Thursday, March 22, 2012

Lemon Curd - made in the microwave. Yes, it works!

I like to think that I know a lot about different ethnic and regional cuisines, and I've cooked multiple dishes from most of them - at least the ones that are popular. But when I was thinking about making a Jewish dish prior to Passover, I realized that I really don't know that much about traditional home-style Jewish food.

Most of my Jewish friends over the years have either not been cooks, or they weren't very traditional in their food choices. Oh, I'd hear about how grandma made kugel, but they weren't interested in making those sorts of things themselves.

And to be very honest, most of them didn't keep kosher except for specific holidays, if that. So my knowledge of traditional Jewish food is terribly lacking and comes with several grains of misinformation, I'm sure. And please, if I've managed to mis-state or mis-phrase anything religious, ethnic, or cultural, please forgive me. And then email me, so I can correct whatever it is.

When I got a review copy of The New Compete International Jewish Cookbook by Evelyn Rose, I figured it would give me a little more insight into what my friends' grandmothers might have been making. The book has many of those traditional foods I heard about but never tasted, as well as Jewish-friendly versions of foods that you wouldn't consider traditionally Jewish, many of them adapted to today's lifestyle rather than expecting cooks to use the same tools grandmother did.

At the back of the book are recipes for foods that are specific to certain holidays. I was sort of surprised to see that lemon curd was something the author particularly associated with Passover. It's not something that I associated with Jewish food, but the author said that this lemon curd was something her mother and grandmother made before her, and original recipe dated back to the early 20th century in her family.

There's some question of whether lemon curd is actually appropriate for Passover given that it contains butter. The microwave version calls for a type of a finely-ground sugar common in the UK, but the American substitute I used - confectioner's sugar - is probably also an issue, considering it contains cornstarch. But who I am to argue with family tradition? The recipe looked good, so I made it.

Browsing through the book, it reminded me of The Joy of Cooking. This is a very comprehensive book, but it's also homey. There are traditional dishes, family dishes, holiday dishes ... as well as some completely unrelated dishes that the author just happened to like a lot. I wouldn't suggest using this book as the last word on what's strictly kosher, but the recipes looked appealing.

And for many recipes, there are variations. With the lemon curd, there was one recipe for curd made on the stove top, but what I found most interesting was a recipe for making lemon curd in the microwave. The microwave version was for a smaller amount of curd than the stove-top version, which makes sense. Less work, so you wouldn't mind making it more often.

Lemon curd is something that a lot of people think is finicky to make on the stove, so making it in the microwave seems crazy. I had to try it.

While the book gave one flavor variation - for lime curd - any citrus should work just fine. I started with Meyer lemons, but didn't have enough juice. So I rooted around in the fridge and emerged with a couple clementines and a blood orange.

Instead of a lemony yellow, the curd I made was a pretty peach color because of the blood orange. The predominate flavor was lemon, though.

Lemon Curd in the Microwave
Adapted from The New Complete International Jewish Cookbook by Evelyn Rose (revised by Judi Rose)

Zest of 3 lemons, finely grated
6 ounces (3/4 cup) lemon juice
3 ounces unsalted butter
8 ounces* (1 cup) confectioners sugar
3 whole eggs

Let the zest soak in the lemon juice in a large microwaveable bowl for 2 hours to extract the flavor from the oils in the skin. Strain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve. Discard the zest and set the juice aside.

Place the butter in the bowl and heat in the microwave at 100 percent power for 30 seconds to melt the butter. Add the juice and sugar, and stir to combine. Cook at 100 percent power for 1 1/4 minutes and stir again to make sure the sugar is completely melted.

In a food processor or blender, process the eggs for 10 seconds, then slowly add the hot butter/juice mixture, while the machine is running. Return the mixture to the bowl and microwave at 100 percent power for 1 3/4 minutes, stirring the mixture about halfway through the cooking.

Take the mixture out of the microwave and stir vigorously to make sure the curd has an even texture. It should be thick, but not as thick as your finished curd - it will thicken more as it cools. If it's not thick enough, cook another 30-40 seconds at 50 percent power.

Transfer the curd to a container for storage. Store in the refrigerator.

*When I saw that 8 ounces, by weight, of confectioner's sugar was supposed to equal 1 cup in volume, I was surprised. One cup of water weighs 8 ounces, but other ingredients weigh different amounts. A cup of flour, for example, weighs anywhere from 4-6 ounces depending on how much you fluff or pack. I thought the volume/weight conversion for the powdered sugar must be a mistake. But no, that cup of powdered sugar actually weighed 8 ounces. It's a good day when I learn something new.