My appreciation of citrus fruit came not because of its taste but rather its aroma. As a child I shied away from acidic flavors and even the sprinkling of sugar over the orange slices my mother would prepare did not endear me to their sting of tartness. It was not until I started helping in the kitchen that I discovered the fragrant excitement of citrus zest. A grating of lemon peel over grilled chicken uplifted a familiar dish. Candied orange peels folded into oatmeal made my daily breakfast more memorable. Slowly I grew to love the acidity and to welcome the way it made other flavors shimmer. As I explored more, I discovered the pleasant bitter taste of pomelo, the floral richness of mandarins, the sultry complexity of Seville oranges and the piney sweetness of kumquats. Thanks to the constant development of new hybrids, the citrus family is large and varied, so I can make up for the years of shunning oranges as a kid.
These days the winter markets offer nothing more than root vegetables and apples from cold storage, but the citrus season is one of the pleasures of winter in our parts. It is easy to build a delicious dinner around their zesty flavors. A dash of lemon juice brightens the taste of most winter vegetables. A simple cream of broccoli soup tastes fresh and vibrant with the green sharpness of lime softening its heavier aromas. Baked salmon wrapped in paper thin orange slices, under which I like to hide a few slivers of garlic and a sprig of thyme, tastes like something that should cost $30 at a fancy restaurant. Chocolate mousse whipped with mandarin or bitter orange juice gains a pleasant tart top note and a lingering floral aftertaste.
My favorite way to enjoy a perfect citrus fruit is to eat it fresh. Today I would like to share two simple recipes for orange salads. In the first preparation, the sweetness of orange is heightened by bitter greens, with fennel providing a spicy-sweet contrast to orange’s floral tartness. In the second, the Moroccan flavorings of cinnamon and orange flower water present the familiar taste of orange in a vibrant guise. The piney, resinous flavor of pistachio lends a rich complexity to this simple preparation. Enjoy!
Bitter Greens, Fennel and Orange Salad
2c bitter greens such as arugula, endive, radicchio or spinach
1 fennel bulb
Olive oil, white wine vinegar, lemon juice
Slice off a thin piece at the top and bottom of each orange. Stand it upright and peel the fruit by remove the zest and the bitter white part underneath. When you are done, you should have an orange orb, minus its peel. It might take a few trials to get the hang of this technique, but it is a good, time-efficient trick to know. Now, you can slice the orange in rounds or in quarters.
Wash your bitter greens and tear in small pieces. Trim the fennel bulb and remove the outer parts if they look overly thick or discolored. Slice thinly. Toss with lemon juice to prevent discoloration and to highlight the bright flavor of fennel.
Mix the ingredients for the vinaigrette: olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Toss gently with all of the salad components and serve immediately.
Moroccan-style Orange Salad with Cinnamon and Pistachios
2 tsp sugar or to taste
1 tsp orange flower water
¼ tsp cinnamon
Chopped pistachios for garnish
Peel oranges as explained in the first recipe. Set aside. Mix the rest of the ingredients, except for pistachios, and toss gently with oranges. Depending on the sweetness of your fruit, you might need more or less sugar. The dressing should taste sweet and fragrant. Marinate oranges at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. The salad can also be made in advance and refrigerated. Sprinkle liberally with pistachios before serving.
Photography © Bois de Jasmin.