Spice Hunting

Your guide to the world of herbs and spices—how to spot them, where to get them, and how to cook with them

Spice Hunting: How To Spice Up Winter Citrus

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Avocado and grapefruit salad. [Photographs: Max Falkowitz and Robyn Lee]

As winter begins to rear its ugly head we turn to citrus in droves. And I'm grateful for it. This is the time when my green vegetables all take on adjectives like "hearty" and "roasted." For something light and bright in the depth of winter, nothing beats citrus.

Except that the parade of bright and tart and sour can get a little tiring after a while, especially when it's the only flavor of its kind on the plate. I love my grapefruit and pomelo and, lord knows, my blood oranges; I just also love alternatives to enjoying them unadorned. Spices are my favorite way to round out the harsh flavors of citrus and bring them more in line with this frigid season.

Add Some Heat

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Aji panca.

The best way I know to tame citrus is with other equally strong flavors. On a fierce, cold day, nothing warms my bones more than chiles, which are strong enough to take citrus by the horns. In my experience dark, roasty chiles taste flat and ruddy when paired with citrus. Instead, stick to other bright chiles like aleppo or aji amarillo. My favorites for citrus are those with strong fruity flavors. Blueberry-like aji panca is sublime with grapefruit. Fresh fruity chiles, like habaneros, scotch bonnets, and serranos (this last one especially with lime), are all great choices here.

Chiles can be added to citrus salads, such as the avocado and grapefruit salad pictured at the top, in citrus-forward salsa, and with ceviche. To tame the heat and sourness you may want to look toward something sweet. A segmented grapefruit with some chile-infused honey is one of my favorite January breakfasts.

Think Alpine

Alpine flavors are also strong enough to stand up to citrus, and certainly help draw it into the spirit of the season. Rosemary, juniper, caraway, and tasmanian pepper all breathe new life into citrus. Cakes, marmalades, and cocktails are the best expressions of this pairing. Try a rosemary poundcake with candied lemon (or citron) peel, or a grapefruit-juniper marmalade. Or just add some freshly juiced citrus to your gin and call it a day.

Consider Ginger

Citrus is lacking in warmth, which ginger possesses in abundance. Its spice brings out citrus's twang without weighing it down. And as far as light winter desserts go, the combination of citrus and ginger is hard to beat. Candied ginger is a great garnish on citrus desserts like sorbet, pie, and cake. Or use fresh ginger in subtle ways: ginger whipped cream for your key lime pie, or blend it into the batter for your lemon poundcake. A little goes a long way, and your goal is to accent, not overwhelm, the citrus, but you'll find that a hit of ginger adds a whole new dimension of flavor.

Essential Waters

Floral flavors also pair nicely with citrus, and there's no easier flavor delivery vehicle for them than orange blossom and rose waters. (There's also jasmine, gardenia, and chrysanthemum, but in this country you basically have to brew your own tea for those.) These are best with lighter desserts like parfaits and—my favorite—pavlovas. Try an orange blossom water-spiked pavlova with blood orange segments. Go ahead, add some cocoa to the whipped cream. It's a killer chocolate-orange dessert.

How Do You Winterize Your Citrus?

These are just a few of the ways to bring new life to citrus. Do you have any favorite methods?

About the author: Max Falkowitz is a proud native of Queens, New York. He'll do just about anything for a good cup of tea and enjoys long walks down the aisles of Chinese groceries. He is also known to make ice cream on occasion. You can follow him on Twitter at @maxfalkowitz.

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