A kick of citrus
A world without citrus would be very flat, with none of the zing and pep that we get from lemons, limes and oranges. Impossible to imagine, in fact!
They intensify other flavours, they tenderise, they marinate, they even preserve. We use the zest, the pulp and the juice and they are loaded with vitamin C.
Combine lime or lemon with extra virgin olive oil and you have the best salad dressing. We even use lemons and limes to stop apples, avocados and artichokes from oxidising - the ascorbic acid in citrus stops this process. So clever, so versatile.
The best way to start my day is with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. That first hit of tart yet sweet pulpy goodness sets me up and without it, I don't quite feel the same.
I always have oranges, limes and lemons in the fruit bowl and I have a lime, a lemon, a kaffir lime and a mandarin tree in the garden. We are not in the best climate zone for oranges or limes as they prefer a tropical to subtropical climate, although I know of a number of lime trees that do very well here in the right microclimate and located in a warm spot and if I play my cards right I get some of their harvest.
They grow prolifically in places such as India, Mexico and Southeast Asia and their cuisines are filled with delectable recipes featuring them.
Lemons do much better here and both ‘Lisbon' and ‘Meyer' varieties grow well. ‘Meyer' is a cross between an orange and a lemon and is sweeter than a ‘Lisbon'.
I wish I had a source of ‘Sorrento' lemons used to make limoncello in Italy. Images of southern Italy with trees laden with gorgeous yellow fruit always make me feel like rushing to Casa del Vino to buy a bottle of limoncello and to sip it dreaming of that fabulous part of the world.
Through my Mexican daughter-in-law, Brisa, I have fallen for limes more than ever before.
In Mexico they grow with such abundance and they taste so floral and tangy. They use the juice for the marvellous margarita, and no, you cannot replicate the taste by buying that premix concoction. They use the juice as well to marinate fish for ceviche and to add accent and intensity to the flavour of many other dishes.
One of my favourite salads made by Brisa is finely sliced cucumber, lots of lime juice and a sprinkling of fiery chilli.
In Indian cuisine I use lime pickle and in Moroccan, preserved lemon. Southeast Asian food features fresh limes and kaffir limes.
I make crab cakes with lime zest with a sauce of coconut cream, finely chopped kaffir lime leaves, lime juice and chilli. It is delicious.
Then there are the other citrus recipes: duck confit with orange-infused red cabbage, orange and almond cake, lemon paprika chicken, chickpeas with preserved lemons, lemon delicious, veal with garlic and lemon zest, citrus salad, lime-marinated fish and the list goes on.
Here are three of these favourites.
CHICKPEAS WITH PRESERVED LEMON
2 cups dried chickpeas
Water for cooking
Rind of two preserved lemons
2 cups of silver beet or cavalo nero
1 small red chilli
2 tsp of cumin seeds
2 cloves of garlic
1 red pepper
1 medium red onion
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Juice of a lemon
Salt and pepper
Soak the dried chickpeas overnight. Drain the water and wash well. Put in a pot with the two shallots, peeled and whole, cover with water and simmer until the chickpeas are tender - about 1 hour. Drain and immediately add the finely sliced preserved lemon and lemon juice.
In the olive oil saute the cumin seed, chopped chilli and the garlic and onion, finely chopped, until they start to turn golden, add the pepper, finely sliced, and the chopped silver beet.
Cook until the silver beet wilts. Toss this mixture through the chickpeas. Add the extra olive oil and season with salt and pepper. The warm chickpeas absorb the taste of the lemon and are delicious.
LIME MARINATED SNAPPER MAPUA STYLE
1 stick celery
yellow or green pepper
3 jalapeno peppers preserved in brine or 1 fresh jalapeno
2 green onions
¼ cup fresh coriander
2 Tbsp coconut cream
½ cup freshly roasted peanuts
1 Tbsp fish sauce
Black or red pepper to season
Dice the snapper into small chunks and finely chop the green onion. Juice the 4 limes and zest the skin of one of the limes. Add the juice and zest to the fish and onion in a bowl and leave to marinate for 1 hour.
At the end of the hour finely chop the celery, pepper, jalapeno and coriander and add to the fish. Toss well and add the coconut cream and fish sauce. Sprinkle with black pepper or red chilli flakes and toss through the peanuts.
ORANGE ALMOND CAKE
This cake can equally be made with limes or lemons. If you use limes or lemons, use three and add ½ cup more sugar to the recipe. All of the versions are delicious.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease and line a 25cm spring form cake tin.
250g of ground almonds
200g of castor sugar
1 tsp of baking powder
Cook the oranges in a pot with water to cover for about 1 hour until they are completely soft but still holding their form. Cool.
Pulse the almonds in the food processor. I use slivered almonds and pulse in the food processor until they are a meal. You can use pre-ground almonds but there will be very little texture. Remove from the processor.
When the oranges are cool slice into quarters and remove any pips then pulse in the food processor. Add the eggs one at a time, then the sugar, almonds and baking powder. Pulse until incorporated. Pour into the cake tin and bake for about 45 minutes until cooked.