Juicy, refreshing, and packed with vitamin C, orange citrus comes into season on the West Coast just in time to brighten winter tables—and help fight the season’s colds and flus. California’s specialty citrus crops are at their peak from December to March, which makes it a great time to discover dozens of ways to liven up your daily diet and boost your health and immune system, too.
First off, not all oranges are the same. Most people are familiar with navels, which can be identified by the indented “navel” in their blossom end, along with their thick, pored skin. They have large, sweet segments with bright-orange flesh, making them popular for out-of-hand eating. (Valencia oranges, however, are smaller, with thinner, smoother skin and yellow-orange flesh that’s perfect for juicing. Valencias aren’t really a winter orange—they come into season in spring, as navels wane.)
Cara Cara oranges are similar to navels but have bright coral-pink flesh that’s especially decorative. Blood oranges, popular in Europe, have stunningly colored flesh that can range from magenta to deep burgundy, with a sweet-tart raspberry-like flavor.
Different types of mandarins, including tangerines, clementines, and satsumas, are cousins to the sweet orange. These varieties are smaller but more intensely flavored than a navel or Valencia, and have richly flavored juice. Tangelos, a cross between the tangerine and the pomelo, have bright orange-red skin marked by a protruding “button” on the stem end. They’re easily peeled into segments and boast a complex, honeyed sweetness.
Oranges will last two to three days at room temperature. Otherwise, store them in the refrigerator, where they’ll last at least a week. To avoid molding, store them loose in a fruit or crisper drawer rather than in a plastic bag.
How to Use Oranges
The peel has two parts: the brightly colored zest, which contains flavorful oils, and the spongy white pith beneath, which can be bitter. When a recipe calls for orange zest, remove it carefully with a vegetable peeler or microplane so you can leave behind the bitter pith.
Here are some ideas to kick-start your citrus love affair, from an all-natural household cleaning spray to new twists on salad dressings, desserts, and breakfast.
- In a small bowl, mix ½ cup flaky sea salt (such as Maldon) with 3 tablespoons finely grated orange zest.
- Mix well and store in a covered jar in a cool, dry place. Sprinkle over grilled fish, salads, or sliced avocado.
- Sprinkle 2 envelopes of unflavored gelatin into 1 cup freshly squeezed orange, blood orange, or tangerine juice. Mix together.
- Bring 3 cups of juice to a simmer. Pour over the gelatin mixture and stir for a couple of minutes, until gelatin is completely dissolved.
- Add juice of 1 lemon, if desired.
- Pour into individual cups and chill in the refrigerator until firm, about 5 hours.
Sorbet in Orange Cups
- Slice 4 pounds of small oranges in half crosswise.
- Squeeze the juice, reserving the orange halves; you should have about 2½ cups juice.
- Using a spoon, scrape out any remaining pulp and membrane from the rinds. Set 8 empty halves aside.
- In a small pot over medium heat, warm ½ cup juice with ½ cup sugar, stirring until sugar dissolves. Stir in remaining 2 cups juice.
- Chill until cold, then freeze in an ice cream maker. Once frozen, scoop mixture into reserved orange halves. Freeze until firm.
- In a large bowl using a handheld electric mixer, beat 8 oz (1 cup) butter and ½ cup sugar until creamy.
- Beat in 2 egg yolks, 3 tablespoons grated tangerine zest, 1 tablespoon tangerine juice, and ¼ teaspoon salt. With the mixer on low, add in 2½ cups all-purpose flour.
- Roll dough into small balls. Arrange on a baking sheet and flatten gently.
- Poke a shallow thumb indentation into each cookie, and spoon in a dab of jam or jelly.
- Bake at 350°F until firm and lightly golden, about 20 minutes. Let cool on a rack.
Fruit and Nut Yogurt
- Finely grate the zest of 1 orange. Mix into 3 cups Greek yogurt, along with ⅓ cup dried cranberries or cherries, ⅓ cup chopped walnuts or pecans, 2 tablespoons honey, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, and ⅔ cup freshly squeezed orange juice.
- Stir well to combine. Top with additional cranberries, nuts, and sliced oranges.
- Toast a piece of whole-grain bread. Lightly drizzle with olive, avocado, or walnut oil.
- Spread with fresh ricotta or soft goat cheese (chèvre). Scatter with some chopped walnuts or pumpkin seeds.
- Peel a blood orange and slice thinly crosswise.
- Peel and slice a kiwi.
- Layer the orange and kiwi slices over the ricotta. Drizzle with honey.
- Halve 2½ pounds navel oranges lengthwise, then cut each half into 4 wedges. Slice wedges crosswise (remove seeds).
- In a large stainless steel (nonreactive) pot, bring orange pieces, juice and zest of 1 lemon, and 6 cups water to a boil.
- Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours, until fruit is very tender. Add 2 pounds sugar. Increase heat to high and cook, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved.
- Cook, stirring, for another 5 minutes, or until mixture reaches 220°F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes.
- Spoon into clean jars. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate.
Salads & Vegetables:
- Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large frying pan.
- Add grated zest of 1 orange, ½ cup cashews, and 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
- Add ¼ cup orange juice, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, and 4 cups broccoli florets.
- Cook, stirring, until broccoli is tender, about 6 minutes. Serve with brown or jasmine rice.
Beet and Orange Salad
- Peel and slice 3 or 4 cooked beets. Thinly slice 1 red onion; soak in cold water to cover for 15 minutes, then drain. Peel and slice 1 large orange.
- Whisk together the juice of 1 orange, 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses, ¼ cup olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.
- Toss beets, onion, and orange with dressing. Serve as-is or on a bed of arugula or butter lettuce.
Winter Fruit Salad
- Equally delicious for breakfast, a side, or a light dessert. Combine peeled and sliced Cara Cara oranges, tangelos, and tangerines with sliced kiwis and fresh pomegranate seeds.
- Squeeze in the juice of 1 Meyer lemon.
- Drizzle with honey to taste. Top with a little chopped mint, if desired.
Blood Orange Vinaigrette:
- Whisk together 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed blood orange juice, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, and a generous pinch of salt.
- Whisk in 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or a combination of olive oil and avocado oil.
- Season with freshly ground pepper. Taste and add more oil if it seems too tart.
Avocado Fennel Salad
- Using a mandolin, slice a cored and trimmed fennel bulb into paper-thin slices. Toss with thin slices of avocado and orange.
- Arrange on a bed of arugula or watercress.
- Whisk together ¼ cup orange juice, ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard, ¼ cup olive oil, and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Drizzle over the salad.
Moroccan Carrot Salad
- Whisk together 3 tablespoons orange juice, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon orange flower water, and ½ teaspoon salt.
- In a large bowl, toss dressing with 1 pound grated carrots and 2 peeled and sliced oranges.
- Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts.
Curried Quinoa Salad
- In a medium pot, bring 1 cup water, ½ cup orange juice, and a pinch of salt to a boil. Add 1 cup quinoa.
- Cover and cook over low heat until tender, about 20 minutes.
- Toss with grated rind of 1 orange, 1 teaspoon curry powder, ⅓ cup olive oil, and salt to taste.
- Mix in 2 diced carrots, 2 sliced scallions, 2 tablespoons minced parsley, ½ cup toasted sliced almonds, and 1 cup cooked chickpeas.
- Toss well and taste for seasoning, adding more orange juice if desired.
Vinegar Cleaning Spray
- Don’t throw out your extra orange peels. Use them to make a sweet-smelling, all-natural household cleaner.
- Fill a quart Mason jar halfway with orange peels. Fill the jar with distilled white vinegar. Cover and let steep for 2 weeks.
- Strain, discarding peels. Dilute 50 percent with water and pour into a spray bottle.
- Use as a cleaning spray for glass windows, mirrors, tile, and countertops.
Stephanie Klassen is a Sonoma-based writer. Her books include Honey from Flower to Table, World of Doughnuts, and the upcoming A Little Taste of San Francisco.