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Citrus fruits make winter meals sunny

Kate Lawson
The Detroit News

Citrus — that one silver lining to winter's bleakness. How thoughtful of Mother Nature to give us a delicious respite from winter's cold and snow. This is the season for cute little clementines, glorious grapefruit, bright blood oranges and those lovely lemons and limes. And as visually appealing as the yellows, oranges and greens are, the flavors are even better.

Perhaps you've been tweaking a favorite recipe and it just isn't coming together. Know what it needs to get that extra oomph, that special kick? Lemon juice. Juicy bits of orange. A slice or two of grapefruit. Maybe a squeeze of lime.

There's an abundance of citrus at the markets now and, aside from the better known varieties of grapefruits and oranges, there are the more unusual varieties — Buddha's hand and pomelo, to name a couple. I like to make it a point to keep the fruit bin full of as many varieties as I can find, using them in salads and vinaigrettes, as a marinade for chicken and a sauce for fish. A citrus cake and/or pudding is a winter delight and a touch of citrus in something as simple as a dish of olives elevates an hors d'ouvre to elegant.

I'm particularly fond of Meyer lemons and blood oranges. In fact, I have a Meyer lemon tree that gives me an abundance of bright yellow lemons this time of year and a promise of the sunny days to come. Meyer lemon juice is sweeter and less acidic than regular lemons and the golden-yellow skin has a distinctive aroma that reminds me of a juicy orange.

Meyers make wonderful sherbet, but I love to zest them, then thinly slice the fruit and serve with a shrimp or crab salad dressed with a light vinaigrette.

My other favorite, blood oranges, are originally from the Mediterranean, but now sweet blood oranges are grown in California and Florida, and they're available from now until April.

These small to medium-sized orange jewels have a deep maroon flesh with an orange skin tinged with a red blush that makes them a standout simply sliced atop a fresh green salad.

As oranges go, they're a true delight because their thin skin makes them easy to peel and the fruit has few seeds. The blood orange's tart-sweet flavor is distinctive — rich orange with a hint of raspberry. It's the perfect accent for any sweet or savory dish. For a real treat, trying juicing them; they make a colorfully robust drink.

Have you tried pummelos? This bright green-skinned citrus is now available in most area produce markets and grocery stores. Resembling grapefruit, pummelos are about the size of a small cantaloupe, but can run as big as a basketball. They taste similar to a grapefruit, as well, but are not as bitter and seedy.

Select those that feel heavy for their size for the juiciest fruit. Serve as you would grapefruit.

Perhaps the strangest citrus is referred to as Buddha's hand. The unusually shaped Citrus medica is named for its reputed resemblance to the outreached fingers of a prayerful Buddha. It is said to be the most ancient citrus known to man, having originated in India thousands of years ago.

Unlike more common citrus fruits, the canary-yellow Buddha's hand (also known as fingered citron) is barren of juice, seeds and all but a smidgen of pulp. It is cultivated for its fragrant rind, which is used to flavor dishes, or is candied or turned into marmalade.

It can be grated as a potent substitute for other citrus zest and is also a great addition to vodka.

There's a double bonus to citrus in that you can zest them, as well as use their juice and then even candy the zest to use in baked goods.

To zest citrus fruits, remove the colored part of the rind only (avoid the bitter white pith). For strips, use a vegetable peeler. For grated zest, I prefer using a rasplike Microplane zester, which results in fluffier zest, so pack to measure.

The best way to learn about the various flavors of citrus is to ask your produce person. If you spy a fruit you're unfamiliar with, ask the name, do some research and some experimenting and try the recipes offered here. Citrus is an economical way to lift your meals and your spirit(s), not to mention offering a good dose of vitamins and antioxidants. What better way to fight those winter woes?



Roasted Chicken with Allspice and Citrus

You could, if you have the time, marinate the chicken in the sauce. This isn't necessary, but it's an option if you are thinking ahead. Recipe adapted from theviewfromgreatisland.com

6 legs and 2 bone-in skin on breasts (or you can use a whole chicken cut in pieces, or use your favorite parts — thighs would work). Allow 2 pieces per person.

1 blood orange

1 Meyer lemon

1 satsuma tangerine

1 small Cara Cara or blood orange


1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

1 teaspoon ground allspice

Dash of salt and a few grinds of pepper

Fresh thyme for serving.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Cut the chicken breasts in half crosswise.

Wash and dry the citrus fruit. Using a mandoline slicer, slice them between 1/4 and 1/8 inch thick. Remove any seeds. Note: I used all the lemon, but only about half of the other fruits.

Line a baking sheet (the kind with sides) with parchment paper or foil. Set down a few slices of the fruit, and then lay out chicken pieces, making sure not to crowd the pan. (If you are making extra, use another pan rather than crowd the chicken.)

Whisk together the sauce ingredients and brush it onto each piece of chicken. Arrange slices of citrus around the chicken.

Sprinkle with a little bit of sea salt and some fresh cracked black pepper.

Roast for about 35 minutes and baste the chicken a couple of times with more sauce. Serve with fresh thyme. Serves 4.

Per serving: 673 calories; 41 g fat (9 g saturated fat; 55 percent calories from fat); 12 g carbohydrates; 9 g sugar; 204 mg cholesterol; 262 mg sodium; 62 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Roasted Citrus and Avocado Salad

This is a pretty start to a winter meal. Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit

1 blood or Valencia orange, sliced 1/8-inch thick, seeds removed

1 Meyer or regular lemon, sliced 1/8-inch thick, seeds removed

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons fresh Meyer or regular lemon juice

1 bunch watercress or arugula, thick stems trimmed

1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, optional

1 avocado, cut into wedges

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss orange and lemon slices with 1 tablespoon oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast citrus, tossing occasionally, until lightly charred in spots and starting to caramelize, 10-15 minutes. This makes the citrus flavor more complex. Let cool.

Meanwhile, combine onion and lemon juice in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper and let sit 5 minutes (onion will soften a bit and get slightly sweeter and less harsh).

Add roasted citrus to a bowl with onion, along with arugula and mint. Drizzle remaining 3 tablespoons oil over it; season with salt and pepper and toss everything to combine and coat.

Add avocado and very gently toss until lightly dressed. Serves 4.

Per serving: 222 calories; 21 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 85 percent calories from fat); 11 g carbohydrates; 5 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 179 mg sodium; 2 g protein; 5 g fiber.

Roasted Beets with Citrus and Feta

Adapted from Bon Appétit

For the vinaigrette

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons finely grated orange peel

2 teaspoons finely grated grapefruit peel

1 teaspoon honey

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad

Four 2 1/2-inch-diameter unpeeled beets, tops trimmed

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 6-ounce bag baby spinach

2 small pink or ruby grapefruits, all peel and pith cut away, segments cut from between membranes

2 oranges, all peel and pith cut away, segments cut from between membranes

3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese (4 ounces)

1/4 cup chopped fresh chives


Whisk vinegar, mustard, citrus peels, and honey in small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil. Season vinaigrette with salt and freshly ground black pepper.


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss beets and oil in large bowl; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap each beet in foil. Place directly on oven rack; roast until tender, 60 to 70 minutes. Open foil; cool 30 minutes. Rub skins off beets; cut each into 8 wedges. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Place spinach in large bowl; toss with 2 tablespoons vinaigrette. Divide among plates. Add beets and citrus segments to the same bowl. Add 2 tablespoons vinaigrette; toss to coat. Arrange beet mixture atop spinach; sprinkle with cheese and chives. Serve, passing any remaining vinaigrette. Serves 4.

Per serving: 370 calories; 28 g fat (7 g saturated fat; 68 percent calories from fat); 26 g carbohydrates; 18 g sugar; 25 mg cholesterol; 486 mg sodium; 8 g protein; 8 g fiber.

Citrus Marinated Olives

Makes about 3 cups or 12 servings.

1 1/2 cups Kalamata olives or other brine-cured black olives

1 1/2 cups cracked brine-cured green olives

1 cup olive oil

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup orange juice

6 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon grated lemon peel

1 tablespoon grated orange peel

1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

Combine all the ingredients in large heavy-duty resealable plastic bag. Shake the bag to blend ingredients. Refrigerate at least 1 day and up to 3 days, turning bag occasionally. Transfer olives and some marinade to a bowl. Let stand 1 hour at room temperature before serving.

Per serving: 205 calories; 22 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 97 percent calories from fat); 3 g carbohydrates; 0.2 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 553 mg sodium; 0.4 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Meyer Lemon Coffee Cake

Adapted from Martha Stewart

Serves 12

For the streusel

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon coarse salt

6 ounces (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter

For the cake

5 Meyer lemons, cut into paper thin/transparent slices, ends discarded

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

4 ounces (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temp, plus more for pan

1 cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons finely grated Meyer lemon zest (from 5-6 lemons)

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup sour cream

For the glaze:

2 cups confectioners' sugar

3 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice

Make the streusel: Mix together flour, brown sugar and salt. Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, cut the butter into the flour mixture until small to medium clumps form. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use (up to 3 days).

Make the cake: Cook lemon slices in a medium saucepan of simmering water for 1 minute. Drain, and repeat. Arrange lemon slices in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch angel food cake pan. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Beat butter, granulated sugar and lemon zest with a mixer on medium speed in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. With the mixer running, add eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with sour cream.

Spoon 1/2 of the batter evenly into the cake pan. Arrange 1/2 of the lemon slices in a single layer over the batter. Spread remaining batter evenly over the top. Cover with the remaining lemon slices in a single layer. Sprinkle the chilled streusel evenly over the batter.

Bake until the cake is golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack set over a baking sheet, and let cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pan, and remove outer ring. Let cool on the rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the center tube. Slide 2 wide spatulas between the bottom of the cake and the pan, and lift the cake to remove from the center tube. Let cool completely on rack.

Per serving: 570 calories; 25 g fat (15 g saturated fat; 39 percent calories from fat); 84 g carbohydrates; 30 g sugar; 97 mg cholesterol; 569 mg sodium; 6 g protein; 3 g fiber.

Goat Cheese, Honey and Pistachio Mini Cheesecakes with Meyer Lemon Cream

If you can't find Meyer lemons, use regular lemons and add an extra tablespoon or two of sugar. Recipe from TheKitchn.com

For the pistachio crust

1 heaping cup shelled, roasted, and salted pistachios (See Note)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the filling

1 (11-ounce) log mild goat cheese, room temperature

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup (4 ounces) crème fraîche or full-fat sour cream, room temperature

2 tablespoons good-quality honey

1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract

Pinch of fine sea salt

3 large eggs

For the Meyer lemon cream

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

2 teaspoons Meyer lemon zest

1/2 cup Meyer lemon juice, from 3 to 4 lemons (see recipe notes)

1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract

Pinch of kosher salt

For the candied pistachios

1/2 cup shelled, roasted, and salted pistachios, finely chopped

2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

1 tablespoon hot water

For the pistachio crust, combine pistachios and sugar in food processor or mini chopper and process until it becomes a fine meal. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the melted butter; the mixture should resemble wet sand. Divide the dough evenly among 12 wells of an individual cheesecake pan (or a mini muffin pan filled with cupcake liners) and press firmly into the bottom.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. While the oven is heating, refrigerate the crusts until chilled. Bake the crusts for 10 to 12 minutes until set. Cool completely before filling.

For the filling, lower oven temperature to 300 degrees. Combine the goat cheese and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process for 1 minute. Add the crème fraîche, honey, vanilla and salt and process for another 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if needed. With the food processor running, add the eggs through the feeding tube one at a time, and mix until just combined; do not over mix. (If you do not have a food processor, you can whisk the ingredients by hand in the same order.)

Transfer the filling to a measuring cup with a pour spout and fill each cheesecake well almost to the top. Place the cheesecake pan on a sheet pan and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the cheesecakes are just barely set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Transfer the pan to the refrigerator and chill the cheesecakes for a minimum of 4 hours.

For the Meyer lemon cream, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer in a medium mixing bowl until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the eggs and yolks and beat for 1 minute, until well combined. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla and salt, and continue mixing until incorporated. (The mixture will become curdled and lumpy upon adding the lemon juice, but it will smooth quickly upon heating.)

Transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture reaches 165 degrees on an instant read thermometer; the mixture should be just thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. Transfer to another bowl and press plastic directly on the surface. Let cool at room temperature until ready to serve. (Lemon cream will keep in the refrigerator for one week. The texture thickens as it chills; you can whisk a tablespoon or two of heavy cream to thin if needed.)

For the candied pistachios, spread chopped pistachios on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat or sheet of parchment paper. Whisk the brown sugar and hot water to dissolve. Pour the mixture over the pistachios and toss to combine. Bake in a 350 degrees oven until golden and toasted, 8 to 10 minutes. Once cool, crumble the pistachios for serving.

To assemble, remove the cheesecakes from the pan and remove metal rounds from the bottom. Bring to room temperature before serving. Drizzle with Meyer lemon creme and a sprinkle of candied pistachios. Makes 12 bite-sized cheesecakes

Note: If you can only find unsalted pistachios, add 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt to the pistachios when grinding.

Per serving: 429 calories; 31 g fat (16 g saturated fat; 65 percent calories from fat); 27 g carbohydrates; 22 g sugar; 178 mg cholesterol; 317 mg sodium; 13 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Citrus's brightest stars

Blood orange

Most of the blood oranges sold in U.S. markets are Moro oranges, grown in California. Smaller and slightly more acidic than regular oranges, the bright red-orange color of this fruit's flesh makes it perfect for salads, and its high acidity makes it a good orange for cooking. Look for them from December through May. Blood oranges are an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of fiber. Look for smooth or slightly pitted skin and firm flesh. Blood oranges can be stored in the refrigerator up to two weeks.


A member of the mandarin orange family, clementines have a bright-orange peel that easily slips off. Mostly cultivated in Spain or North Africa, the fruit's sweet flavor is perfect for eating out of hand or tossing into vegetable and fruit salads. Look for them in early December through February.

Key lime

Key limes, rarely referred to as Mexican limes, are grown in tropical regions and, yes, the name refers to the Florida Keys. Tiny in comparison to the more common Persian lime, they also have thinner skin and a tart, perky flavor that gives recipes a special punch. The yellower their skin, the riper they are. Unlike most citrus, these green goodies peak in the summer months, but are available throughout the year.

Meyer lemon

Believed to be a cross between a lemon and an orange, this lemonlike citrus gets its name from the American botanist, Frank Meyer, who discovered it in China at the beginning of the 1900s. These fruits are sweeter, smoother-skinned and rounder than regular lemons, with a peppery fragrance and orange hue to both skin and flesh. Substitute them for regular lemons in any recipe, and find them at their best between December and April.

Navel orange

Cultivated mostly in California and Florida, navel oranges have bright orange skins with a porous texture and are the perfect orange for eating out of hand — especially since they are seedless. Use them fresh in recipes, too, especially salads and fresh fruit drinks and smoothies, or saute them to brighten up a cream sauce. Navel oranges peak in January, February and March, so get some now.

Pink grapefruit

Grown mainly in Florida, California and Texas, these pretty fruits have rose-blushed skins surrounding pink flesh. Eat them out of hand or use them fresh in salads and juices. Their rosy hue and tart flavor make them lovely in a granita or sorbet. They're at their best from October through May.


Also known as Chinese grapefruit, these giant citrus are originally from Malaysia. They are generally much larger than grapefruit, with a thicker skin and pith and, because of their size, more flesh. Their light yellow skins give way to yellow to coral-pink flesh that can sometimes be drier than a grapefruit's. Use them fresh in salads, or slice them in half and eat out of hand. Look for pomelos from December through May.

Red grapefruit

The most popular varieties of these vivid pink pretties are Ruby Red and Rio Red, the latter developed in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. They are sweeter and juicier than white or pink grapefruits and the most prized of the three. Peel and eat them like an orange, use them in salads or granita or broil them with a sprinkle of sugar for a morning treat. Their sweetness peaks from November through March.


These tangerines (mandarins) are easy to peel and usually seedless, they can be less sweet than other tangerines. Eat them out of hand or try them in pork or chicken recipes. Most mandarin varieties are best from December through April.

Valencia orange

This variety of orange originated in the Mediterranean, has a thinner skin than the navel orange and is easy to peel. Its pulpy sweetness makes it the best orange for juicing. The valencia is at its peak from February to October.

Buddha's Hand

Unlike more common citrus fruits, the canary-yellow Buddha's hand (also known as fingered citron) is barren of juice, seeds and all but a smidgen of pulp. It is cultivated for its fragrant rind, which is used to flavor dishes, or is candied or turned into marmalade.

How to select: Choose a hand that is firm and fragrant and pass by any that bear signs of shriveling, moldiness or mushiness. The plant blossoms year-round, though the fruit can commonly be found in some stores from late fall through midwinter.