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Things are looking bright and sunny in local grocery stores, thanks to the sweet citrus selection this time of year.

And after weeks of heavy holiday meals, it’s time to lighten the load with citrus. Eating more fruit is a great way to kick the new year off on a healthy note and cook in season.

Plenty of options are available. There are the snack-size mandarins – such as Clementines and Satsumas – that are sweet and easy to eat. Cara Caras are navel oranges with a tangy and sweet balance.

Blood oranges, anyone? These are prized for their cranberry tones and their deep red flesh.

And don’t forget the old standbys: grapefruit, temple oranges, tangelos and honey bells. All are suitable for eating out of hand, for juicing and for use in cooking. Think vinaigrettes, salads and pairings with fish and chicken.

When choosing citrus to use in cooking, Aaron Wynn, prepared foods team leader at Whole Foods Market Cranbrook in Ann Arbor, Mich., says consider pairing fish with Cara Cara or blood oranges.

“Anything with that grapefruit-y and not super sweet taste also goes well with fish,” he says. “It also pairs nice with fennel and pistachios.”

Citrus Salad with Dates and Walnuts

½ cup chopped dates

Boiling water

4 tablespoons blood orange or Clementine juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

∂ teaspoon ground cumin, optional

Salt to taste

¼ red onion, thinly sliced

1 cup Clementine, blood orange or red grapefruit segments

5 cups salad greens

½ cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

In heatproof bowl, cover dates with boiling water; let sit for 5 minutes. Strain, reserving 1 teaspoon of the liquid. Place the reserved liquid in a bowl and add the juice, olive oil, vinegar, cumin and salt to taste. Add dates, onion and Clementine segments; toss with greens and nuts and serve.

Serves 4.

– Adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine, December 2012 issue.