Editor’s Note: This month, food writer Casey Barber thinks it’s time to eat winter citrus. Stay tuned for her March recipe selection, and for all the months that follow.
Who else needs a pick-me-up as we move through the last few weeks of winter? While a beach vacation might not be possible for everyone, you can always get a taste of sunny weather in the form of citrus.
Though these fruits might make you think of summer lemonade and margaritas on the patio, winter is the perfect time to be enjoying them. It’s peak season for harvesting many citrus varieties, according to Camelia Miller, fourth-generation owner of Twin Peaks Orchards in Newcastle, California.
In California and Florida – the two states where most citrus fruits are grown in the United States – the climate conditions mimic that of the Mediterranean and southern Asia, with warm summers and mild winters.
Before overnight shipping and instant grocery delivery was the norm, it was a splurge to have oranges and other citrus fruits sent from these areas to the colder regions of the US during the winter – a tradition that persists to this day. (Count this writer in as someone who vividly remembers getting boxes of Indian River oranges shipped from her grandparents in Florida to her college dorm in Pennsylvania.)
All citrus varieties have high levels of vitamin C, antioxidants and flavonoids that are natural cold and flu fighters. “Citrus naturally produces those essential things,” Miller said. “Nature’s kind of figured it out.”
Thanks to cold storage, limes, lemons, navel oranges and grapefruit are available year-round. But you should take advantage of the winter citrus crop and try a few different varieties while they are in season.
Snack on a few citrus fruits that might be new to you, and experiment with the following recipe ideas for desserts, cocktails and savory dishes. Winter sunshine is on its way!
Though you might not always be able to see the difference in the peel, slice a blood orange open and you’ll know why this variety of orange is so named. The deep red color of its flesh is thanks to high levels of anthocyanins, naturally occurring pigments that come out as the fruit ripens. Some blood oranges are fully crimson or burgundy inside and others have a more mottled or ombré look, but all are incredibly sweet.
Juice the oranges and use the dramatically colored liquid in recipes that let the hue shine through, like an Aperol spritz-style cocktail that tastes like an orange-and-vanilla ice cream bar.
Blood oranges make any dessert more beautiful, which might entice you to whip up a yogurt snacking cake with a pastel blood orange glaze or tangy blood orange bars that look much more dramatic than regular lemon bars. If you’re a fan of orange sherbet, indulge even further with blood orange ice cream.
Cara cara oranges
Another orange variety with a glowingly gorgeous color, cara cara oranges have a ruddy pink hue to their flesh and hints of berries in their taste. Just like their cousin the navel orange, cara caras are seedless, too.
Slice cara cara oranges into wedges and roast them with honey to intensify their natural sweetness, then serve with a salad or wilted greens, or as part of a cheese and charcuterie snacking board. If marmalade is your jam, try a cara cara orange jam to mix up the morning routine.
Or keep it easy, as I like to do: My favorite use for cara cara oranges is to juice a bunch and make the sweetest mimosas ever.
One of the most well-known citrus varieties, Meyer lemons are the thin-skinned lemons with rinds that look almost marigold in color. They taste more floral and less tart than the Eureka lemon that most people consume year-round, and their juice brings a sweet, almost herbal note to many recipes.
You can make an entire meal around Meyer lemons if you’re so inclined. Start with a refreshing vodka and Prosecco cocktail, then flavor a simple roast chicken with the fruit to make a fragrant pan sauce. (You do know how to roast a chicken, don’t you?) For dessert, bake a Meyer lemon pie that uses whole fruit in a quick filling made in the blender.
Mandarins, clementines and satsumas
The bags of tiny, easy-peel fruits you’re accustomed to grabbing at the store are descendants of one of the oldest citrus varieties on the planet. Both clementines and satsumas are seedless varieties of the mandarin citrus family, which originated in Asia centuries ago.
And while these fruits are indeed perfect for snacking on their own, the segments can be incorporated into versatile couscous or other grain salads. Make a warm sweet-and-savory pilaf with chickpeas, olives and dates, or a side-dish option with pearl couscous, cranberries and almonds.
For breakfast (or to use up a bunch of mandarins or clementines that might be nearly past their prime) bake up a no-yeast quick bread that uses the zest, juice and sliced segments.
These oversize citrus fruit look like grapefruits on steroids, with a yellowish-green rind and a thick pith that makes them feel almost insulated. Another of the ancient citrus varieties originally found in Asia, pomelos (sometimes spelled pummelos) were crossbred with oranges to create the modern-day grapefruit.
As such, the taste of the flesh and juice of a pomelo are similar to that of a grapefruit, and you can use them interchangeably in recipes. Pomelos are often used in Asian dishes that pair the fruit with spicy, sweet and salty components, like this traditional Thai pomelo salad with shrimp.
Try the juice in cocktails like the Punto Pomelo, which marries a margarita with Caribbean spices. Or if you want to find a use for the peel, turn it into pomelcello.
Casey Barber is a food writer, illustrator and photographer; the author of “Pierogi Love: New Takes on an Old-World Comfort Food” and “Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats”; and editor of the website Good. Food. Stories.