Imagine this: it's the middle of winter and something as sun drenched and vibrant as citrus fruits are in peak season. In a time when everything always seems to be in season, this may not sound that strange but it's true. Even foods that are as perpetually present in supermarkets as oranges indeed have an optimum period. Though as I write this column it's 8 degrees Fahrenheit outside and hard to imagine anything is actually in season.
Oranges are a near-perfect food. One medium sized navel orange has just 80 calories, is cholesterol and sodium free and contains more than 100% recommended daily intake of vitamin C. What's more, they taste great and come neatly packed in their own durable skin for easy transport. Oranges are one of those foods that you can actually feel feeding your body nutrients while you eat them…well, maybe with a vivid imagination. Once cut or squeezed, however, the vitamin C in an orange begins to dissipate-after only 8 hours fresh orange juice can lose up to 20 percent of its vitamin C. Therefore, to benefit its full potential, it's best to drink your juice freshly squeezed.
Though they are indigenous to Southern Asia, Christopher Columbus originally brought oranges to the New World, specifically the West Indies, and then later Spanish explorers brought them to Florida; missionaries carried the fruit with them to California. Florida is currently the second largest producer of oranges in the world, only to be surpassed by Brazil.
If you've ever wondered whether the fruit was named after the color or the color after the fruit, you'll probably be interested to find that it's the latter. The word orange, it seems, is derived from the Sanskrit naranga, meaning fragrant fruit-if the "n" in the Sanskrit word is removed, the English derivative is apparent. And interestingly, in both Spanish and Italian the word for orange is even more obviously based on the Sanskrit. In Italian, for example, an orange is an arancia, while the Spanish word for orange is naranja. To make matters a little more confusing, in some Spanish dialects, orange juice is referred to as jugo de china (Chinese juice, or literally, juice from China), making reference to the belief that oranges had originated in that area of the world.
When purchasing oranges, avoid fruit that has soft spots and a dull or faded color; they should feel firm and heavy for their size. Oranges may be stored at room temperature for a few days, or refrigerated for up to two weeks.
Orange and Currant Scones
Yield: 8 scones
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
1/2 cup dried currants
1 teaspoon orange zest, grated
2 large eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 400 Fahrenheit.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a food processor or mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
Add the currants and orange zest; mix thoroughly.
Separate 1 egg. Combine the egg yolk with the whole egg in a small bowl. Add the cream and whisk until mixed thoroughly. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough pulls away from sides of bowl.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead it for a few minutes, or until it forms a somewhat smooth ball.
Roll the dough to 1 inch thick. Cut out the scones using a 3-inch cookie cutter. Place the unbaked scones 1-inch apart on a heavy baking sheet. Lightly beat the remaining egg white and brush the tops of the scones. Sprinkle with sugar and bake 18-20 minutes or until light brown. Remove the scones from the oven and allow them to cool slightly before serving.
Carrot and Fresh Fennel Salad with Orange-Toasted Cumin Vinaigrette
Yield: 4 servings
4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced *paper thin (about 12 ounces)
1 small fennel bulb, sliced *paper thin crosswise (about 4 ounces)
1 small onion, peeled and sliced *paper thin (about 2 ounces)
1/2 cup orange-toasted cumin vinaigrette
Combine all of the ingredients in an appropriately sized bowl and allow to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes. The salad may be consumed as is, or tossed with romaine lettuce.
*To prepare the vegetables, slice them, literally, paper thin, using a mandolin (the culinary type, not the musical instrument), electric slicer, or carefully with a very sharp knife.
Orange-Toasted Cumin Vinaigrette
Yield: 1-1/4 cup
8 tablespoons virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons fresh orange juice
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, orange juice, white wine vinegar and salt; set aside. In a small dry skillet, combine the cumin seeds and hot pepper. Place the skillet over medium-high heat and toast the spices until they begin to change color and perfume the air (stir and toss the spices continually to avoid scorching). Pour the toasted spices, directly from the hot skillet, into the vinaigrette-they should sizzle when combined with the liquid. Whisk together the vinaigrette until fully incorporated; transfer the vinaigrette to an appropriate sized container. Allow the vinaigrette to rest for at least 1/2 hour before using.
Orange Flavored Beef and Green Bean Stirfry
Yield: 4 servings
1 pound lean beef
3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
2 tablespoons brown sugar, divided
2 tablespoons cornstarch, divided
1 pound green beans
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons minced ginger
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 whole dried chilies
Trim the beef of any fat and slice it against the grain into very thin 2-inch slices. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the beef with 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of the brown sugar and 1 tablespoon of the cornstarch. Stir the beef to thoroughly combine all of the ingredients, cover and refrigerate for 1/2 hour.
Blanch the green beans by cooking them in plenty of lightly salted water for 2 minutes. Drain the green beans and immediately plunge them into cold water to stop the cooking process. Remove the green beans from the cold water. Remove the stem from the beans and cut them into quarters, first lengthwise then crosswise (this may seen tedious but it is essential to the outcome of the dish).
Peel the oranges by hand and reserve the peel of one of the oranges; discard the peel from the other. The reserved peel should be broken into large (1-2 inch) pieces. Squeeze the juice from both oranges and reserve.
Prepare the sauce by combining in a small bowl, the juice from both oranges, the remaining 2 tablespoons of soy, 1 tablespoon brown sugar and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. Mix all of these ingredients together until the sugar and cornstarch is dissolved; set aside.
In a large wok or skillet, heat the oil over high heat and add the beef; sauté until the edges begin to crisp (if the pan you are using is not large enough to hold all of the beef in one single layer, this process will have to be done in batches). Remove the beef to a warm plate and set aside.
To the same hot pan add the orange peel, if needed, add a small addition of oil. Sauté the orange peel for 1-2 minutes to release some of its oil, which will contribute flavor to the dish-the orange peel should just begin to caramelize. Add the ginger, garlic, and whole chilies; sauté until the garlic and ginger is browned but not burnt. Add the green beans and stirfry until thoroughly heated. Add the cooked beef back to the pan and sauté an additional minute or two.
Stir in the sauce. Cook the stirfry for and additional few minutes, until the sauce has heated through and has thickened slightly. Serve over steamed white rice.