A Winter Blast of Sunshine
Cold-weather fruits in the kitchen.
No matter where a GPS finds your neighborhood, we’re deep in the heart of cooler (or downright frigid) weather. Many of us yearn to fly to warmer climes, playing snowbird. These are the lucky folks who spend their winter months in Arizona, Florida or Texas, living on the edges of citrus groves, avocado ranches or on streets lined with pomegranate trees. But even if you can’t escape, now is the time to gather up the best of what winter offers-sparkling fruits that can revive dreary days and sagging appetites. All are storehouses of restorative vitamins, minerals and other beneficial nutrients.
Many of the fruits that are abundant this time of year are at their harvest peak, bringing an aromatic whiff of far-away places. Citrus in particular, from tangy-sweet Meyer lemons to perfumy mandarin oranges, offers so much variety it’s easy to find a favorite. But beyond citrus, be on the lookout for succulent Fuyu persimmons with their brilliant orange skin; carambola (star fruit), a sure-fire hit sliced into a refreshing salad to serve alongside a glazed roast chicken; pomegranates, which are on the wane now but still can be found to spruce up salads; and the star of the toast world-avocadoes, which are botanically classified as a fruit. But don’t forget pineapple, papaya, and mangoes, which also hang around into the winter. Individually each winter fruit has a strong nutrition profile, from the obvious jolt of vitamin C in a single grapefruit or star fruit to significant boosts of vitamin A, folate, potassium, fiber (eat the whole fruit rather than just drink the juice) and healthy fats (avocados, of course). In cold and flu season, bypass the medicine chest and head straight to the fruit bowl.
The vibrant tastes and visual beauty of winter fruits offer a huge splash of freshness to almost any dish, whether as a primary ingredient or as a final snap to contrast rich flavors. Depending on how they’re prepped in the kitchen you can add zestiness, sweetness or pucker-up tartness. Using citrus as an example, juicing a lime or pomelo yields mellow taste with a sweet edge, while grating the zest (just the colored part of the citrus peel where the essential flavor oils are) provides the deepest essence of citrusy flavor. Slicing a lemon gives you both aspects of the fruit. Or segment a juicy and jewel-like grapefruit or orange for a main dish salad. There’s nothing better than a platter of sliced ripe Hass avocado and segments of red Texas grapefruit arranged on a bed of crisp winter endive. Just top with sautéed chicken, and tie everything together with a creamy poppy seed dressing.
Winter fruits aren’t just for salads, though there’s no denying the cheeriness of lemon zest in a vinaigrette dressing or a sprinkle of pomegranate arils, which makes the most of their robust color and flavor in perking up cold-weather meals. But how about adding some heat? Consider chicken piccata, a classic recipe that melds the tartness of lemon, easy-going wine and briny capers to take chicken to a new place. Sicilian Chicken Piccata substitutes blood oranges for the lemons and takes a left turn into a sweeter dish that still has some zip because it uses whole slices of oranges and capitalizes on the influence of the zest in the peel.
Another citrus option would be stuffing a whole chicken with small lemon halves and scattering a few more in a roasting pan. The juices released from both the lemons and the chicken mingle to create an extraordinary pan sauce with no extra effort. Also, ripe persimmons are luscious roasted with root vegetables and served around baked bone-in chicken pieces. Or avocados are amazing when halved and grilled on the stovetop or outside, then filled with a chicken salad dressed with a creamy lime dressing. Embrace winter!