Citrus fruits will do your body good
Now that the fresh berries have moved to the high-rent district of the produce aisle, we need more affordable fruits for the family. Citrus fruits - oranges, kumquats, grapefruits, lemons and limes - are bursting with nutrients and just happen to be less expensive.
Today, orange cultivators are concocting juicy mutations and exotic cross-cultural breeds. The Navel orange is the product of a mutation that leaves the fruit sterile, belly-buttoned and conveniently seedless, making it a great snacking fruit. Valencia, a late bloomer which takes over when the Navel is out of season, is a sweet orange used for juice extraction. Moros or Blood oranges, so called because of their rich ruby strands, produce a maroon-tinted juice packed with red-pigmented anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant. The Moro can be enjoyed as a snack, but with its stunning attributes it deserves more creative culinary showcasing. Toss them in salads, salsas and chutneys or whip up a Blood orange margarita. The Cara Cara is a double-cross - a Navel/Blood orange combo. Its firm texture and gorgeous hue also make it a nice garnish in salads or for kitschy drinks. The Mandarin is a diminutive, super juicy orange. Clementines have become the most popular variety. Easy to peel and segment they are ideal for school lunches, fruit salads or to add a splash of color to stir-fries in honor of Chinese New Year.
The bitter rind contains the true orange essence that can be grated to produce "zest" for spiking the flavor of duck, chicken or a variety of baked goods. The white rind is a great source of nature's detoxifier pectin and has nearly the same amount of vitamin C as the flesh. The flesh is also loaded with carotene, which gives the vibrant color and a dose of vitamin A.
Kumquats, a small orange sibling, are oval-shaped with a reddish-tinged peel. Their juicy flesh is slightly sour and salty, while their rind is sweet, so kumquats are usually eaten unpeeled. Kumquats can be candied, made into marmalades and jellies or used as a martini garnish replacing the classic olive.
Orange's bitter first cousin, the subtropical grapefruit has acidic flesh that varies in sweetness and color, the most common hues are white, pink and ruby red. Grapefruit is a terrific source of vitamins B and C, pectin and fiber, as well as the antioxidant lycopene found in the pink and red hued varieties. Studies have also linked the fruit to lowering cholesterol. However, people on medications should limit or avoid grapefruit as this citrus contains a trio of elements that tinker with the potency of certain drugs and supplements rendering many of them toxic.
The average lip-puckering lemon produces three tablespoons of acidic juice perfect for making lemonade, vinaigrette dressing, a marinade to tenderize tough fibers or to enhance the flavor of fish and neutralize its odor. A little spritz of fresh lemon juice on banana, apple or avocado slices will temporarily prevent them from oxidizing and turning brown before serving. The juice is easier to extract when the lemon has reached room temperature. For best results, lay it on a wooden surface and roll it a few times with your open palm. Lemon zest from the rind gives a kick to scones, pies, cakes and risottos while wedges garnish cold drinks.
The Meyer, a lemon and mandarin cross, is thin-skinned and less acidic than the Lisbon and Eureka varieties. Meyers have the true lemon flavor without the edgy tartness. Its juice and rind are wonderful in baked goods and salad dressings.
Finally, the lime, lemon's green-rinded counterpart, accents authentic dishes of Mexican, southwestern U.S. and Thai cuisines. Key limes' floral zest make famous Floridian pies, Kaffirs enhance Thai soups and other traditional dishes, while the acidic juice from the generic lime is used to marinate ceviche and spike salsas in Mexican cooking.
Pucker up with my citrus gazpacho that incorporates the juices of oranges, lemons and limes, along with giving a boost of vitamin C during flu season.
Southwest Citrus Gazpacho
- 4 large ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
- 1 English cucumber, finely chopped
- 1 green pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 red pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 red onion, diced
- 1 teaspoon of Tabasco
- 2 cups of tomato or vegetable juice
- 1/2 cup of fresh orange juice
- 1 tablespoon of lime juice
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 2 ripe avocados, cubed
- Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
- Fresh cilantro sprigs and lime, lemon and blood orange slices for garnish
Combine the ingredients except the avocado and garnishes in a large glass bowl and stir gently. Chill for 2 hours in the refrigerator. Ladle into ceramic bowls or libation glasses and garnish with avocado, cilantro sprigs and fruit slices.