Let’s Make A Salad Out Of Winter’s Last Citrus
10:00 AM EST on March 5, 2022
Quickly! While you still can!
OK, that was maybe alarmist. I am not invoking the horrible and horribly present-seeming specter of, like, the end of the world here. But these are the very last days of this winter's good citrus fruits in my belt of the planet; they actually peaked more than a month ago, and soon there will be no good ones left. So if we are going to do this damn thing, and we are, then you had better do it soon. Today. Literally right now!
Here are some things that you will need.
You will need some citrus fruits. No, not lemons and limes! You are going to need maybe one or two nice big oranges; I recommend, if you can find them, dekopon or some other large and very juicy variety, and probably not navel oranges, which I don't think will give you the taste explosion you want. One or two nice big red grapefruits would also be great; the salad in the photo up there was made with one huge dekopon and one red grapefruit. If you can find one but not the other, that's fine. If you can find both, that's great.
So, the thing here is that this salad is going to be impossibly, blindingly delicious; a bite of it featuring any three of its ingredients will be enough to make you fight against the impulse to shriek madly and claw at your cheeks. On the other hand, cutting up the citrus fruits the way I'm going to tell you to do it will be kind of a pain in the ass. The first of these facts argues for making a lot of this salad, enough to pack a swimming pool. The second of these facts argues against that. I think that if you use one grapefruit and one big orange, you are going to wind up with enough of this stuff that two adults, picking at it together with forks, will wish they had more of it, and will feel sort of disappointed by whatever else might also be for dinner. Maybe that's good! Maybe you will want to make more than that. Suit yourself. Literally go get them right now. We'll meet up when you get back.
How many did you get? I don't care! Now you're going to cut them up. The way to do this is, cut off, like, a third of an inch at both the stem and blossom end of each fruit, so that it's got two flat sides.
Then you're going to stand each fruit up on one of its newly flat sides, and with your knife you are going to cut the peel off in strips, using a careful, curving, downward cut from the top of the fruit to the bottom, taking off only as much as you need to in order to expose the very beautiful and colorful and juicy inside of the fruit. (The endocarp, it is called, science-wise or whatever! This is a science publication.)
Next you're going to hold the skinned fruit in your hand and you're going to look at it. It's very lovely, and also it is dripping down your wrist. See how you can see the sections of the fruit, and the thin wall dividing them? With your sharp knife, and carefully so that we do not have any amputation-type situations to deal with, you are going to cut down to the core of the fruit, right along either side of each of those walls, so that the segments of fruit come out bearing, oh, let's settle for very little of that fibrous wall stuff. If any of the segments are so tiny that separating them in this way seems absurd, it's fine to cut two of them out as one piece. It's also fine if you can't get them perfectly naked. It's fine.
I recognize that words may not do a great job of making this make sense. Here are some photos.
Like that. It's kind of annoying! The salad will be worth it.
OK. You will also need some type of raw onion action. The salad in the photo has a little less than a quarter of a big red onion in it, sliced very thinly. That's what I recommend; red onion is nice-looking, for one thing, and also intense enough to balance what else will be going on in a bite of this foodstuff. If you have a good, sharp mandoline slicer, run the onion through there on the thinnest or next-thinnest setting. If you do not have a mandoline slicer that you trust to do a good job of this, then hone your big kitchen knife so that it will do its smoothest cutting, and slice the onion as thin as you can manage without making yourself hate my guts.
If red onion is more intense than you like, but you share my enthusiasm for prettiness, it's fine to dial the onion action back to a big shallot, likewise sliced thinly. If you do not give a damn about prettiness but also do not want to use red onion, it's fine to use a yellow onion. It's still going to taste good. I think that you can demand more from your palate! But the salad will be delightful. What is not fine is for you to just cut up a frickin' orange and eat it and be like "Ah, a delicious citrus salad." You need some dang onion! We're making a frickin' salad, here.
If the idea appeals to you, you can go for slightly less of the onion—but still, some onion!—and replace that quantity with thinly sliced fennel. This is great. I'm not going to boldface "fennel" because I consider onion, and not fennel, essential to this operation.
You need a few leaves of fresh mint. Fresh mint may not be the easiest thing to find where you are, right now at the absolute beginning of green things' growing season. Maybe you'll get lucky. If you cannot find any, this will not be fatal to your citrus salad aspirations, I promise. You will need some big walnut pieces, maybe like a fistful of them. The salad in that photo up there, as you can probably tell, has candied walnuts on it, but these could just as easily have been plain walnut pieces toasted in a pan; if anything, between the dekopon and the candied walnuts, that salad may have been a touch sweeter than ideal. It sure looks nice, though! (Also, it made me want to sob with joy when I ate it.)
Alternatively, if your tastes are aligned more this way, you can swap out the walnuts for pistachios. This will be lovely. Please do not do this with peanuts.
What else? You will need some semisoft goat cheese. Decide for yourself whether to buy it in a big hunk and crumble it apart by hand or to get the kind that comes pre-crumbled in a tub; I recommend doing it by hand. If you're going to do this, pop it into the freezer for 15 minutes beforehand to firm it up, so that you end up with nice discrete chunks of cheese, rather than just a big ugly mess all over your salad. You will need some good, fruity extra-virgin olive oil. The salad up there in the photo has just about a handful of baby arugula leaves, but this is not a great time of year for getting good salad greens and it's fine to leave these out. Eventually you'll need a few grinds of black pepper. That's it.
As for non-food stuff, you'll need a big bowl, like a mixing bowl if you have one. Even if you're only making one or two fruits' worth of this stuff, use your very biggest bowl, so that you can fold and toss this stuff very gently without risk of smushing it all together, and so that doing so will not splash citrus juice all over your home. You will also need a smaller bowl, ideally a nice and good-looking one, for serving it; I'll explain why in a minute. I recommend using your hands to toss this salad, but you can use a pair of implements, such as wooden spoons or silicone spatulas, if for any reason you just can't deal with using your hands. I advise against using a pair of tongs for this; I will explain this, also, in a minute, if you will please just relax.
It's sort of silly to list the ingredients and the stages of preparation separately, in the case of salad; the "cooking" steps basically just boil down to putting the ingredients in the same place and kinda mixing them around a little. Still, here is how I recommend doing it. I'm not going to boldface anything.
Gently dump the citrus slices into that huge bowl. Also dump the sliced onion in there (and the baby arugula, if you're using it). Crack some pepper over this whole deal. Now, very gently, with your implements or preferably with your much fancier and more articulate hands, toss this stuff just until the ingredients seem more-or-less mixed together and the onion and arugula are wet with citrus juice.
You used your hands (or the pair of wooden spoons) for this, and not a pair of tongs, because the citrus slices are very delicate, and gripping bunches of this stuff together with a pair of tongs will tend to crush and break apart the fruit, leaving you with a bad-looking salad that all in all is more like relish. Whereas with your hands, or a pair of independent implements, you can kind of get under stuff and lift it and turn it without squishing it together in any way. Or anyway I can. I believe that you also can.
OK, so, now you have a huge bowl with a bunch of wet citrus and onion and possibly arugula in it. Underneath this stuff, especially if you used grapefruit, there is now a large lagoon of oniony citrus juice. This liquid is fine. Use it to make, uh, like, the world's tiniest quantity of ceviche, if you want. But it will be kind of unsightly when you serve this salad; also, it will make the clock run faster on serving and eating it, because the liquid will wilt and make gross the greenery in the salad. For this reason I very wisely and also good-lookingly told you to use a second, smaller bowl for serving.
What you are going to do is, you are going to very gently scoop the very large bowl's contents up—once again, ideally with your hands!—and you are going to let the liquid drain down into the bowl for a few moments, until it seems like it is mostly done dripping down. Then you're going to gently place the fruit and onion and arugula (and pepper, strictly speaking) into the second, more attractive bowl. It's fine to look down in there and kinda rearrange things with your fingers, if you like, for maximum prettiness: this slice of grapefruit would look very pretty over there, and so forth. It's fine! Visual appeal is part of what can make a food exciting and satisfying!
Now, scatter those chunks of goat cheese over the salad, minding that they do not all end up in one place. Drizzle some of the fruity olive oil over the whole thing. Scatter the fistful of nuts across the top, then tear apart the mint leaves with your fingers and scatter those across, too. Hey wow! What a pretty looking and good smelling salad. Snap a photo of it.
Your salad will be lovely with some grilled fish, or a grilled whole fish, or even some good tinned mussels and a hunk of crusty bread. Something fizzy and light and very cold to drink will be nice, too. Its best pairing is with the sun. Get out into it—quickly, literally right now.