Citrus Fruits: Add Some Zest to Your Meal
Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD
Citrus fruits are some of the most versatile ingredients in cooking. For one thing, there is such a wide range of flavors; everything from super sour lemons and limes to deliciously sweet clementines. You can really make use of the whole fruit ; the juice, the flesh and the rind can all be used to add flavor and nutrition to all sorts of foods.
Citrus fruits are best known as terrific sources of Vitamin C, but they’ve got other nutritional benefits to boot. The skin of the citrus, called the flavedo, contains natural oils that act as antioxidants. The spongy white interior just beneath the surface, called the albedo, is something many people throw away, but it’s rich in pectin, a water-soluble fiber. And the fruit itself is a source of the B-vitamin folic acid, along with some minerals including potassium, calcium and magnesium, and host of other antioxidants as well.
Whole citrus fruits make a great dessert or snack, but the colorful segments are also a nice addition to vegetable dishes and salads. And, since vitamin C helps your body absorb iron from plant foods, the combination of citrus with iron-containing veggies makes for a healthy pairing. So add some grapefruit wedges to your spinach salad or try stir-frying your broccoli with some mandarin oranges.
The natural citric acid works as a tenderizer, so adding flavorful citrus juices to marinades for meat and poultry helps keep them tender and juicy. Citrus juices also taste great when you use them as substitutes for vinegar in salad dressings and sauces. And try mixing it up - instead of the usual lemon on grilled fish, try a squirt of lime or even orange. To get the most juice from the fruit, roll it around on the counter under your palm or zap it in the microwave for about 20 seconds to soften it up first.
And take advantage of the delicious natural oils in the zest. A bit of grated citrus rind is great in baked goods, on top of hot cereal, and on cooked veggies - and adds a lot of flavor to dishes when you’re trying to cut back on your salt.
If you don’t use all of the peel there’s plenty of other uses for it too - a few slices of rind in a pitcher of water makes it more refreshing, or put some citrus rind into your package of brown sugar to add some flavor and prevent it from hardening. If you’ve still got some left, you can drop the rind down the garbage disposal and grind away - it’ll leave your sink and your kitchen smelling really fresh.