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Using oranges to squeeze some excitement into life


DURING THIS dark and sleepy time of year, I regularly run low on pep. So I am often on the prowl for dishes that either fire me up, or at least keep me from nodding off right after sundown.

The other night in my search for stimulation, I wandered into the kitchen and tried to add excitement to my life by making a salad dressing with the juice from fresh oranges. I used oranges because they are among the few foods that taste better in the winter than in the summer.

I also am a big fan of oranges. I have been hoping that the hints I scrawled on Christmas cards to relatives in Arizona, Florida and Texas will soon pay off. In the holiday missives, I reminded these residents of sun-drenched states that if they ship oranges to their kinfolk in the frozen North we will remember them during soft-crab season.

Lately, every time the doorbell rings, I have been hoping it is a UPS driver toting a box of oranges. However, until my Christmas-card campaign bears fruit, I have to buy oranges at the grocery store.

I used some oranges the other night when, in an attempt to shake out of the culinary doldrums, I put their juice in the salad dressing. A few other unusual items -- toasted coriander seeds, toasted cumin seeds and chopped cilantro leaves -- also went in the salad dressing.

Ordinarily, I am a basic vinaigrette kind of guy. But during these dreary days of winter, I am willing to take a few risks with my salad.

My wife was willing too and helped me make the dressing. She toasted the cumin and coriander seeds in a skillet while I squeezed the oranges and lime and chopped the fresh cilantro.

We whipped these ingredients together, along with some mayonnaise, and poured them over a salad made with Boston lettuce.

We followed a recipe in "Lettuce in Your Kitchen" by Chris Schlesinger and Chris Willoughby (Morrow, 1996). The recipe also suggested putting Tabasco sauce in the dressing and an avocado and a mango in the salad.

We didn't use Tabasco because we were afraid it would add too much fire. We didn't use the avocado and mango because we didn't have any in the house.

Nonetheless, having a salad dressing made with orange juice and toasted cumin and coriander seeds was a big event for us. The salad had a lot of zing, and plenty of crunch. Maybe too much crunch. Encountering a toasted coriander seed in a forkful of lettuce was a little too much excitement for me, even on a dull winter night.

The next time I make this dressing, I probably will let it sit awhile before serving, then strain it to eliminate the seeds after they have imparted their flavor. I also might even add a mango, a fruit that, I am told, comes into season in January but doesn't reach its peak flavor until spring.

Come to think of it, maybe I'll send a follow-up note to my sun-drenched relatives. The note will read, "Nodding off up North. Send mangoes."

Lettuce With Creamy Orange-Spice Dressing

Serves 6-8

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup fresh orange juice

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons cumin seeds toasted in saute pan over medium heat, shaking until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes (or substitute 1 tablespoon ground cumin)

1 tablespoon coriander seeds, toasted in saute pan over medium heat, shaking until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes (or substitute 1/2 tablespoon ground coriander)

8 dashes Tabasco sauce

1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro

salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

1 head Boston lettuce, leaves washed, dried and torn in half

1 mango, peeled, pitted and diced large

1 avocado, peeled, pitted and diced large

1 cucumber, peeled, diced large

In a medium bowl, combine the mayonnaise, orange juice and lime juice and whisk until well blended. Add the remaining dressing ingredients and mix well.

In a large bowl, combine the lettuce, mango, avocado and cucumber. Stir the dressing well, add just enough to moisten the ingredients (there will be some dressing left over), toss to coat, and serve.

-- From "Lettuce in Your Kitchen"

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