Right in the middle of the gray winter, some rays of color appear in the form of the gorgeous grapefruits, lemons, oranges, clementines, and limes. Isn't that strange? How the cruel, rough winter gives life to such bright and vivid colored fruit? Like nature trying to battle its blues through the creation of small miracles.
These jewels of winter are the juiciest and most flavorful fruits of the season. They're so incredibly versatile making even a novice cook seem seasoned, a simple dish seem complex.
So many different cultures have incorporated citrus fruits in their everyday meals and their celebratory feasts. Who isn't familiar with the classic French recipe of duck á l'orange, or the Italian limoncello? What would the Mexican ceviche be without lemons or Thai tiger prawn dishes without limes?
Right here, in my little expat kitchen, the night before last, a salad composed almost entirely out of citrus fruits was about to make its debut on the dinner table. Don't let me confuse you though. I'm not talking about a bland after-dinner fruit salad. This is a proper dinner salad that hits you in the face with its hotness and sourness, and titillates your taste buds with its sweet nuances.
The protagonists? Ruby red grapefruit, orange, lemon, kumquat. The extras? Olive oil, red chili, peppercorns, mint leaves.
The acidity of the grapefruit and kumquat and the sweetness of the orange complement each other and welcome the addition of heat from the chili and the presence of body from the flavored olive oil. The black and pink peppercorns enter and steal the scene for a moment with their pungent flavor and crunchy texture.
When you bite into the fruits, you can taste little explosions of sharp nectar in your mouth and immediately you feel your lips burning from those devilish chilies and then suddenly the mint comes into play to sooth and refresh your senses.
It's a perfect roller coaster of flavors but beware. This salad is better not eaten on its own. It's too powerful, at least for my palate. It definitely needs a side of a nicely grilled beef rib-eye steak or entrecote, to balance out the sour and hot notes, or if you prefer fish, a tuna steak or salmon, also grilled, would be perfect.
I paired it with a grilled veal steak and it was a match made in heaven.
Hot and Sour Salad with Grapefruit, Oranges, and Kumquats
Adapted from Greek Gourmet
Try to use the sweetest oranges you can find in this salad, since the grapefruit and kumquats tend to be very sour.
Yield: 6-8 servings
for flavored olive oil
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Peel of 1 orange, cut into strips
Peel of 1/2 lemon, cut into strips
1 or 2 fresh red chilies, cut in half lengthwise
2 1/2 tsp pink peppercorns, crushed
1 tsp black peppercorns, crushed
1/2 tsp ground coriander
2 large ruby red or pink grapefruit, cut in wedges with pips, peel and white pith removed
2 large oranges, cut in wedges with pips, peel and white pith removed
5 kumquats, seeded and sliced
1 Tbsp pomegranate seeds
1/3 tsp salt, preferably Fleur de Sel
A pinch of good quality sweet paprika
4-5 small mint sprigs
The process of flavoring the olive oil must be done very carefully as to not burn the oil.
Pour the oil in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the orange and lemon peel, crushed pink and black peppercorns, coriander, and chilies. Heat mixture over very low heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Once you're able to smell the aromas of the fruit and chillies, about 5-8 minutes in, remove from the heat and let stand, covered, until the mixture has completely cooled.
You can prepare the flavored oil the day before you serve the salad, keeping it in a glass bowl, covered with plastic wrap, at room temperature.
The way to cut the grapefruit and oranges is by using a sharp knife. First cut the peel off, then the white pith, and finally cut free the flesh of the fruit from the membranes.
To serve the salad, arrange the orange, grapefruit, and kumquat pieces in a salad bowl or platter. Remove the chilies, orange and lemon peel from the flavored oil, and pour the oil all over the citrus fruits. Sprinkle with salt and paprika and adorn the platter with the mint sprigs and pomegranate seeds.