I know: a salad in January is so cliché, but I promise, I’m not here to sell you some diet plan, or urge you to eat healthier, or stop baking cookies and cake. It’s winter after all, and turning my oven on keeps the house warmer. Besides, I like cookies and cake so much, I’ve never been one to stop eating sweets once the New Year turns up. My mantra is the same as it’s always been: eat what you want to eat and be happy. Life is too short otherwise.
We tend to eat a lot of citrus this time of year. I suspect you do too because there’s not that much other fruit around that excites. It feels warmer, sunnier just eating an orange segment; it’s a good antidote to puffy coats, hats, and scarves. We stockpile our citrus: oranges, clementines, grapefruit all sitting in the crisper at the same time. I like having options; who knows what I’ll feel like eating for a snack? And oftentimes we cut up citrus into this salad to give this one and that one a break.
Salads are fabulously forgiving things; it’s pretty hard to mess them up. You can swap ingredients in and out without much risk. If you happen to dislike a particular element, you can easily omit it or use something else. Proportions are not etched in stone. Want far more grapefruit than oranges in your salad—go right ahead. I won’t stop you (and besides, even if I wanted to, I can’t—I’m not in the kitchen with you). What I do want to urge you, however, is to make it with the dressing as written below—it’s pretty fabulous, I must tell you. So fabulous, in fact, that my where’s-the-beef husband mentioned how delicious it was not once, not twice, but three times the night that I first made it. And then he proceeded to eat the whole thing.
What I think is critical in the dressing is the crème fraîche. It has the right thickness and the right amount of tanginess and it works beautifully with the cut up citrus. You can always use sour cream in its place, but steer clear of buttermilk—it’s far too thin and watery to properly coat the fruit.
I wanted to tell you about this salad last month, but the days got away from me and here I find myself a third of the way into the month of January. Everyone is writing about resolutions and I can’t quite bring myself to get them down on paper. It’s not that I’m not committed, but I don’t know if I’m ready to say, “I resolve” instead of “I’d like to”. Some things I’d like to keep private, other ones are so silly, I feel disingenuous mentioning them here: Learn how to deal with my mail immediately and not let it pile up on my desk until payments are late and I don’t know what is what; File my taxes quarterly this year; get my driver’s license (yes, feel free to poke fun at me here). Along the lines there are more exciting goals and adventures: finally go on our honeymoon—we’re thinking either Costa Rica or Jamaica; see our niece more; take more weekend trips to nearby towns; go easier on myself.
So for now, I am just letting myself ease into the year, one forkful of this salad at a time. And for the moment, I’m okay with that.
Citrus Salad with Creamy Poppy Seed Dressing
Adapted from Food and Wine
Like I said above, salads are generously forgiving. In my version here, I omitted the limes, used a little less dressing, swapped out regular lemon for a Meyer lemon, reduced the amount of maple syrup as I don’t like my salad dressing particularly sweet. Also, as you can see from the pictures, I forgot to add shallot for the photo shoot. Sorry! I prefer to use a mix of Navel, Cara Cara, and blood oranges, but all our local stores had this time around were regular Navel oranges. It looks very pretty with many difference varieties of fruit. Finally, you can chuck grapefruit, swap in tangerines, clementines, or Satsumas. Whatever your heart desires.
I tested the dressing with buttermilk, but it proved to be too runny and flat against the citrus. My favorite, hands down, was crème fraîche. (Yes, I tested the dressing with four different bases.)
6 oranges (I prefer to use a mix of different oranges)
1 red grapefruit
1 large shallot, very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons torn fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon, torn fresh mint leaves
3 tablespoons crème fraîche or full-fat Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon finely grated Meyer lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh Meyer lemon juice
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
Fine sea salt, to taste
1. Using a sharp paring knife, carefully peel the oranges and grapefruit, removing all the bitter white pith. Working over a small bowl to catch the juices fro m the fruit, cut in between the membranes to release the sections (this is called supreming). Cut the grapefruit sections into thirds and leave the orange segments whole. Transfer all the citrus to a serving bowl and add the shallot and fresh herbs. Reserve the citrus juice for another use (see Citrus Vinaigrette recipe below).
2. In another small bowl, whisk together the zest, with the lemon juice, crème fraîche, maple syrup, and poppy seeds. Season the dressing slightly with salt. Pour the dressing over the fruit, toss the salad gently and serve right away. [You can make the dressing the day before and refrigerate. Whisk gently before adding to the citrus.]
Serves 4 to 6
1/4 cup fresh citrus juice (can be a mix of orange, grapefruit, tangerine, etc)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon finely grated citrus zest
Freshly ground black pepper
In a small bowl, whisk the citrus juice, lemon juice, vinegar, and salt. Let stand for 1 minute, so that the salt dissolves. Whisk in the olive oil, zest, and pepper. Drizzle over salad. Dressing can be made up to 3 days ahead.
Makes about 6 tablespoons of dressing.