When we think of a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner, our thoughts tend to turn to decadent foods like cheese soufflé, filet mignon, or chocolate mousse. But for a holiday devoted to the heart, artery-clogging offerings like these seem like a bit of a contradiction.
However, you can enjoy a heart-healthy Valentine’s feast without sacrificing excitement or romance. The secret is citrus.
Citrus season is in full swing, and that means the stores are full of oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, lemons, and other exciting citrus choices that can lend an exotic touch to your meal planning, as well as a boost to the heart.
Vitamin C, citrus’s star nutrient, is a potent antioxidant that can help protect against a variety of conditions, including heart disease. Citrus also contains folate, vitamin B6, vitamin A, potassium, magnesium, calcium, fiber, and flavonols to promote general overall health.
Our proposed Valentine’s menu includes a gorgeous salad starring blood oranges and a main dish that showcases preserved lemons. Intriguing ingredients, such as hearts of palm and harissa paste, keep things interesting, flavorful, and “heart-y.” And nothing sparks excitement like a flaming dessert—flambéed crepes with tangerine butter and kumquats, to be exact.
Recipes below are for two, but can be doubled to feed a family or any group of special people you want to shower with a little love.
Blood Orange Salad with Hearts of Palm
(adapted from Alice Waters)
This salad is usually prepared with grilled asparagus, but hearts of palm and romaine are more in keeping with the theme.
½ jar hearts of palm, patted dry and sliced in half lengthwise
1 small bunch romaine lettuce hearts
2 medium blood oranges
1 red spring onion, thinly sliced (optional)
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 slices artisan bread
2–3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing palm hearts and bread
2 tablespoons olive tapenade
⅓ cup fresh goat cheese or cream cheese, softened
- Peel 1 blood orange, avoiding white pith. Finely dice peel. Juice one half of the orange and combine with vinegars, diced peel, and red onion if using. Season with pepper and salt. Let sit for 20 minutes.
- Cut away peel and pith from remaining 1½ oranges. Slice flesh into ¼-inch disks and set aside.
- Combine tapenade and cheese. Separate romaine hearts into leaves and arrange on a rimmed platter.
- Brush bread and hearts of palm with olive oil. Heat a grill pan or heavy skillet and grill palm hearts about 5 minutes. Grill bread until toasted, let cool for a minute, and spread with tapenade mixture. Cut in half or in quarters.
- Whisk olive oil into juice-vinegar mixture until emulsified. Arrange grilled palm hearts over romaine, drizzle with dressing, and top with orange slices. Arrange tapenade toasts around salad and serve.
Serves 2. Prep time, 25 minutes.
Spicy Winter Vegetables and Lentils
(adapted from Amanda Berrie)
If you want a higher protein meal, grill some fish or chicken and drizzle with a little lemon- or lime-flavored olive oil and serve alongside the lentils. Preserved lemons are available in Middle Eastern stores, but are best homemade, though you need to allow at least three weeks for them to ripen (recipe follows). They may also be substituted with grated lemon peel.
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 cup diced butternut squash
1 teaspoon harissa, or more to taste
½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
2 teaspoons sherry or red wine vinegar
½ cup uncooked Puy lentils (or 1 cup cooked lentils, warm or at room temperature)
1½ tablespoons finely chopped red onion
1 tablespoon capers
2 tablespoons pitted, sliced olives (green, black, or oil-cured)
¼ cup chopped preserved lemons (see below), or 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
Lemon juice to taste
- Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Toss cauliflower and squash together in a medium bowl. In a small bowl mix harissa, salt, 1 tablespoon of oil, honey, and vinegar. Toss with vegetables and spread on baking sheet.
- Roast uncovered for 20–30 minutes, stirring the vegetables once or twice.
- Meanwhile, cook lentils in 1½ cups boiling water until tender. Drain.
- In a large bowl, combine lentils and the rest of the ingredients, including remaining olive oil and lemon juice. When vegetables are done, toss with lentils and allow a few minutes to settle. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more oil, salt, lemon juice, harissa, or honey as needed.
- Serve with a sauce of plain yogurt mixed with salt, pepper, and chopped spring onion, if desired.
Serves 2. Prep time, 45 minutes; cook time, 20–25 minutes for vegetables.
3–5 organic lemons
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
Pint jar with a tight-fitting lid
- Scrub lemons and cut into quarters. Rub the cut surfaces with kosher salt. Press the fruit back together.
- Cover the bottom of the jar with more salt and layer the lemons in the jar, pressing to release their juices. Salt each layer.
- Add a teaspoon of whole black peppercorns and 2 bay leaves, pushing them into the lemons.
- Squeeze additional fresh juice into the jar until salted lemon juice covers everything. Leave a quarter inch of room at the top of the jar.
- Close the jar and let ripen at cool room temperature, shaking the jar every day, until lemons are tender to the bite (3–4 weeks). Move to the refrigerator. Rinse lemons before using and discard pulp if desired.
Flambéed Crepes with Tangerine Butter and Poached Kumquats
(Adapted from Alice Waters)
If playing with fire isn’t your thing, these are just as delicious without the flame. They can be prepared in advance and popped into a preheated oven after the main course is finished. There will be leftover kumquats and tangerine butter, perhaps for a romantic breakfast!
½ cup milk
½ cup flour
Pinch of salt
½ pound kumquats
1 cup water
1 one-inch piece of vanilla bean, split lengthwise
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, softened
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier or Cointreau
- Make crepes: Whisk flour and egg together, then add milk and salt. Heat a 6-inch pan over medium heat. Rub the end of a stick of butter around the pan. When butter sizzles, add about 2 tablespoons of crepe batter, rotating pan to coat. Cook for 1–2 minutes, until brown, then lift an edge with a butter knife and flip it over with your fingers. Cook about 30 seconds more. Repeat until batter is used up, stacking crepes and keeping them at room temperature.
- Make poached kumquats: Wash and trim the ends off kumquats. Slice them crosswise into ¼-inch pieces, removing seeds. In a small saucepan, combine water, sugar, and vanilla bean, scraping vanilla seeds into pan. Bring to a boil, dissolving sugar, then add kumquats and simmer over low heat until tender and translucent, about 12–15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
- Make tangerine butter: Grate zest and squeeze juice from tangerine and set aside. Cream butter and sugar, then stir in zest and half the tangerine juice, mixing with a fork. Stir in 2 tablespoons of Grand Marnier or Cointreau and more tangerine juice, if possible. Butter will appear lumpy.
- Assemble crepes: Spread each crepe with a spoonful of tangerine butter and fold into quarters. Lay in a buttered square baking dish, slightly overlapping. Right before serving, bake in preheated 350°F oven for 5–8 minutes, until warmed through. While they bake, warm poached kumquats and put in a small serving bowl. Take crepes out of the oven and bring them to the table in baking dish. Carefully pour remaining tablespoon of liqueur over crepes and ignite with a long match or click lighter. When flame burns out, serve crepes with a spoonful of poached kumquats and syrup. Serve with vanilla ice cream or tangerine sorbet if desired.
Serves 2. Prep time, 35 minutes; cook time, 15 minutes for kumquats to poach and 5–8 minutes for crepes to heat.
Cathryn Domrose has written about science, health, and fitness for more than 20 years, most recently for Nurse.com, a national publication for nurses. She lives and cooks in San Francisco