Sweet, sharp and fresh – these hybrid citrus fruits bring an unmistakable brightness to light spring dishes, from a pop of orange in a tasty salad to a delicious zing in a Spanish stew and much else in between.
In season: tangelos
Tangelos are my pick of citrus fruit. Yes, I love lemons for their fresh scent and usefulness in the kitchen but when it comes to eating citrus as a fruit, it’s not much fun sucking on a lemon. Tangelos, a hybrid between a sweet mandarin and a grapefruit, are gorgeously sweet and sharp at the same time. The acid gives a heightened mouth-puckering thrill, to the point where it almost induces a sweat, but mandarin’s sweetness takes off the acid edge keeping the overall effect balanced. Just! When squeezed, the juice is bright in colour, tastes deeply of orange and is fresh and pleasantly sweet.
There are several varieties of tangelo. Top of the pile is the Minneola with its deep orange pockmarked skin and distinctive elongated neck and nippled top. It’s easy to peel – just get your thumb under the bump at the top – and has generous amounts of juice. Other varieties include Orlando and Seminole.
It’s the acid in tangelos coupled with the fruity orange taste that makes them so versatile in the kitchen. They always look great, too, with their deep orange juicy flesh. A bowl of strawberries and segmented tangelos makes a light and fresh end to a spring meal. Tangelos also go with pears, peaches, bananas, grapes, guavas and rhubarb. And then there is the heavenly combination of orange and chocolate. And orange and ginger. Tangelos do the business here better than an orange, I think.
Perhaps my favourite way to use tangelos is in savoury dishes. Juice or segments should be added towards the end of cooking because tangelo juice looses its fresh notes when heated and segments lose their bright colour and structure. They’re a flavour corrector, too. A good squirt of tangelo juice can level out the oiliness of a dish, and help suppress saltiness (add a dab of honey to mute excess saltiness).
Add a cup of segments with juice to a Spanish chicken, red pepper and green olive stew just before serving, and you’ll create a flavour bomb. Spoon them through a Moroccan chickpea, chorizo and harissa dish and sprinkle the lot with chopped coriander, and you’ll create a standout result. The acidity will make the red pepper in the stew seem sweeter, and will help define the spices in the chickpea dish.
I love them in salsa and fresh relish, too. Any combination of chopped white peaches or
nectarines, green or yellow pepper, red onion or shallot, chopped coriander, mint or basil, chopped olives or capers, will work. As will chopped avocado, tangelo segments, red onion and hot red chilli and fresh mint. Try this with a black bean salad topped with sour cream, and fill tacos, adding shredded pork belly, pan-fried or barbecued fish fillets, or chopped char-grilled chicken, to make it more substantial.
Fennel and orange is another curious combo that works. Trim and finely slice fennel, dress with extra virgin olive oil, tangelo juice, flaky sea salt, crushed garlic and tangelo segments. The fennel can sit around for 30 minutes or so once dressed (with the tangelo juice), but add segments just before serving. Garnish with a shower of chopped chervil or fresh tarragon. Add small black olives if liked, or finish with capers sizzled in browning butter. Once you get on a roll, the possibilities are endless. What you are looking to create is a balance of acidity, a tad of sweetness and a dollop of fruity flavours. Spices like ginger, and herbs like mint and tarragon, and extras like chillies, capers and olives, add another dimension. You can make tangelos work with fish and shellfish, and with pork, turkey, chicken, duck, ham and lamb, and with many fruits and some vegetables. It’s the other ingredients that will pull it all together.
Substitute tangelo juice for lemon in most desserts. Think lemon tart, gelato, ice cream, granita, custards and the like, and in nut cakes or sponges soaked in syrup, and other syrupy desserts like baklava. Some oranges don’t have enough acidity to balance these sweet dishes, but tangelos with their bitey little zing do the job well while adding a notable orange presence.