7 Ways to Celebrate Winter Citrus Season

The best part of winter

Photo: Scott Bauer, USDA ARS [public domain]/Wikimedia Commons

In January, when spring seems far away and the hours of sunshine are never long enough, it's easy to fall prey to the winter doldrums. The ability to eat seasonally becomes more difficult, as many farmers market are closed for the winter months, and local fruit and vegetable options seem slimmer than ever.

While it may be root vegetables' time to shine, winter citrus deserves its own spotlight, too. From kumquats to mandarins to pomelos, there's plenty of delicious ways to brighten up a winter day with these citrus-based recipes.

Meyer lemon

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The love child of a regular lemon and a mandarin orange, this sweet citrus first came to the United States from China by way of its namesake, Frank Meyer, who was an adventurous Dutch immigrant working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Sweeter than a lemon but more tart than an orange, the rinds also boast an intoxicating herbal scent similar to bergamot or spices. While regular lemons are readily available in grocery stores year-round, you'll usually only find the coveted Meyers from December to May. Allow all the flavor nuances of this delicate citrus to shine, peels and all, in this Meyer Lemon Shaker Pie.

Blood orange

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This might be my favorite citrus variety, and it's certainly one of the most dramatic. Blood oranges originated in the Mediterranean and today are considered one of Sicily's most valued crops. Originally grown just for royalty, Sicilians eventually figured out that there was money to be made in exporting the blushing, orange-colored fruit all over the world.

Slicing into a blood orange, you'll instantly see how it got its name, with that ruby-colored flesh full of vitamin C, potassium and fiber. Try this Sicilian-inspired salad made with oranges, fennel and wild chicory.

Kumquat

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This native Chinese fruit is no bigger than an olive, which makes them especially fun for eating on-the-go. Unlike other citruses, the peel is actually sweet, while the flesh is quite tart, so you'll want to pop the whole bite-sized orb in your mouth, skin and all.

Eating the peel also provides a host of health benefits, including antioxidants and plant compounds that can boost your immune system. Their small size makes them ideal for chutney, marmalades, condiments or candied on top of an orange cheesecake.

Buddha's hand

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Perhaps the most exotic among its citrus brethren, this citron variety is striking for its finger-like sections and gnobby yellow-orange skin. Most varieties contain no pulp or juice, rather, the fruit is prized for its unusual appearance and intoxicating scent.

In Japan, the fruit is a popular gift during New Year's, as it's believed to bring good fortune to households. Likewise, Chinese cultures believe it symbolizes happiness and long life, and the fingered fruit is often placed as a sacrificial offering at temple altars. With plenty of rind to zest, it makes for a wonderful vinaigrette over an arugula salad.

Pomelo

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Also known as the Chinese grapefruit, this (sometimes) basketball-sized citrus comes from Malaysia. Though not as bitter as a grapefruit, it's also less succulent, so look for one that's heavy for its size to maximize the juiciness.

Once you've cut through the thick, spongy pith, you'll want to also peel away the membrane around each segment; unlike oranges or grapefruit, this part is quite bitter and not edible. For a savory take on the gentle giant of citruses, try these baked chicken wings with a pomelo marinade.

Satsuma

Photo: Daderot [public domain]/Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the most user-friendly of all citruses, the satsuma is seedless and extremely easy to peel. Jesuits brought the fruit from Asia to North America in the 18th century, planting them in plantations around New Orleans — with many commercial groves still thriving today.

"Satsumas have that perfect balance of sweet and tart, with a rounded flavor and a great acid edge," Chef Aliza Green tells Cooking Light. "And they just melt in your mouth." Part of the mandarin orange family, their siblings include tangerines and clementines. Their super-juicy attributes make them wonderful in sauces, granita or a winter sangria.

Cara Cara orange

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Arguably one of the newest kids on the block, Cara Caras were first discovered in Venezuela in the 1970s. The cross of two navel oranges created a bright beauty that hides a secret inside — a pinkish-red flesh that looks more like a grapefruit than an orange.

Cara Caras also taste as good as they look; the fruit is sweeter and less acidic than regular old navels. To cap it all off, they're also seedless! This mutant fruit (I say that with love) is largely grown in California, with a growing season that lasts from December to April. Let this citrus shine on its own as an elegant orange curd.