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When Meyer Lemons Are Hard to Find, Try This Substitute

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Meyer lemon this; Meyer lemon that. In high citrus season, many recipes will have you searching for the proper-noun'ed Meyer lemons—and for valid reason. They're sweeter and less astringent than run-of-the-mill Eurekas, with a thin, edible skin and a fragrance as floral as a bouquet of hyacinth.

The MVP of Citrus Fruits

The MVP of Citrus Fruits by Lindsay-Jean Hard

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Down & Dirty: Tiny Citrus

Down & Dirty: Tiny Citrus by Nozlee Samadzadeh

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But they can also be harder to come by (their peak season in November through March) and more expensive.

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Not to worry: When a recipe calls for Meyer lemon juice or zest, the authors of Perfect Pasta: Recipes and Secrets to Elevate the Classic Italian Meal (one of three cookbooks in the Artisanal Kitchen Series to be released this May) have an easy work-around:

To replace the juice (or zest) of 1 Meyer lemon, simply swap in the juice (...or zest) of 1/2 a tangerine and 1/2 a regular lemon.

When we experimented with this at Food52, we found that the lemon-tangerine juice was noticeably sweeter than the Meyer lemon juice—perhaps because of the largeness of our tangerine relative to the lemon. So start with equal parts lemon and tangerine juice rather than using 1/2 of each fruit. Taste and adjust as needed. Same goes for zest: We got a much larger amount of zest from 1/2 a lemon plus 1/2 a tangerine than we did from 1 Meyer lemon.

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To account for scale and quantity, consider the juice and zest a typical Meyer lemon yields. For an unremarkably-sized Meyer lemon, I got 1 scant teaspoon of zest and 2 scant tablespoons juice. Therefore, for every 1 Meyer lemon, you'll want 1/2 teaspoon tangerine zest + 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice + 1 tablespoon tangerine juice. (Drbabs, who's been this smart and resourceful for years, uses lemon juice mixed with orange juice, instead.)

Photo by Yossy Arefi

It's a very sensical substitution when you consider that Meyer lemons—named for the agricultural explorer Frank Nicholas Meyer, who discovered the fruit in China and introduced it to US soil in 1908 (it was then drawn into the culinary limelight by Martha Stewart)—are thought to be a cross between lemons and mandarin oranges.

In Perfect Pasta, Meyer lemon juice and zest (or the equivalent combination of lemon and tangerine juice and zest) are added to a silky butter sauce, along with black pepper and Parmesan, for "a comforting yet sunny-tasting dish" mid-winter.

You'll want to seek Meyer lemon whenever the fruit will be left intact, though—segments of Meyer lemons tucked into a salad or chopped into a salsa, for example. But if you're in a pinch (or it's July) and you're making a recipe that calls the zest and juice only (like any of those below), try the lemon-tangerine tag-team.

Truffled Israeli Cous Cous with Meyer Lemon and Basil

Truffled Israeli Cous Cous with Meyer Lemon and Basil by ModernSwap

Meyer Lemon Ponzu

Meyer Lemon Ponzu by Love and Lemons

Meyer Lemon Macarons

Meyer Lemon Macarons by DolcettoConfections

Meyer Lemon Eclairs

Meyer Lemon Eclairs by Yossy Arefi

Meyer Lemon Pizzelle

Meyer Lemon Pizzelle by Hilarybee

Caroline J. Beck's 6-Minute Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Custard

Caroline J. Beck's 6-Minute Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Custard by Genius Recipes

When you do find Meyer lemons, what's the first thing you make? Tell us in the comments below.