During the gray, bleak days of winter, I keep a large, shallow bowl of the season’s best citrus fruits—lemons, limes, and oranges—as a centerpiece on my kitchen table. The vibrant color radiates sunny warmth and reminds me to incorporate the sweet, refreshing fruits in my winter menus.
Citrus fruits have long been valued as part of a nutritious and tasty diet. The flavors provided by citrus are among the most preferred in the world, and it is increasingly evident that citrus not only tastes good, but is also good for health. It is well established that citrus fruits are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber.
The orange contains vitamins A, B, and C. It is superior to almost any other fruit as a source of calcium. It also contains sodium, potassium, magnesium, copper, sulfur, and chlorine.
Oranges have a good dose of beta-carotene, which keep one energetic and active. It is seen by color therapists as the color of creation, and is linked to the mind and ideas.
With the exception of the grapefruit, all citrus fruits are millions of years old. They were first cultivated in India, Japan, and China; they are semi-tropical plants native to Southeast Asia. The demand for oranges increased dramatically in the 1500s, after the Portuguese brought back the first sweet oranges from India and China.
Before the 20th century oranges were very expensive and therefore not regularly consumed, but rather eaten on special holidays such as Christmas. After more efficient means of transportation were developed, the price dropped, and they could be consumed on a wide scale, as they are today. Currently, the largest commercial producers of oranges include the United States, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, China, and Israel.
When buying any citrus fruit, choose ones that have smoothly textured skin and are firm and heavy for their size. These will have a higher juice content than those that are either spongy or lighter in weight. Avoid those that have soft spots or traces of mold.
Oranges, lemons, and limes can either be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator, depending upon your preference. Either way, they will generally last about two weeks, and will retain nearly the same level of their vitamin content.
Citrus fruits produce more juice when warmer. Always juice them when they are at room temperature. Rolling the orange under the palm of your hand on a flat surface will also help to extract more juice.
When a recipe calls for orange zest, make sure that you use an organically grown orange since most conventionally grown fruits have pesticide residues on their skins and may be artificially colored. After washing and drying the orange, use a paring knife or vegetable peeler to remove the zest, which is the orange part of the peel. Make sure not to remove too much of the peel as the white pith underneath is bitter and should not be used. The zest can then be more finely chopped or diced if necessary.
Orange is my favorite among all the citrus fruits. I love to peel a fresh orange, as the scent of its skin is refreshing and rejuvenating. I also use lemon and lime extensively in my day-to-day cooking. However, I have not been able to develop any fondness for grapefruit. Maybe it is because I have not found an interesting recipe with grapefruit.
Oranges are often eaten as a snack or in fruit salad or the ever-popular orange juice.
Here are two innovative recipes with oranges.
My friend Kanchan Padukone makes orange rasam, which tastes refreshing and soothing on a cold winter evening.
2 green chilies
1 inch ginger
½ teaspoon rasam powder
3 cups water
2 cups orange juice
½ teaspoon salt or as per taste
¼ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon oil
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
5-6 curry leaves
In a big pot add water and bring it to boil. Make slits in the green chilies and slice the ginger. Add the chilies, ginger, and rasam powder to the water. Let it boil for 5 minutes.
Add orange juice, salt, and sugar. Simmer for 2-3 minutes.
Heat a small pan and add oil. Then throw in the mustard seeds. Wait till they pop and finally add curry leaves. Garnish the orange rasam with this seasoning. Serve piping hot.
Hema’s Hints: The final oil seasoning is optional.
PAUSHTIK SALAD WITH ORANGE DRESSING
My mother made this salad with limejuice. Once, when I was making this salad, I ran out of lime, so I substituted orange juice. The orange juice adds pizzazz to the humble salad.
1 cup cabbage (finely shredded)
1 cup carrots (grated)
1 cup cauliflower (finely cut)
1 cup spinach (chopped)
½ cup cilantro (chopped)
1 orange (peeled and cut)
½ cup peanuts
2 inches ginger
½ cup orange juice
salt and sugar to taste
Place all the vegetables in a bowl.
Grate the ginger and squeeze juice out of it. Discard the pulp. Mix the ginger juice into the orange juice and add salt and sugar.
Just before serving add the dressing to the salad. Toss well.
Hema’s Hints: You may mix and match other vegetables in this recipe, except for tomato and potato.
Hema Alur-Kundargi is the producer, editor, and host of a television show Indian Vegetarian Gourmet.