Welcome Winter With This Citrus, Fennel, and Bitter Greens Salad

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An easy citrus and bitter greens salad. [Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt]

I've always known that the start of winter marks citrus season—you can't help but notice the rapid increase in diversity among the oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, clementines, pomelos, tangelos, and so on that show up in the supermarket. But it never really sank in until this year, as I saw the lemons and mandarins on the dwarf trees in my backyard sit green on their branches through the entire summer, before suddenly bursting into color over the course of two days as soon as the first cold rains of the winter season rolled in.

That's what inspired me to immediately head to the produce store and pick up one of every type of sweet and bitter citrus fruit they had. And that's how I ended up with a pile of it in my kitchen.

I brought them home without too many plans in mind, took them out of their skins, and cut them into a few different shapes (check out my knife skills post on how to cut citrus for some ideas).

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The chopped citrus bears a striking resemblance to the limited Starburst color palette, doesn't it? Fortunately, the flavor is brighter, fresher, and better.* I like to chop the citrus into a strainer set over a bowl so that I can collect the juices as they drip, squeezing the core of the fruit to get every last drop out. And that's how I ended up with a bowl of mixed citrus juice.

* Who am I kidding here? Starbursts are awesome.

Typically, that juice becomes a cook's treat—I'm likely to drink it straight out of the bowl before anyone else gets a chance. But this time, I remembered a salad I'd eaten the week before up at Ad Hoc in Yountville, made with citrus and mizuna in a creamy citrus vinaigrette. And that's how I ended up making this salad.

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Rather than mizuna, I used some thinly sliced fennel, along with a mix of bitter winter greens—escarole, Belgian endive, and radicchio—figuring that the bitterness would play well with the sweet and bitter flavors in the citrus. For the vinaigrette, I started with a base of mayonnaise, to which I added some of the mixed citrus juice, an extra shot of lemon juice (salad dressing needs tartness), a bit of honey to accentuate the sweetness, and a big drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

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And that's how I ended up eating salad for dinner the other night. A pretty good ending to an easy evening in the kitchen. This salad would do equally well as a light lunch or dinner (we ate the exact same salad the next day for lunch, along with some grilled cheese sandwiches), or even as a side dish for a larger feast (like, say, Thanksgiving).