Acid can and does spark the flavors of foods, as much as, and at times even more than herbs and spices. Citrus is the perfect way to make flavors sparkle…you know The Goddess loves her orange, lemon and lime. But, acid is more than just citrus; vinegar is a wonder and balsamic, with its sweetness, adds untold complexity to foods. It’s all about how our taste buds work…. Acid helps us taste, or rather discern the qualities of sweet and salty, and bitter, I believe, but to a lesser extent. So in our discussion of flavor, we also must consider an acid. And acid comes in many forms, my beloved citrus, but it can also be vinegar—never white vinegar; that’s for cleaning—Sherry and balsamic are favorites (they should be their own food group!), pomegranate molasses, fish sauce and tomato or pineapple juice. Remember—it’s about balancing the flavors and herbs, spices and acid help do just that.
When you taste food you are preparing (and you really must do that always and several times at different stages of cooking or preparation), if it “needs something”, chances are it will be salt, sugar or an acid. The acidic part is where citrus plays a huge roll. Just note, too, in that scenario, it’s possible your dish may need a bit of all 3! It’s about balance. If something is too sweet, add some lemon or lime juice. Regular oranges may not be your best option in this case, as they can contribute to the sweetness of a dish. However, blood oranges (see that gorgeous cut blood orange on the left?) are usually not quite as sweet as the more traditional Valencia orange. I think lime is hugely under-used in our part of the world; we tend to reach for lemons. Lime is a great flavor and is very complimentary to cumin, ginger, cilantro and is delightful with fruits (melons and raspberries in particular).
Don’t forget to use the peel or zest as that adds huge flavor to dishes and why throw it away when you can use it in your dish? When you hear the term “zest” in reference to the peel of a citrus fruit, we are referring to the colored part ONLY. The white pith, is bitter and not to be used. You can easily remove just the peel or zest with a vegetable peeler or a grater. Also note, the zest, as well as the juice, freezes well.
- Acid—Lemon, lime, orange, and Meyer lemon juices, passion fruit and pomegranate juices, Sherry Vinegar, Balsamic Vinegar, Wine Vinegar(s), Dry Wines (NOT cooking wine), tamarind, cranberries, capers (brined)
- Generally all foods may need a “spark”
- Salad dressings, soups, stews, sauces
This is a basic salad and unbelievably versatile. It can be seasonal, depending on what you choose to use for ingredients and you will usually have most everything on hand. You can add a small handful of dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, diced dates, dice crystallized ginger, etc. and see the variations listed below. It is all about the carrots, though.
Bistro Carrot Salad
- 4 good-sized carrots, peeled and shredded
- About 2-3 tablespoons of something acetic*
- 2 tablespoons good olive oil (I rarely use oil, as I think it’s unnecessary)
- Salt and pepper
- Finely minced fresh (or dried) mint, basil, chives, or parsley (optional)
- Drizzle of honey or melted apricot preserves or orange marmalade
*For the spark—Use 2-3 tablespoons of lime, lemon, grapefruit, pomegranate molasses or plain, balsamic, rice wine or fruit-flavored vinegars, or 1-2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate. Use individually or in combination.
Toss everything together; serve immediately or place in the fridge and serve within a couple of hours. (This is also very good the next day, so it’s a pretty flexible salad.)
- You can add shredded radishes, jicama or use different colored carrots. Adding raw, very finely shredded beets, are pretty and delicious (with raspberry vinegar…yum!)
- Shredded orange zest and a 3-4 teaspoons of frozen concentrated orange juice (I still use the lime juice) and toasted pecans.
- 1 tablespoon of finely shredded fresh ginger, some mint and lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, orange zest and toasted sesame seeds
- Zest of 1 orange, pinch of Vietnamese cinnamon or toasted cumin, lime juice
Bistro Carrot Salad Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2015. All rights reserved.
The Bistro Salad is one of those last minute, go-to-type recipes, that you can throw together in less than 10 minutes, using whatever you have on hand, but you do need carrots. I found these lovelies at Trader Joe’s, so the salad isn’t quite as orange as it usually is, but it tasted heavenly.
Another way of adding flavor and color is to lay slices of citrus on chicken breasts or thighs (or fish filets) before baking. This also imparts great flavor and it helps keeps the moisture in the meat, too. When the meat is done, slice the chicken, leaving the citrus slices intact and serve. They are delicious and add terrific flavor and color.
There are any number of flavored vinegars, particularly the balsamic flavored vinegars. They are pretty readily available and you can easily make your own flavored vinegars. One caveat, please spend a bit extra and purchase red and white wine vinegars, as they are much more interesting and complex in the end. Please do not use regular white vinegar. Don’t get me wrong, you CAN use it and it will work, but if you are going to spend time and money, you want the best end results, right? Try different types of fruits (and frozen fruits work incredibly well in vinegars, as the freezing does part of the work for you) and use them with abandon, along with a little citrus….humor me!