Use Lemon Leaves For Tea Or On The Grill
Lemon leaves have more of a lemony aroma than a taste. The taste is there to be sure, but one doesn't eat a handful of lemon leaves for that reason. They are edible, or at least non-toxic and somewhat palatable, but not really good eating in their raw form. There are a variety of ways to use lemon leaves in preparing food however. One is to make a tea, and the other is their use with cooked meats and seafoods, in the oven or on the grill.
Although cooking with lemon leaves isn't particularly complicated, we'll start with making lemon tea, which is not complicated at all. In fact the only difficult part of the whole process can be finding a source of lemon leaves. If you live in a warm climate, such as California or Florida, you may have you own lemon tree, or can pluck a few leaves from a neighbor's tree (ask first). The only caution is to pick the leaves from a tree that hasn't been sprayed with an insecticide. That's why a tree you "know" the history of is best. In northern climates one can grow a lemon tree indoors. A small tree in a container may supply all the leaves needed, and with luck, lemons as well. All the tree needs is good soil, moisture, and a sunny window.
A Tea And A Medicine - Getting back to the tea. Some recipes call for using crushed dried leaves, other suggest tearing fresh leaves to pieces (the darker-colored older leaves make the better tea). Both ways work. Use 3 teaspoons of crushed dried leaves, or one or two torn-up fresh leaves, per cup of tea. Place the leaves in boiling water and let steep for at least 5 minutes, though 10 minutes is better. Then add honey or milk to taste. Another approach is to add the lemon leaves to another type of tea being brewed to achieve a subtly different flavor.
The lemon tea also can serve a medicinal purpose, as lemon leaves are considered to be helpful as an anti-inflammatory agent, an aid to digestion, and an aid in reducing fevers and cramps. The tea also acts as a cough medicine and can relieve some symptoms of asthma.
Lemon Leaves In Cooking - The other use for lemon leaves is in the kitchen when preparing a meal. There are a number of recipes calling for lemon leaves, some of which cite the lemon leaf as an acceptable substitute for a bay leaf. Usually though, the lemon leaf is used to wrap food before cooking in it the oven or on the grill. There are recopies for meatballs (one for Sicilian meatballs), mussels, shrimp, and several other meats and seafoods, all wrapped in lemon leaves before cooking. With the meatball for example, the lemon leaf is carefully wrapped around a prepared meatball, and secured in place with a toothpick. When grilling foods, such as shrimp wrapped in lemon leaves, the leaves should be first coated with olive oil.
Eat Only If Chopped - The leaves aren't eaten once the cooking is completed. They are there to add flavor and aroma to the fish or meat, but have little to add if one tries to eat them whole. One exception to this is that lemon leaves can be added to cheeses, though they need to be chopped very fine first. Chopped lemon leaves also find their way into many Thai dishes and into slow cooked dishes and marinades in the Mediterranean area.
While there are innumerable ways to use lemons and lemon juice, even lemon peels, in food preparation, the lemon leaves are usually neglected. If you want your food to have just the slightest hint of a lemony flavor or aroma, but not taste too much like the citrus fruit itself, consider adding lemon leaves to a few of your recipes.