A peek into the world of citrus and a refreshing winter's bounty citrus salad!

You know I almost don't want to admit it but just a few weeks ago I was a self-proclaimed most ardent orange lover who had hardly tested any other orange varieties other than pure old navel oranges! All this changed when while browsing one day I came across this Mark Bittman winter citrus column.. listening to it somehow motivated me to go out and explore and experience the world of those 'other' citruses. Luckily for me being in California exploring citrus varieties is not much of a trouble. I just kept buying a new citrus every time I visited my farmers market. I talked to the vendor about its properties, growing seasons, hybrids and also got some samples in return for my curiosity! Sure, me and my husband we both have our favorites at the end of these citrus tasting weeks but in these weeks I learnt so much about these various relatively lesser-known (to me atleast) citruses that I thought I'll do a post noting each one I tested. Mind you though, describing a taste is nowhere near the refreshing burst of each of these citruses in your mouth. If say we were leaving in a Harry Potter world and I could take you in my memory to experience the flavors and smells of each of them I would so do that, but since my magic voodoo is not that good yet, lets just embark on a citrusy photo tour for the day :)
(Follow the read more link below for the rest of the post...)
What better variety to start off with than the most commonly found orange in US, yup, you guessed it right, its navel oranges. Navels are a sweet and seedless variety. It is widely accepted that the first navel oramge originated somewhere in 1800's when a single gene mutation caused the orange fruit to develop a small second orange at the base as a conjoined twin. The mutation also left the orange seedless hence relying on grafting as a main method of cultivation. These are the sweetest and most readily available oranges owing to its sturdiness for transportation. Someone correct me if I am wrong but I really do feel that navels in US are more parallel in flavor and looks to Mosambi sold in India, don't you think that?

The second stop on the citrus tour is what my vendor calls 'rose oranges' alluding to the rose colored flesh inside. These are called cara-cara oranges and they look very similar to navel from outside except for may be a more blush-orange hue. Inside though is a different story. Cara caras have a beautiful rosy flesh inside which I thought was very photogenic (not to mention gaining a response from my husband about my being superficial and going for looks :D) In my favor they are super-sweet too though and the taste I felt was more of a navel orange taste with some strong undertones of sweet cranberries.

Now if you give your cara cara oranges a shot of blood transfusion then there you have it, a next variety: blood oranges (or Moro)! As the name suggests these are deep red inside, outside is a bit reddish too. All the blood oranges I saw were a bit smaller than navels and they had a lot more white pith and skin so pound to pound I got much less blood orange flesh compared to a navel. Neverthless its deep red color makes it super desirable in marmalades or as a salad decorations. Like beets blood oranges also have the canny ability to stain whatever comes in their way, so be careful! Tastewise I found them very close to navel, may be a bit more watery but that could just be the ones that I had.
(Starting from the front we have some cara-cara, satsumas, navels and way towards the end are meyer lemons)

Now comes my least favorite of all citrus, any takers? If you said grapefruit then yes you are right! Grapefruits are a hybrid between sweet oranges and pomelos. The most common grapefruit variety (ruby red) has the same pinkish rosy color inside as cara cara oranges but the taste is citrusy with slightly bitter tones. The bitter tones is what shies me away from this health packed citrus but hey, don't let my coldness towards it make you partial. If you generally love bitter veggies, you will probably like it. My husband loves these.

Then there are pomelos which are the heaviest citrus I have yet encountered. The ripe ones are still green on outside. One pomelo can weigh as much as a couple of oranges. The flesh inside resembles lemon while the flavor is a cross between orange, lemons and grapefruits.

Now to the readers from outside US: you might find it strange but all the above mentioned oranges are un-peelable or atleast very difficult to peel. You need to slice them and then eat. Enter now the class of peelable oranges which were imported from southeast asia to US. These are satsumas and mandarins. Both these varieties have a loosely attached oily skin making them easy to peel but at the same time more prone to bruising etc. So in regular supermarkets these are less frequently found or are higher priced than sturdy navels.
(Fresh satsumas -- these are so sweet and delicious they can be eaten as is for desserts!)

A post about citrus just won't be complete without mentioning meyer lemons! I bought them last week and was so amazed at the uniqueness of their flavors! These look like regular lemons but with a much softer skin. Inside though is a whole different story.. they are a cross between tart lemons and sweet oranges, more on the sweet side, I felt. The flavor I thought was one of the most unique citrus flavors that I have ever tasted. I sure hope to be able to buy more of these and try out in different recipes soon!

So, anyway, thanks for reading through this rather long post! What better way to wrap up this citrus primer than making a simple refreshing and most delicious citrus salad?

Recipe: Winter's bounty citrus salad
2 navel oranges
2 blood oranges
1 meyer lemon (sweet lemon)
1 grapefruit (or cara cara orange)
1/2Tbsp chopped mint
1/2Tbsp chopped red onion
crumble of toasted slivered almonds
2Tbsp olive oil
1tsp lemon juice
salt & pepper.

Salad dressing:
  1. Zest one navel orange to get 1/2Tbsp orange zest.
  2. Combine olive oil, lemon juice, orange zest, red onion, mint, salt & pepper. 
  3. Mix well. Taste, add more lemon juice if not acidic enough; add more olive oil if too acidic. 
  4. Set aside.
Assembling the salad:
  1. Using a knife remove the tops and bottom parts of the citrus so they stand well.
  2. Peel the orange using a knife. Cut as much of the white skin as possible.
  3. Dice the citrus into equal thickness disks.
  4. Arrange the various colored citrus disks.
  5. drizzle the dressing on top.
  6. Sprinkle some toasted slivered almonds and enjoy!
This salad is a perfect accompaniment to a heavy meal or a very colorful eye-catching dish to any of your parties! I ate it as dessert actually and very much enjoyed it!