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As we enter the later part of January, there is scant cause for excitement among purveyors of fresh produce. Fall fruits like apples and pears are getting a bit long in the tooth, while early spring vegetables like asparagus are just starting to poke their heads above the ground.
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One bright spot are the citrus fruits, many of which are at their best right now. A few weeks ago I talked about oranges. This week, I want to tell you about a fruit that is a bit more exotic: the kumquat.
Kumquats are a small fruit with a big flavor. They resemble oval shaped oranges, about the size of a date. The neat thing about kumquats is that you can pop them into your mouth, skin and all. Unlike other citrus fruits, the skin is the sweetest part of the kumquat, and the insides are tart with a touch of bitterness.
Actually, I don't recommend popping a whole kumquat into your mouth. I tried it once, and it was too much for me. The interior of the fruit has an intense citrus flavor, similar to that of orange peel. It is better taken in small doses, so as not to overwhelm the taste buds.
Because of their strong flavor, kumquats can be used to add zest to a number of dishes. They can be sliced into thin rounds and tossed into salads. They can be added to roasts or poultry during the last 30 minutes of cooking to contribute a bit of acidity. They make delicious marmalades and chutneys, and can be simmered with sugar for a killer sauce to pour over ice cream or on top of a cheese cake.
Kumquats originated in China and have been cultivated there and in Japan for hundreds of years. They are the most cold-hardy of all the citrus fruits, surviving down to a temperature of 20 degrees F. They were introduced to the United States over a hundred years ago and now are grown in California and Florida. The kumquats we get in Juneau are primarily from California. Their season is from January through June.
In traditional Chinese medicine, kumquats are said to energize the lungs, stomach and liver, and to alleviate plegm. Sliced kumquat and ginger can be boiled together in water with a little honey to make an infusion to treat a cough that has settled into the lungs.
Here is a recipe for a salad that features kumquats:
Salad of kumquats, dates, shaved parmesan
4 handfuls baby arugula
½ cup flat leaf parsley leaves
2 Medjool dates, pitted and diced
¼ cup Parmesan shavings
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Slice the kumquats into thin rounds, discarding the seeds. Combine the arugula, parsley, dates, kumquats and parmesan in a large bowl. Whisk together the lemon juice and olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Pour over the salad and toss. Serves 4.
Recipe from Amanda Hesser, "The Way We Eat: Skin Deep," New York Times Magazine Feb. 26, 2006.
David Ottoson owns Rainbow Foods and has bought, sold and written about food and health for 20 years.