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How to Use Citrus Daily to Brighten Up Your Recipes {+ Pea Pesto Recipe}

Usually, I’d rather save even my healthy eating goals (beyond the daily ones) for Lent, but this I’ve decided to set a new goal to use citrus daily.

CitrusHow to Use Citrus Daily

I’m gearing up for my goal and I’m going to start buying lemons or limes every week.

What am I going to do with them?

That’s exactly the question I’ve always asked and why there have often been lemon wedges languishing in their own slime in my refrigerator until I put them out of their misery.

Why I’m no Longer Skipping Citrus

I’m the kind of cook who will simply skip a minor ingredient if it’s not something I stock regularly. This happens a lot with zest! Any recipe that calls for a bit of lime or lemon zest, if it’s not the focus of the recipe, I typically just skip or splash in some bottled juice. I figure I get most of the flavor without it.

I’ve heard people say before that a little lemon juice will “brighten up the recipe” and in fact, I’ve totally written that into my own recipes before! But I didn’t really get how it worked. Until recently…

The zing of lemon or lime in the midst of something savory wakes up your tongue and makes even something made of frozen or roasted vegetables taste more like fresh spring veggies right from the garden. Who wouldn’t want a bit of CSA box freshness in the fall and winter as everything is dying around us outside?

And in cookies and cakes and such, citrus (zest, usually) acts a little bit like salt does in a soup – it enhances all the flavors you want and doesn’t barge through with its own agenda.

My Zesty Confession

I’ve had lemon, lime and orange zest in my freezer since before we moved…four years ago.


Clearly, even when I see a recipe that uses zest, I either skip the recipe or forget I have some. That’s a little pathetic. And now that I feel all inspired by citrus and know how it’s going to enhance my cooking flavors, I’m determined to use it more often.

To meet my goal, I’ll be working to incorporate lemon and lime juice and zest more in:

So far in my practice phase I’ve grabbed some limes and used the zest in a spicy dressing recipe that usually only calls for lemon juice; had fresh lime juice instead of bottled for our homemade guacamole; and completely forgot about it on steamed broccoli and when I made gluten-free pumpkin cookies and gluten-free pumpkin muffins. I wonder if a bit of lemon zest would have been noticeable! Wish I would have tried it in half the recipe; that would have been such a cool side-by-side test. Drat.

I’m a work in progress! That’s why I need a practice phase. Smile

How to Use Citrus FrugallyPea Pesto Appetizer

You should always zest citrus even if you don’t need the zest right away – you’ve paid for it already, so use it!

How often have you thrown away the outsides of citrus, tossing something you paid for that could be used? (Raises hand. Hands. Waving wildly in the air…)

Here’s how my lemon buying habits used to go:

  1. Grab a lemon (or 2 or 3) with good intentions of drinking lemon water and/or using it in a recipe.
  2. Leave lemon in the fridge for 2 weeks.
  3. Come across lemon and oh! guiltily pull it out and slice it into wedges.
  4. Use one wedge in lemon water and put the rest in a container in the fridge.
  5. Notice it every few days and think, “Darn! I should have grabbed that this morning…”
  6. Forget about the lemons for a while.
  7. Rediscover lemon wedges, now slimy and covered with speckles of green and pink.
  8. Throw away lemons.

Not frugal or smart!

Now that I know many other ways to just USE the lemon juice without needing a special recipe, that’s half the battle. But there are a few other ways to make sure you’re not throwing away something you purchased:

1. Freeze the Juice

I’ve done this often but lately have been wayyyy out of the habit: juice a bunch of lemons or limes and freeze the juice in tablespoon-sized portions in an ice cube tray. Pop the cubes out and store in a zippered bag, and they’re ready to use for all sorts of applications!

A small cube like that will thaw in an hour in a bowl on the counter, and it’s usually usable within 10 minutes especially if the bowl is set near the stove (or even on the center of the stovetop) to catch some heat from cooking.

This way you can buy a whole bag of lemons and not worry so much about them going bad. Just juice most of them right away and leave one in the fridge for fresh use. You can also put some squeezed juice in a small jar in the fridge for a week or two.

But wait!!! Before you juice them —

2. Zest the citrus

You’ve already paid for it, and the zest is sitting right there ready to enhance your cooking and baking. Grab a microplane grater and zest the lemon or lime before you slice into it for wedges or juice. Be sure to really scrub the outside if you can’t source organic, since most citrus is treated with chemicals to prevent mold.

You can keep the zest in a container in the fridge for a while, or…

3. Freeze the zest

You probably shouldn’t keep it as long as I have (the whole point is to use it!!) but citrus zest will keep in the freezer for a good, long time! The risk is that its intense flavor will fade as the weeks go by.

The zest should come apart just fine if you simply store it in a baggie (little sandwich bags, one for each type of fruit, all store in a large freezer bag would be ideal). If you want to measure out teaspoon-sized portions first, you could wrap each one in a square of plastic wrap and store all those in a baggie – but then we’re using more plastic and taking time, and neither are really up my alley (although it’s how the zest from years and years ago is stored!!!).

4. Clean the garbage disposal

When you have zested and squeezed all the juice out, you’re left with a wedge or halved peel – toss each one in the garbage disposal to freshen things up the next time you run it! You can even use the squeezed-out-rinds to help clean your wooden cutting board before it goes down the drain, a 4-for-1 deal (juice, zest, wooden board, garbage disposal).

If you’ve batched this job, please don’t put allllll the peels in at once. Just one at a time, and make sure your garbage disposal can handle it (we have a super heavy duty one that grinds them without complaint).

You could also make citrus vinegar with the peels to add to your DIY cleaning supplies.

Recipe: Pea Pesto Appetizer

Pea Pesto on crusty bread
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Pea Pesto Appetizer

  • Author: Brigitte Nguyen
  • Prep Time: 5 mins
  • Total Time: 5 mins
  • Yield: 8 1x
  • Category: appetizer


Chef Brigitte made this recipe to demonstrated the “brightening” of citrus on frozen vegetables – at 24 cents per serving, it’s an amazingly frugal and easy appetizer and will really make it look like you know what you’re doing in the kitchen!


  • 16 ounces Sweet Peas, thawed
  • ½ red onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest, plus additional for garnish
  • 2 basil leaves, plus additional for garnish
  • 1 clove garlic, roasted and coarsely chopped
  • ¼ c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (use the code STEWARDSHIP for 10% off at that site!)
  • salt (Use the code kitchenstewardship for 15% off of your first purchase) and pepper to taste
  • Parmesan Cheese Wedge, grated for garnish

ship kroger


  1. In a food processor, combine peas, onion, lemon juice, lemon zest, basil, and garlic.
  2. While food processor is running, slowly add oil.
  3. Add salt and pepper to taste (be sure to taste it!).
  4. Serve on freshly toasted crusty bread, homemade crackers, or grain-free with red pepper, carrot and cucumber slices, cut on a bias so they’re nice and long.


* Tip: Roast a whole bulb of garlic when you’re making something else in the oven earlier in the week. Just lop off the top with a sharp knife and wrap it in foil. It’s done when you can really smell it and each clove is more of a paste. Save the rest and use in salad dressings, on roasted or steamed veggies, in this incredibly interesting roasted grape and sweet potato salad (which I brought for Thanksgiving with great success) or even in your morning eggs.
* Reprinted with permission from ALDI.

  • Need a little help getting healthy food on the table every day? Real Plans takes the stress out of meal planning and puts the nourishing food BACK on your table. There’s a plan for every diet type, including GAPS, Paleo, AIP, Whole30, vegetarian and more! You remain totally in control: use your own recipes, accept theirs, and teach the system what your family likes…Check out how powerful it is here!
What’s your favorite use for fresh citrus juice or zest?
Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

About The Author

7 thoughts on “How to Use Citrus Daily to Brighten Up Your Recipes {+ Pea Pesto Recipe}”

  1. I work close to a Mexican market where limes are super cheap. I have seen them priced at 14 for $1.00. I typically just buy 2 at a time but no matter how excited I am to buy them, I forget about them once they go into my fridge. I am looking forward to your 2016 recipes with citrus. I love the scent and taste of citrus.

  2. Just noticing the fig jam in the photo of appetizers motivates me to tell you my new favorite way to use an old shriveled-up or bruised apple! Cut out the core and any bad parts, dice the rest, mix with fig jam and some cinnamon, and cook in a small pot or in the microwave. This makes a delicious chunky applesauce that is quite sweet enough from the jam. My 19-month-old loves it so much that I have to keep it out of her reach until it’s cool enough to eat with her fingers!

  3. Regarding trying citrus in your coconut muffins – yes! I love to make a lemon blueberry version. I add lemon zest and some squeezes of fresh lemon juice. To balance out the extra liquid, I add a small amount of sprouted ground flaxseed. I’ve only made the cranberry walnut version once but I totally wrote myself a note that next time it would be loads better with orange zest/juice added.

  4. You are so on track and so funny! Thanks for being honest. I also similarly love it when the priest says something to let us know he’s only human. It tends to make us all feel better, knowing we aren’t the only ones who fail.
    I also use that yummy, preservative free lemon juice from Costco – lots and lots!

  5. Huh. Okay, so this is intriguing to me. Because my citrus-story looks pretty much just like yours (hangs head in shame).

    I get bottled lemon juice from Costco that tastes pretty fantastic. Is there any reason to NOT be using that one and instead do fresh lemons?

    1. I love that lemon juice! It’s literally the only one that doesn’t have synthetic preservatives. We go through a lot. 🙂

      The only reason not to use it is to have lemon zest available – or if you don’t have a costco. Mine hasn’t carried the lime juice in a few months, which is terrible! 🙁 But my goal is still to use it more, like on veggies, which I don’t currently think of. I just do S&P and EVOO.

      🙂 Katie

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