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Fresh citrus brightens winter meals

February 2, 2015

Wheat berry salad.

Maybe Iím just a grump, but even with that wintry wonderland outside our windows, itís easy to feel kinda gloomy this time of year, donít you think?

The sky tends to be grayer than blue during long winters. And after the fun and games of those first feathery snowstorms, the constant cold, slush and ice start to wear on you. I, for one, am pretty darn tired of having to pull on sweaters to stay warm in my drafty old house.

Bring back summer, already!

It can seem equally bleak at the grocery store. Root vegetables and winter greens make great comfort foods, but they donít have quite the same pizzazz as, say, a basket of homegrown tomatoes or a pint of sun-sweetened, local strawberries.

Try as it may, a parsnip just ainít the same as a peach.

Thank goodness thereís an easy fix for the winter blues: Juicy, colorful citrus fruits.

The winter months are peak season for these sweet, sometimes tangy orbs, which bring a much-needed dose of sunshine to the table along with a healthful shot of vitamin C and other antioxidants.

From oranges and tangerines to grapefruit, lemons and limes ó theyíre all available in spades now through late spring, brightening the culinary landscape while tickling our taste buds. And donít forget about those adorable little "cuties," an easy-to-peel, super-sweet clementine orange thatís the perfect size for snacking.

Me? Iíve been eating bell-shaped minneolas, a type of tangelo, by the bagful to keep my spirits up and help fight off the common cold, sore throats and flu so many of us catch post-Christmas. Seriously, you canít help but smile when you peel one of these beauties and its tart, citrus-y aroma (itís a hybrid of the Duncan grapefruit and Darcy tangerine) fills the air.

Itís shaping up to be another good year for citrus, with the USDA forecasting some 103 million boxes (4.64 tons) of oranges out of Florida this season. California also should enjoy brisk sales, with some 50 million boxes of fruit expected to hit the market, including tangerines and cara cara oranges, a red-fleshed naval grown in the San Joaquin Valley thatís gaining in popularity.

Sweet and tangy, with notes of cranberry and cherry, these bright-orange hybrids are especially prized for their low acidity and lack of seeds. "Weíve been doing a swell job with them," says Jonathan Clements, produce supervisor for Kuhnís Market, which has eight stores in the Pittsburgh area. Still, "The California naval orange is king."

Naval oranges, which first came to the U.S. in the mid 1800s from Bahia, Brazil, by way of missionaries, also are selling well at Giant Eagle, says registered dietitian/nutrition coach Samantha Montgomery, along with blood oranges, Meyer lemons and green-skinned pummelos. Also known as Chinese grapefruit, these specialty fruits ó the largest of all citrus fruits ó can grow to the size of volleyballs. Aromatic and juicy, theyíre a bit sweeter than traditional grapefruit.

My fave minneloas also are getting a lot of second looks, says Montgomery, because the peel doesnít stick to the fruit as much as a regular naval. That, and the fruitís knob-like formation on the stem, "which makes it nice for opening," she says.

This time of year is also when lemons and limes are at their juiciest; in summer they tend to be a little seedier, says Clements. And donít forget about red and white grapefruit, which are for so much more than breakfast. Grapefruit can be peeled and eaten out of hand just like an orange, or sectioned and added to salads, entrees and desserts. And its juice makes a puckery, sweet-sour cocktail mixer.

If youíre not particularly big on citrus, you might want to reconsider. According to the USDA, a healthy diet includes at least 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit a day ó or a quarter of what goes on your plate at each meal ó and citrus is a budget-friendly way to get those goods in the body.

Not only does citrus help stave off flu and colds, says Montgomery, but itís also high in fiber, which helps you feel full (good for weight management) and aids with digestion. "And itís really easy to take with you, and relatively easy to consume," she adds. "If youíre out shopping or running about, you can grab an orange or a couple of cuties as you head out the door."

Citrus also is incredibly versatile. Its juice can be used to marinate seafood for ceviche or brighten a dessert curd; it also can be sectioned and tossed into salads both savory and sweet; juiced into Latin-style soups and stews; blended into smoothies and salad dressings; and zested for baked goods.

The biggest nutritional benefits come from raw citrus, but itís still pretty good for you tossed into a stir-fry (cooking it will make it sweeter) or baked or squeezed into a dessert. Using citrus juice and zest as flavoring also is a nice way to reduce sodium-related seasonings in many dishes, in that it adds a little extra zip naturally, "and you donít need a ton of it," says Ms. Montgomery.

When buying citrus, look for firm fruit with bright, colorful skin. While a few rough spots are OK, avoid citrus that feels soft or spongy or has cuts and bruises. You also want to steer clear if thereís any mold in the stem, or the skin looks dried out. Weight matters ó the fruit should feel heavier than anticipated. Higher water content means itíll be juicier.

If you plan on zesting the fruit (itís most aromatic and flavorful when you first remove it, so use it quickly), make sure the peel is really clean and shiny, regardless of whether or not itís organic. In addition to insecticides, some fruit is sprayed with color dyes and edible wax to slow the loss of moisture. Always wash it under warm running water, using just the friction of your fingers to scrub them clean.

Below, we offer some fresh ideas on cooking with vibrant winter citrus. Itís sure to brighten your mood and bring edible sunshine into the kitchen.

Keep in mind 1 lemon yields about 1 tablespoon of zest and 2 to 3 tablespoons of juice; a medium orange has twice that amount. An average lime has about 2 teaspoons of zest and 2 tablespoons of juice.

óóó

SOUR GRAPEFRUIT MARGARITA

PG tested

Forget about orange being the new black. Shades of pink ó think the insides of a Ruby Red grapefruit ó is where itís at during citrus season.

Fresh grapefruit juice amps up the flavor in this easy, slightly sour margarita recipe. It also offers a dose of antioxidant-rich vitamins C and A, as well as dietary fiber.

My pantry is absent agave nectar, but simple syrup worked just fine. Cheers!

Coarse salt

1 lime, cut into wedges

1 cup fresh grapefruit juice (I used Ruby Reds)

1/2 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 cup agave nectar

1/2 cup tequila

Ice cubes

Scatter salt in a wide, shallow dish. Run a wedge of lime around rim of 2 glasses, then dip them in the salt mixture. Set aside.

In shaker, combine grapefruit juice, lime juice, agave and tequila. Drop a handful of ice cubes into the cup and shake well. Carefully strain and pour into prepared glasses. If desired, garnish with a slice of lime.

Serves 2.

ó "Healthy Latin Eating" by Angie Martinez and Angelo Sosa (Kyle, Jan. 2015, $22.95)

LEMON MAYONNAISE

PG tested

Light and citrusy, this simple homemade mayo is equally delicious in egg or chicken salad, and as a dipping sauce for fried seafood. Also tasty on top of turkey burgers.

1 large egg yolk

Large pinch kosher salt

2 tablespoons strained freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided

1/2 cup neutral-tasting olive oil

Combine egg yolk with salt and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice in small bowl. Whisking constantly, drizzle in oil very gradually. Whisk until mayonnaise is spreadable and all the oil has been added. Gradually whisk in more of the lemon juice until you have thin, slightly tart mayonnaise; you may not need all the juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Store in refrigerator, covered, until ready to use.

Makes about 3/4 cup.

ó "Blue Chair Cooks with Jam & Marmalade" by Rachel Saunders (Andrews McMeel, October 2014, $45)

LIMONCELLO

PG tested

10 to 12 organically grown lemons

750 milliliter bottle vodka

2 1/2 cups water

1 1/2 cups sugar

Wash lemons then use vegetable peeler to remove yellow zest of the peels. Store now-naked lemons is refrigerator to use juice in another recipe.

Put the lemon zest strips into a large, clean glass jar. Pour vodka over strips of lemon. Lemon should be completely submerged in vodka; push is down with a spoon if necessary. Cover jar and leave it at room temperature for 2 weeks. Shake jar every other day to redistribute the lemon peels.

After 2 weeks, liquid will have taken on a bright yellow color from the peels. Pour mixture through a strainer into a large bowl or pitcher. Discard peels.

Combine water and sugar in pot over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until sugar has dissolved into water to form a simple syrup. As soon as sugar has dissolved, remove pot from heat. Let syrup cool to room temperature.

Pour lemon-infused vodka into syrup and stir to combine. Pour limoncello through a funnel into 2 clean 750 ml glass bottles. Cap or cork tightly. Store bottles of limoncello in refrigerator or freezer. Thereís still one ingredient left to add: patience. Wait at least 2 weeks, preferably a month, for flavors of limoncello to mix and mellow before serving.

Makes 2 750 ml bottles

ó "Preserving Everything" by Leda Meredith (Countryman Press, 2014, $19.95)

LEMON CURD

PG tested

Lemon curd typically is made with butter and eggs, so this vegan recipe might seem strange. But itís actually quite good.

Keep a careful eye on the cooking curd; my mind wandered, and it ended up turning a deep orange the first time I made it. Still ate it, of course, but it wasnít as pretty as the pale-yellow second batch.

4 lemons

14-ounce can coconut milk

1/2 cup superfine sugar

2 to 3 tablespoons cornstarch (I used 3)

Finely grate zest of 1 lemon and remove zest of another in wide strips using a vegetable peeler. Squeeze juice from all 4 of the lemons.

Place lemon juice, zest and zest strips in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan with coconut milk, sugar and cornstarch and whisk together until thoroughly combined. Bring to boil and then simmer uncovered for about 1 hour, stirring frequently, until mixture reduces and thickens.

Transfer curd to sterilized jars. Seal and store. Once opened, curd will keep in fridge for 2 weeks.

ó "Keep it Vegan: Over 100 Simple, Healthy & Delicious Dishes" by Aine Carlin (Kyle, February 2015, $19.95)

ELEGANT CITRUS TART

PG tested

Need something to shake the family out of their winter doldrums? This tart delivers, both in taste (itís sweet tart, with a crunchy crust) and presentation. Itís nothing short of spectacular.

I used a circular tart pan instead of the rectangular one called for in the recipe, and layered sections of grapefruit, orange, lime and lemon on top.

1/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut

2 cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup powdered sugar

3/4 cup cold butter, cut into pieces

1/4 teaspoon coconut extract

Buttery Orange Curd (recipe follows)

9 assorted citrus fruits, peeled and sectioned

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake coconut in single layer in a shallow pan 4 to 5 minutes or until toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through. Cool completely.

Pulse coconut, flour and powdered sugar in a food processor until combined. Add butter and coconut extract, and pulse 5 to 6 times or until crumbly. With processor running, gradually add 3 tablespoons water and process until dough forms a ball and leaves sides of bowl. (I used whole-wheat flour, and had to add about 2 tablespoons more water.)

Roll dough into a 12 1/2-by-8-inch rectangle (about 1/4-inch thick) on a lightly floured surface. (I used a circular pan so rolled it into a circle.) Press on bottom and up sides of a 12-by-9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Trim excess and discard.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool completely on wire rack.

Spread Buttery Orange Curd over crust. Top with citrus sections. Voila!

Makes 1 tart.

ó "Southern Living: No Taste Like Home" by Kelly Alexander (Oxmoor House, $27.95)

BUTTERY ORANGE CURD

2/3 cup sugar

2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 1/3 cups orange juice

1 large egg, slightly beaten

3 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons orange zest

Pinch table salt

Combine sugar and cornstarch in a 3-quart saucepan. Gradually whisk in orange juice. Whisk in egg. Bring to a boil. Boil, whisking constantly, for 3 to 4 minutes.

Remove from heat. Whisk in butter, zest and salt. Place heavy-duty plastic wrap directly on curd (to prevent a film from forming). Chill 8 hours. Store leftovers in fridge for up to 3 days.

Makes about 2 cups.

SHRIMP & AVOCADO CEVICHE WITH LIME CREMA

PG tested

The acidic marinade "cooks" the shrimp in this zesty appetizer. Pretty served in a wide-rimmed champagne glass.

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and split in half

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons Mexican crema

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1/2 ripe avocado, peeled and cut into chunks

2 teaspoons diced red onion

1 teaspoon chopped jalapeno

Put bowl of ice nearby. In medium pot, bring 6 cups water to a boil. Drop in shrimp and cook only until they just begin to turn pink, about 15 seconds. Do not overcook. Remove from heat, drain and chill the shrimp on ice.

In small bowl, combine the orange, lime and lemon juices with the sugar, salt, crema and ginger. Mix well and pour over shrimp. Chill for 15 minutes. Just before serving, gently toss in the avocado, onion and jalapeno.

Serves 4 to 6.

ó "Healthy Latin Eating" by Angie Martinez and Angelo Sosa (Kyle, January 2015, $22.95)

WHEAT BERRY, BABY KALE, GRAPE AND ORANGE SALAD

PG tested

Iím not so much into health food (admit it ó wheat berries, which are the whole-grain form of wheat, fall into that category) but this recipe was kind of terrific. Sweet and nutty, with a wonderfully chewy texture, the rice-like kernels marry perfectly with sweet oranges and grapes. I never bought into last yearís kale crazy (hate the stuff) so substitute baby spinach. Go easy on the vinaigrette ó it packs a punch.

2 cups wheat berries

1 teaspoon salt

For vinaigrette

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup golden balsamic vinegar

Zest 1 orange

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

2 teaspoons agave nectar

1 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon curry powder

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Pinch of ground ginger

Freshly ground black pepper

For salad

5 ounces baby kale or baby spinach

1 cup seedless red grapes

1 cup seedless green grapes

2 oranges, segmented

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup raw, unsalted walnuts, toasted and chopped

Make wheat berries: Rinse them and put them in medium pot with 6 cups water and salt. Bring to boil and then reduce to simmer. Cook, covered, 1 hour, until wheat berries are just tender. Add a few cups cold water to pot; stir and then strain. Place wheat berries in a very large bowl to cool, stirring occasionally.

Make vinaigrette: Combine oil, vinegar, zest, juice, agave, mustard, salt, curry powder, cayenne, ginger and pepper in a small jar. Seal lid tightly and shake vigorously to combine. Set aside at room temperature.

Make salad: Combine cooled wheat berries with kale or spinach in a large bowl. Toss with 1/2 cup of dressing. Add grapes and orange segments and another 1/4 cup dressing and toss again. Add more dressing if desired and season with salt and pepper. Toss in walnuts right before serving.

Serves 8.

ó "Straight from the Earth" by Myra Goodman and Marea Goodman (Chronicle, 2014, $27.50)

CRISPY ORANGE BEEF

PG tested

This stir-fry recipe is a keeper! Slightly freezing the meat strips made them fry up crisp and crunchy, while still staying tender inside. I added a little bit more orange peel than what was called for, and an extra jalapeno, too, so my son wouldnít feel impelled to douse his serving with sriracha.

1 1/2 pounds sirloin steak tips, trimmed

3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided

6 tablespoons cornstarch

10 3-inch strips orange peel, sliced thin lengthwise (1/4 cup), plus 1/2 cup juice (2 oranges)

3 tablespoons molasses

2 tablespoons dry sherry

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons roasted sesame oil

3 cups vegetable oil

1 jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded and sliced thin lengthwise

2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

3 cloves garlic

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 scallions, sliced thin on bias

Cut beef with grain into 2- to 3-inch-wide pieces. Slice each piece against grain into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Cut each slice lengthwise into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Toss beef with 1 tablespoon soy sauce in bowl. Add cornstarch and toss until evenly coated. Spread beef in single layer on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Put sheet in freezer until meat is very firm but not completely frozen, about 45 minutes.

Whisk orange juice, molasses, sherry, vinegar, sesame oil and remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce together in bowl.

Line second rimmed baking sheet with triple layer of paper towels. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until oil registers 375 degrees. Carefully add 1/3 of beef and fry, stirring occasionally to keep beef from sticking, until golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes. Using wire-mesh skimmer, transfer meat to paper towel-lined sheet. Return oil to 375 degrees and repeat with remaining beef. After frying, reserve 2 tablespoons frying oil.

Heat reserved oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add orange peel and jalapeno and cook, stirring occasionally, until about half of orange peel is golden brown, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Add ginger, garlic and pepper flakes; cook, stirring frequently, until garlic begins to brown, about 45 seconds. Add soy sauce mixture and cook, scraping up any brown bits, until slightly thickened, about 45 seconds. Add beef and scallions and toss. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

ó "Cookís Illustrated Meat Book" (Americaís Test Kitchen, 2014, $40)

 

 


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