Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mediterranean orange salad with feta

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Citrus season in southern California is truly a beautiful thing.

Yesterday morning before work I walked around my neighborhood. In the valleys, the perfect climate for growing citrus, entire city blocks are lined with orange, lemon and grapefruit trees. I live by the coast, which is cooler and marginally less hospitable to citrus. Regardless, everywhere you look there's a tree filled with orange or yellow fruit. It may get neither as big nor as sweet as the citrus fruit in the valleys, but still I find it overwhelmingly attractive. There's a tangerine tree down the block I particularly covet this time of year. I don't know those neighbors, but every winter I try to work up the courage to knock on their door.

The best oranges I've ever had grew in the yard of my mother's cousin Bernice. She raised her family here in Los Angeles while I was growing up in New York, so we didn't get to know each other until I moved west. She lived alone in a traditional ranch house in the San Fernando valley, and when my kids were small I tried to visit her once a month or so. There was a huge old navel orange tree that produced softball-sized fruit in the winter, fluorescent orange and sweet as candy. I'd take a hundred home in trash bags, then spend hours scrubbing and peeling. No scurvy in our house!

Bernice died a few years ago, and every time I see oranges stacked at the market I think of her. This salad makes me think of her, too, because it's best made with huge, juicy, super-sweet navels like the ones that grew in her yard. The sweet orange contrasts nicely with the salty feta, briny olives and sharp red onion. If the oranges are too sour, it just tastes sour.

If you're really motivated, supreme the oranges by cutting away the orange peel and white pith, then painstakingly cutting each segment away from the membrane - but then be very careful tossing the salad, because the orange segments will be much more fragile without their protective skins. I don't think it's necessary, anyway, and in a "What would Nigella Lawson do?" sort of way, I'll just tell you that it's up to you how fussy you want to be.

Mediterranean orange salad with feta
  • 10 navel oranges
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • 1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 Tbsp minced preserved lemon OR zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp Italian parsley, chopped
Zest two of the oranges with a Microplane, reserving the zest for later. 

Put an orange on a cutting board and slice off both ends. Stand the orange on one end and cut down, slicing the peel and pith away from the orange and exposing the flesh. Do this all the way around; some of the flesh will come away with the peel, but that can’t be helped. Now slice the orange flesh into 1-inch rounds, and the rounds into chunks. Put the orange chunks in a big bowl.

Shave the red onion with a mandoline, or slice it in half-moons as thinly as you can. Cut the olives in half. Add those and everything else, including the orange zest, to the bowl, and toss gently. Be generous with the salt and pepper; even though the olives and feta are salty, you’ll still need more salt to balance the sweetness of the oranges.

Let the salad sit at room temperature for an hour, tossing gently every quarter-hour or so, to let the flavors meld. Serve sprinkled with more crumbled feta, if you like.

16 comments:

Barbara @ Modern Comfort Food said...

I'm harvesting the last of this season's fruit from my tangerine trees now, and this recipe is such an excellent way to use them. The combination of flavors here must be heavenly!

Erika said...

@Barbara - how far from me are those tangerine trees? Happy to take some gorgeous fruit off your hands... :)

Maria said...

I love this salad Erika!

Rita Anne said...

Erika - this sounds like such a refreshing salad. I am going to have to make this soon. Thanks for sharing.

Marly said...

I think you should definitely ask your neighbor. I worked up the nerve to ask my neighbor about her apple tree and ended up with 3 baskets full!

Dorothy at Shockinglydelicious said...

I just picked a few navels today off our tree, and mine went into a smoothie. Your salad looks beyond delish! Very lovely photo :)

Erika said...

@Marly - I'm working on it.

@Dorothy - you have a navel orange tree? Have I told you lately how much I love you?

Rhonda said...

I love all the components of this salad. A sweet and salty combination just sings to my tastebuds. Wish I had the ability to pick some citrus fruit from my very own tree.

Megan said...

I say ask the neighbor and then gift her with some sweet treat from the oranges! Or even this salad, I know it would be appreciated in my home!

Rocky Mountain Woman said...

One thing I miss about living in South Florida is fresh citrus in the winter...sigh..

Erika said...

@Megan - good idea.

@Rocky - don't they truck it into wherever you're living?

Monet said...

I'm so jealous that you get to see actual citrus trees bearing fruit! I want to move out West right now! Thankfully, we do manage to get some good citrus down here in TX (we just don't see it). Thank you for sharing yet another delicious recipe. I hope you have a wonderful weekend...enjoy yourself and eat well!

Nancy said...

Gorgeous photo Erika!! This is one of my favorite salads - I'm with you, I love all the fresh citrus in winter!

B said...

That is such a bright and delicious looking salad!

megi said...

Beautiful photos! And I can only imagine the pungent feta and red onion with the oranges. Great combination!

Mexican Foods said...

Beautiful & Bright Salad. What a lovely potpourri of colors & tastes. Cheers !

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