mixture from chicken pieces, then skewer on kabobs, alternating between lemon slices. Grill on medium-low until cooked through, approximately 7-8 minutes per side. Serve chicken over couscous, in a salad, or in warm pitas with accompanying lemon wedges.