Time to contemplate your navel
Food bloggers Sammy and Bella, winners of My Kitchen Rules, share how to get the most out of your citrus this winter
SOUTH-East Asian cooking just wouldn’t be the same without fresh lime juice, and some of our favourite cocktails would suffer greatly. We couldn’t have that.
Many people associate citrus fruits with summer, and even though most varieties are available all year round, they are harvested and at their peak in winter.
LEMON: Eureka and lisbon varieties are available all year round, at their peak from June to August. Use zest to flavour cakes and biscuits, or add a fresh touch to a braise with an Italian gremolata – crush 1 large clove of garlic, zest of 1 lemon, and 1 bunch of finely chopped flat leaf parsley. Sprinkle over Mediterranean flavoured braises. For the best quality peel, lemons should be unwaxed and the easiest way to get these is to grow your own. Lemon trees are fairly hardy in frost-free climates. Meyer lemons have a much shorter season in winter, they are sweeter and less acidic than other varieties and are better used for their juice than peel.
LIME: The most common variety available in supermarkets is the tahitian lime, which has a short harvest season in late autumn to early winter. They are essential in South-East Asian and Mexican cooking and go especially well with a cocktail or a cold beer. That being said, limes are available all year round but they do get expen- sive, especially for the small amount of juice yielded. Get the best bang for your buck by using the zest as well as the juice. To get more juice out of your limes, (zest first, then) zap them in the microwave for 30 seconds. This breaks down the cell walls that hold the pockets of juice, which allows the lime to release more liquid when juicing. ORANGE: Unlike some other fruits, oranges won’t continue to ripen once picked, so for the best flavour make sure you buy fruit that feels heavy for its size and has no greenish tinge on the skin. Navels are first to be harvested around June, while valencias and blood oranges are ready in September.
CUMQUAT: A very easy fruit to grow at home, they are much hardier than other citrus varieties and can withstand a decent amount of frost. You can make use of its intense flavour by using the juice, zest or entire fruit. They originated in China and the locals often salt preserve them. They are traditionally used as a sore throat remedy, but we love using them in savoury dishes.
Top tip: Try mashing and adding to salad dressings, adding to tagines or stuffing into a whole fish and roasting. Of course, they are fantastic served sweet in cakes, jams, chutneys and glaceed, but we think our grandpa has the best idea. He makes homemade cumquat liqueur.
MANDARIN: Harvested from April onwards, these are a school lunch box favourite, as they are so easy to peel and are full of sweet juice that kids adore. The dried peel is commonly used in Chinese medicine and we love adding it to smoking mixes for salmon or duck. In fact, mandarin goes very well with many duck as well as pork dishes.
GRAPEFRUIT: Some people don’t like grapefruit, possibly because they were scarred by eating the overly bitter and sour marsh variety as children. Our mum used to cut these in half and sprinkle with brown sugar, which made them more palatable for us kids. These days, the pink (aka ruby red) variety is more readily available (harvested in April-May), and it’s got just enough sweetness that you don’t need to add any sugar. It’s absolutely delicious in salads. You can segment the flesh and then squeeze the leftover pith to make an amazing salad dressing.