Citrus Salad Celebration!
By Dennis Linden
Kick off the winter citrus season with this deliciously stunning salad, a favorite dish of Melissa’s in-house foodie and Procurement Category Manager, John Dunham. This is a special occasion seasonal salad that combines the full-bodied flavors of new crop Blood and Cara Cara oranges with the tender texture of baby beets and distinctive taste of shaved fennel. To further underscore the season, John laces his salad with a blend of four kinds of citrus juices that pool into a shallow moat of ruby red that frames the dish and serves as a natural, no-oil dressing. Serve this attractive presentation under candle light to set the mood as the perfect first course of an intimate dinner for two.
While the variety is a specialty item in this country, the Blood orange is standard fare in the Mediterranean—most especially in Italy and Sicily where it is the predominant citrus crop of the region. First-time tourists are always taken aback when their breakfast order is served accompanied by a glass of burgundy red OJ! That is, taken aback until the first sip. The deeply rich and intense “orange-ness” of this variety’s flavor is very distinctive compared to the more familiar Valencia or Navel. Also, the deep red coloring of the fruit, like all red/purple fruits, is a sign of a high content of cancer-preventing antioxidants that are not in orange-colored varieties. The fruit is almost completely seedless.
Cara Caras are sweet, slightly tangy, with just a hint of cranberry or cherry notes. The Cara Cara navel orange is a reddish-pink variety which is a probable mutation of two navel varieties; it was first discovered in 1876 at Hacienda Cara Cara in Venezuela. John pairs this lighter-tasting seedless variety with the Blood orange to create the foundation for both the flavor and plate construction of this dish. The light vs. intense flavor juxtaposition of these two orange varieties are the key to the success of John’s recipe.
If, like me, you have always considered the taste of beets just a bit too earthy, give them one more shot with these prep tips. Firstly, use baby beets, as they are much more tender and subtle than full-sized beets. Also, take the extra time to roast them in a foil pouch, which will allow for the outer skin to be peeled away easily. The results are a tender, sweet nugget of clean flavor, which is still “earthy” without being “earth-like”!
John continues the Mediterranean motif in his ingredients by incorporating the unique flavor of fennel into this dish. Fennel's aromatic taste is quite reminiscent of licorice and anise, so much so that the vegetable is often mistakenly referred to as anise in the marketplace. Fennel's texture is similar to that of celery, having a crunchy texture. While both the flavor and texture of fennel is not subtle, John’s use of the mandolin to shave the bulb paper thin softens both the intense flavor and crunchiness into a lighter ingredient that complements the rest of the ingredients, rather than overpowering the dish.
John Dunham is a fresh produce professional, who has worked in the wholesale sector of the Southern California produce industry his entire career. He has been a member of the Melissa’s team for 18 years. When he is not managing the challenges of the ever-changing seasonal availability of perishable fruits and vegetables, John likes to relax by power walking and kayaking as well as cooking with his favorite cabernet; that is, his glass is always full and sometimes he even uses it in a dish! John and wife Janet have three daughters, all in their mid-twenties. Great recipe, John!
Citrus, Fennel & Baby Beet Salad
2 Blood Oranges
1 Cara Cara orange
1 Fresh Lemon
1 Fresh Lime
4 Baby Red Beets
, tops trimmed
4 Baby Gold Beets
, tops trimmed
½ small Fennel Bulb
½ Red Onion
, stems removed (for garnish)
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Sea Salt and Pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400°. Sprinkle beets with olive oil. Roast beets 1 hour in a sealed foil pouch. Let cool.
Peel cooled beets under cold water. Slice 2 red and 2 gold beets crosswise into thin rounds. Cut remaining 4 beets into quarter wedges.
Peel and then trim white pith from both orange varieties.
Working over a medium bowl, cut between membranes of two of the blood oranges to release segments into bowl. Slice the remaining blood orange and Cara Cara crosswise into thin rounds. Place the sliced oranges into the bowl with the segments, add lemon and lime juice. Drain juices and set aside for plating.
Mandolin both the fennel (crosswise) and the red onion into very thin slices, toss together.
Arrange orange slices on each plate first, divide the beets evenly and layer on the slices. Stack the onion and fennel mix over the beets. Top with a sprinkle of orange segments, spoon reserved citrus juices over the salad. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper. Let salad stand for 5 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Garnish with cilantro leaves.