How are you doing in your kitchen these days? It’s been hectic over here, but in a good way. I’ve been recipe testing, teaching private and public cooking classes, and meal prepping. All the while I’ve also developed a new hyper-fixation meal (recipe to come) that has a clear star ingredient. Making this recipe over and over for the past couple weeks got me wondering (okay, Carrie Bradshaw!)…
Are you also overlooking lemon zest. Because I was!
Well, kinda…I have a bit of a cycle with the ingredient, where I’ll forget about it for a few months, have my memory jogged by a dish I taste in a restaurant or a recipe I spot online, then use it in nearly everything where it might be remotely appropriate for a few weeks, I only to forget about it again after my temperature cools on it a bit. Annnnnd the cycle repeats itself.
If you’re like me a couple weeks ago and you’re in a lemon zest slump, or maybe you’ve never actually cooked or baked with this very special ingredient, I’m here to help you remedy that situation. So…
Quickly, let’s talk about how and why we use lemon zest.
First, the why: Lauren over at the aptly named Zestful Kitchen has an amazing, extremely in depth explainer on the ingredient if you’d like to fully brush up, but I’ll also give you brief rundown here. Lemon zest is the outermost, bright yellow part of the lemon’s peel. It contains a lot of the light, bright, punchy flavors you think of when you think of citrus, but none of the bitterness that comes from the pith (the next layer which is white and spongy), and none of the acidity, which comes from the juice in the fruit (the inner-most part of the citrus).
Cooks and bakers opt to use lemon zest when they’re looking to really boost that citrus flavor. It’s also great because unlike lemon juice which, when treated to a high temp for long enough, will lose a lot of its brightness and get a little funky tasting, lemon zest holds onto its flavor even when cooked or baked for long periods of time (which is one reason you’ll often find it baked into sweet loaves of bread).
If I’m cooking with it, my preferred method for zesting citrus of any kind (yes! you can zest any kind of citrus) is my trusty microplane. I run the microplane over the citrus with light pressure, then rotate the citrus, being careful to avoid micro-planing too much of the pith in the process. You can read about other methods in Lauren’s explainer.
Now that we’ve gotten the kinda dry technical stuff out of the way, let’s talk about my current lemon zest tizzy, which was triggered by Noa’s recipe for Lemon Cheesecake Overnight Oats that I spotted while doing what? Scrolling, of course. Her recipe calls for a few things I almost never stock (namely cream cheese, white chocolate protein powder, and white chocolate) but I was immediately inspired and fully bitten by the lemon zest bug, which led me to today’s (and tomorrow’s, and the next day’s, and the next…you get it) breakfast:
Here’s the recipe for my beloved Lemon Poppyseed Overnight Oats:
First, let me tell you, if you’re a fan of lemon poppyseed anything, but especially if you grew up eating the Starbucks Lemon Loaf—you know the one—then this recipe is for you. It yields 4-5 servings and I’ve made ~5 batches in the last 3 weeks. Okay. Let’s go.
1¼ cup rolled or quick cooking oats
¼ cup chia seeds
1 scant Tbsp poppy seeds (totally optional, TBH)
¼ cup sweetener of choice (maple syrup, sugar, honey, monk fruit sweetener, etc.)
1½ cups greek yogurt
2 cups milk of choice
The zest of 1 lemon (about 2 loose tsp)
The juice of 1 lemon (about 2 Tbsp)
A four finger pinch of salt
Whisk together all the ingredients until well combined. Transfer to an airtight storage container and let rest in the fridge at least 3-4 hours, preferably overnight.
Serve and enjoy! If you prefer a sweeter breakfast, you can top with a bit of additional maple syrup or honey. And if you prefer a looser texture, you can stir in a few extra tablespoons of milk per bowl upon serving. Glamour shot here.
Okay, have I convinced you? Hopefully, but one more plug—if you’re not into overnight oats, you can also use lemon zest in a classic lemon loaf, to brighten a simple spaghetti supper, whisked into fancy avo toast situation, or really wherever your heart desires.
Alright, we’ve covered it. Don’t forget, you can join me and Abigail for our Knife Skills Basics Class on May 19th, and in the meantime, I hope you have a lovely, well-fed week ahead.
With love and a tip of my chef’s hat,
This post may include affiliate links. Your shopping experience will not be affected, but Erica might earn a small commission on the goods purchased through those links. Thanks for supporting Erica's work!