Things are looking bright and sunny in local grocery stores, thanks to the sweet citrus selection this time of year.
And after weeks of heavy holiday meals, it’s time to lighten the load with citrus.
It’s near peak season for all things orange, tangerine and yellow.
Plenty of options are available. There are the snack-size mandarins — such as clementines and satsumas — that are sweet and easy to eat. Cara caras are navel oranges with a tangy and sweet balance.
Blood oranges, anyone? These are prized for their cranberry tones and their deep red flesh.
And don’t forget the old standbys: grapefruit, temple oranges, tangelos and honey bells. All are suitable for eating out of hand, for juicing and for use in cooking. Think vinaigrettes, salads, and pairings with fish and chicken.
Aaron Wynn, prepared foods team leader at Whole Foods Market Cranbrook in Ann Arbor, Mich., says this year’s citrus is looking good.
“I am obsessed with the satsuma mandarin outside of just eating it,” Wynn says. “I’ve been making different marmalades with them.”
Wynn came up with the idea of using not-so-perfect, but still good mandarins to make marmalades based on a recipe from famed chef Thomas Keller. The marmalades are made in- house and sold in 6-ounce jars at Whole Foods Market Cranbrook.
“I don’t like to see anything go to waste and used it as an opportunity to teach my team something,” Wynn says.
When choosing citrus to use in cooking, Wynn says consider pairing fish with cara cara or blood oranges.
“Anything with that grapefruit-y and not super sweet taste also goes well with fish,” he says. “It also pairs nice with fennel and pistachios.”
Larissa Shain, registered dietitian at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland hospital in Pontiac, Mich., says the citrus season isn’t just about the orange family: Don’t forget about lemons and limes.
“By using the juices from the lemons and limes, you can use less salt in what you’re making,” Shain says.
For example, she says, if you make chili (using no-salt-added tomatoes and tomato sauce, of course), stir in a squeeze of lemon or lime just before serving. It will enhance and bring out the flavors of the other ingredients.
“When I was researching ways of lowering sodium, I found that citrus juices activate the same receptors on your tongue as salt does,” Shain says. “So you get that flavor without using salt.”
Citrus is a terrific source of vitamin C and high in antioxidants, but it’s also a good source of potassium, which Shain says helps lower blood pressure and the risk for stroke.
“The combination of lower sodium and increasing potassium found naturally in citrus fruits helps lower the blood pressure even more,” Shain says.
So go ahead and add a little citrusy sunshine to those hearty winter dishes. Your body and spirit will thank you.
TIPS FOR PREPARING, STORING AND SAVORING BOUNTIFUL CITRUS FRUIT
With a wide variety of citrus fruit at its peak, here are a few ways to prepare and store it:
Juicing: You can get more juice out of limes (or lemons) by microwaving them for 20 seconds or by rolling them around under your palm on the countertop. As you press down, the segments break down, releasing more juice. You also can use a fork to poke the segments. Freeze any leftover juice in ice cube trays. Once frozen, place the cubes in a freezer bag.
Zesting: This means to remove pieces of the outer rind of the fruit (lemons, limes, oranges, etc.). The rind has aromatic oils that enhance and flavor foods. The white pithy part under the peel is bitter.
If a recipe calls for the “zest of one lemon,” that means to remove strips of rind from the whole lemon. If the recipe calls for grated lemon zest, you should grate the rind on a box grater, a zester or a rasp-style grater.
Store thin or wide strips of lemon zest and grated lemon zest in a freezer-safe container or plastic sealable bag. It will keep for several months.
Several kitchen tools remove the zest of lemons easily to avoid the pith. Here are a few:
Rasp-style zesters and graters. We prefer Microplane-style graters. Their sharp teeth make removing the peel a snap; a swipe of a lemon yields feathery pieces of zest. Graters come in several sizes, colors and styles, producing fine to coarse grates.
Citrus zesters. These typically have five tiny but sharp holes in their tips. When you pull the zester across the fruit, little strips of peel come off.
Vegetable peelers. Chef Aaron Wynn recommends using a peeler that is not super sharp so it “doesn’t dig too deep into the fruit.” “Peel it as if you’re peeling an apple,” Wynn says. If you dig too deep, you’ll remove the white pith. If this happens, use a paring knife to scrape away any pith.
Segmenting: Here’s an easy way to cut oranges and grapefruits into segments. Use a serrated knife to cut a slice off each end of the fruit, revealing some of the flesh. Stand the fruit on one cut end. Starting at the top of the fruit and cutting to the bottom, slice off pieces of peel along with the pith (you will get some of the flesh), following the curve of the fruit.
Once you’ve removed the peel all around, cut off any remaining pith. To cut into segments, hold the fruit in your hand over a bowl to catch the juices. Cut on each side of the membrane all the way to the core to cut out the segment. Once you have cut out all the segments, squeeze what you have left to release more juice.
Citrus juices are fine additions to marinades, vinaigrettes and sauces.
They also make a nice splash in cocktails. Here’s a cocktail recipe made recently by Kathy Kieliszewski, Detroit Free Press director of photography and video:
In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 2 ounces gin, 2 ounces tangelo juice and 1 ounce basil simple syrup (1 cup water mixed with 1 cup sugar and 1 cup basil leaves brought to a boil and then cooled and strained). Shake and strain into a martini glass.
RUBY RED GRAPEFRUIT, HEARTS OF PALM AND SHRIMP SALAD
4 red or pink grapefruit, segmented
8 ounces peeled cooked small shrimp
1 can (14 ounces) hearts of palm, drained and sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup sliced green olives
1/4 teaspoon salt
After segmenting grapefruit, squeeze the juice from the membrane into the bowl. Add shrimp, hearts of palm, cilantro, onion, olives and salt; stir to combine. Serve room temperature or chilled. Nutrition information per serving: 175 calories (10 percent from fat), 2 grams fat (0 grams sat. fat), 31 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams protein, 580 mg sodium, 71 mg cholesterol, 6 grams fiber.
MANDARIN ORANGE AND GINGER BAKED TOFU
1 (14 ounces) package extra firm tofu, drained well, patted dry, cut in 1/4-inch slices
cup soy ginger sauce
1 tablespoon honey
2 mandarin oranges, washed, cut in 1/4-inch slices
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 cups fresh broccoli florets
2 whole fresh water chestnuts, peeled and sliced (or 2/3 cup sliced canned)
Steamed white or brown rice
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush both sides of tofu slices with some of the ginger sauce and arrange in a baking dish, overlapping as needed. Mix the remaining sauce with honey and spoon about half on top of the tofu. Top with orange slices. Bake 30 minutes, or until tofu is light brown.
In a large saute pan or wok, heat the olive oil and saute garlic until lightly browned. Add broccoli and water chestnuts and cook until crisp tender. Serve over rice with baked tofu and sauce on the side. Nutrition information per serving: 350 calories (23 percent from fat), 9 grams fat (0.5 grams sat. fat), 52 grams carbohydrates, 13 grams protein, 180 mg sodium, 0 mg cholesterol, 4 grams fiber.
SLOW COOKER 40-CLOVE CHICKEN WITH MEYER LEMON
6 skinless boneless chicken breasts (about 5 ounces each)
Ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
2 tablespoons dry vermouth
2 teaspoons dry basil
1 teaspoon dry oregano
Generous pinch of red pepper flakes or to taste
40 cloves of garlic (about 2 heads), peeled
4 ribs of celery, sliced
Juice and zest of 2 Meyer lemons
Fresh chopped herbs such as parsley or cilantro for garnish, optional
Sprinkle the chicken with pepper. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Working in batches if necessary, add chicken to the skillet and brown on all sides. Remove to platter. Combine wine, parsley, vermouth, basil, oregano and red pepper flakes in large bowl. Add garlic and celery; mix well. Transfer the garlic and celery to the slow cooker with slotted spoon. Add chicken to remaining herb mixture; coat well.
Place chicken on top of celery mixture. Sprinkle lemon juice and peel over chicken. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours.
Sprinkle with fresh herbs before serving.
Serves: 6 / Preparation time: 25 minutes
Total time: 6 hours, 30 minutes (not all active time)
You can use a 16-ounce bag of peeled, whole garlic cloves ($4). From Larissa Shain, registered dietitian, St. Joseph Mercy Oakland hospital in Pontiac, Mich. Tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen. Nutritional information not available.
CITRUS SALAD WITH DATES AND WALNUTS
1/2 cup chopped dates
4 tablespoons blood orange or clementine juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin, optional
Salt to taste
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup clementine, blood orange or red grapefruit segments
5 cups salad greens
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
In heatproof bowl, cover dates with boiling water; let sit for 5 minutes. Strain, reserving 1 teaspoon of the liquid. Place the reserved liquid in a bowl and add the juice, olive oil, vinegar, cumin and salt to taste. Add dates, onion and clementine segments; toss with greens and nuts and serve.
Serves: 4 / Preparation time: 25 minutes / Total time: 30 minutes From Eating Well Magazine, January/February 2013 issue. Tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.