Tuesday, January 30, 2007

In-Season Intense: Honeybell Oranges

I've seen Honeybell oranges around town -- someone is selling them from the back of a truck on the corner of Apalachee Parkway and Blairstone road, and I also found them at Tomato Land*. Unfamiliar with these varietals, I purchased some Honeybells and some Murquats (a variety of tangerine) from Tomato Land.

Honeybells are my latest thrill.
They are the juiciest oranges I've ever cut into. The texture of their flesh is perfect-- each little juice-filled cell taut and ready to burst-- no pithiness at all. The flavor is a superb balance of sweet and tart -- not complex, just perfectly "orangey". Really, these are the perfect oranges! Slice them over a plate to catch the juice. Because this is my first experience with them, I don't know how environmental factors influence their texture from year to year, but this year must be a winner.

I wanted to pair baby red onions from the grower's market with Honeybell oranges in a salad, and a Google search for ideas rewarded me with this fabulous classic recipe for Orange and Red Onion Salad, which I adapted by adding a little bit of red wine vinegar for extra acidity, toasting the cumin seeds first (this should always be done to whole cumin, white pepper, and most other spices before grinding or adding to a recipe), and slicing the onions very thinly. If I'd had extra time, I would have cut out the orange segments from their membranes, rather than simply slicing the oranges in cross-sections as shown. The flavors in this dish were bright and intense -- the sweet, juicy oranges were the critical ingredient. The dish was refreshing, intense little statement of the brilliance one can achieve by using the best quality ingredients. I'm not raving about my cooking here -- I just want to convey the difference that using exceptionally good ingredients makes. Apart from the freshness factor, there is so much variety out there, beyond the world of the supermarket.

The murquats were good, too.

I was thinking I ought to include a note about the health benefits of each treasure unearthed at Good Food Underground. As you know, citrus is packed with immune-system boosting vitamin C. It also helps combat cancer and improves pulmonary and respiratory health.

By the way, don't believe that oranges must have shiny, unblemished skins -- sometimes good oranges do, but flawless facades are often the result of insect-free growing with chemical pesticides. Select oranges without soft spots, but ignore a tinge of green on the stem end, and tan/brown speckling (know as "russeting").

I challenge you to reach past the familiar temples, navels, and valencias this week for something different. Or, if you're a citrus connoisseur, tell us about your personal favorites.

Tomato Land & Sea Market
1847 Thomasville Rd
Tallahassee, FL 32303
(850) 222-0813

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