It's March, but instead of colorful fields of springtime flowers, it is grey, cold and gloomy. In a desperate search for sunshine, I am turning to citrus. Just the scent of citrus can serve as aromatherapy for a blasé afternoon or a case of the winter blues.
Citrus doesn't grow so well here. Luckily, citrus fruits are at their peak in late winter, and you can find all sorts of varieties in area shops now. Cara Cara oranges, especially sweet and juicy, are $8 per bag at Sam's Club, which also carries tiny mandarins and delicious Meyer lemons. Costco has beautiful Blood Oranges, while Whole Foods Market has exotic Sumo Oranges and Sweet Limes.
Citrus juices, especially lemon and lime, are very acidic. Recent reports indicate that drinking warm water with a healthy shot of lemon every morning can wake you up perhaps even better than coffee while also aiding in digestion and boosting hydration, anti-oxidants and electrolytes.
Citrus is a rich source of the immune-boosting vitamin C, and contains potassium, calcium and magnesium. It is also a great source of so-called Vitamin P, a bioflavinoid that partners with Vitamin C to help the body with oxidation, immunity and circulatory health.
Lemon water most likely will never keep me ticking like coffee, but I plan to enjoy citrus now before spring vegetables and summertime fruits make their way into the spotlight.
Citrus is fun to cook with because you can use it for sweet, sour and savory applications. I like that you can use the entire fruit: the peel can be steeped in oils or syrups, or can be candied for a delicious garnish. The fruit juice can be used as a base for dressings and marinades as well as for custards and curds. The whole fruit, peels, pith and all, can be used in jams and marmalades. And citrus pairs so beautifully with strong greens and cheeses -- a marriage made in culinary heaven.
When zesting, take extra care to not catch the white pith, which can be bitter. There are three basic ways to zest fruit. Which technique you use will depend on what you are trying to achieve. Always make sure to grasp the fruit firmly and keep fingers away from the grater!