It’s always around mid-February that I start getting antsy for spring. Colorado is well-known for our interesting weather: hot and sunny one day and a winter storm the next. Just a few weeks back I spent a lovely afternoon in a tank top, soaking up the sun’s glowing warmth. I even put my feet in the river! But that night the cold front came in, and the following day greeted us with a full-on snowstorm. We all knew it was coming (by now we’re used to such crazy fluctuations), yet it still seemed an unfathomable shock. The birds in my backyard would agree.
Unfortunately, not many produce items are truly at their finest in winter. The big exception is citrus fruit—it’s one of the most wonderful gifts Mother Nature has given to the northern hemisphere, helping us get through the dark, winter doldrums with dreams of cheerful, warm, sunshiny days.
Sure, you can find a lot of citrus year-round, but we see the widest variety from about December to March, including some that aren’t available at any other time. Not to mention that winter is peak citrus season—with juicer, far more flavorful fruit than in the off season.
This dish was inspired by the traditional citrus salads of Sicily, Spain, and Morocco—all Mediterranean regions where the fruit grows plentifully and is used in many applications, from sweet to savory. The Mediterranean is well-known for pairing citrus with olives. Though this combination might seem odd, I promise it’s as delicious as it is unique. The tart-sweetness of citrus provides an excellent backdrop for briny, rich olives, instantly transforming a fruit more often associated with dessert into a savory delight that harmonizes so well with seafood, chicken, or pork.
The bite from red onion and the slight bitterness from extra-virgin olive oil (this is a great place to use that special bottle you’ve been saving) add some kick, reinforcing the savory elements even as it offers notes of sweetness. The final product is a bright, refreshing reprieve from the heavier foods associated with this time of year. The vivid, joyful hues are also a feast for the eyes and a welcome splash of color in the depths of winter.
Use any assortment of citrus you enjoy and can get. Each will impart its own unique flavor and color. In salads such as this where one ingredient is the main focus, I like to include at least three different kinds to get the most contrast in both taste and hue. I also aim to supply one to three whole citrus fruits per person, depending on the size. Finally, you can try pairing some tart varieties with one or two sweeter fruits to keep the sugars down. (Remember, this is a savory dish.)
Here are some citrus varieties to choose from:
- Blood orange: The deep orange-red-purple flesh varies with each specimen. Distinct and intense orange flavor with a hint of raspberry.
- Cara cara orange: Deep pink-orange navel with a wonderful, sweet, tangy flavor.
- Navel orange: The most common citrus variety with flesh that ranges from pale (almost yellow) to rich, deep orange. True “orange” flavor.
- Valencia orange: A slightly deeper orange fruit than navels with a more pronounced tartness. Incredibly juicy.
- Mandarin, clementine, tangerine, tangelo: Deep orange flesh and intense orange flavor. Super fragrant and sweet.
- Pink grapefruit: Pale pink fruit. Tart and sweet, rich grapefruit flavor.
- Ruby red grapefruit: Deep pink-red flesh that’s sweeter than its paler counterparts. Very fragrant and juicy.
- White grapefruit: Pale yellow to almost white flesh. Very tart, somewhat bitter.
- Kumquat: Small fruit ranging in size from a grape to a small plum, with a tart-sweet flavor. If eaten whole, without peeling, the essence of the thin skin lends intense orange fragrance and a slight bitterness to your dish.
- Meyer lemon: Sweet-tart, with a taste between lemon and mandarin. Very juicy.
Winter Citrus, Olive, and Red Onion Salad
Prep time: 15 minutes
1 grapefruit (pink, red, or white)
2 blood oranges
1 cara cara, navel, or Valencia orange
2 mandarins or clementines
16–20 olives (Castelvetrano, Sicilian, black, kalamata, Niçoise, oil-cured, or a mixture all work!)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
Quality extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and cracked pepper
1 small handful parsley, mint, or cilantro, chopped
- Prepare citrus: remove a slice, just to the flesh, from each “pole” of the fruit (both the stem end and the bud end) so it sits flat on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut off skin from top to bottom, following the curve of the fruit, removing the skin and much of the pith as you go. Be careful not to cut too far into the fruit. Slice each citrus fruit into ½-inch slices, cutting the large ones into half-moons if desired. Arrange citrus artfully on a serving platter.
- Arrange olives over citrus. Scatter red onion over salad. Drizzle well with olive oil, then season lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.
Image from Briana Goodall.