Echoes and Mementos

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Tag: mint

Sicilian Orange Salad

When the sun showed last week, and when I was trying to use ten sad skinless lemons leftover from limoncello, I made a summer staple of mine: Sicilian orange salad. Lemons, oranges, and blood oranges–the colors are too ecstatic for winter, the flavors too florid. But let us defer the matter of seasonality to logic.

Consider Sicily. The island is a heartbeat away from kissing Africa. Surely, given this closeness, and given the climate of Sicily in the summer, so hot that many farmers wait until nightfall and tend their fields wearing headlamps, we should be little surprised if lemons and February are good friends in this distant land. Consider citrus. Even in the summer we northerners bring in oranges from afar, so why not eat the fruits in February?

This salad will wake you up like a coffee. I recommend experimenting with the recipe. For a less-sour salad, use one lemon. Try grating a patch of its rind and adding the zest before the final toss. If you’ve made limoncello and have only naked lemons, zest the blood orange instead. Here we are throwing things together and not calculating. Sliver all of the mint, or for more varied bites keep some of the leaves away from your knife.

Freeze the salad for five minutes before serving. Serve with foods of personality: barbecued ribs, garlicky pasta, whatever nimble beer you have on hand, or all of the above. But often I eat the salad alone, standing in the kitchen, in the afternoon, in the winter or the summer, straight out of the chilled bowl, lemon spirits and the sun mere excuses.

Serves 2 as a snack, 4 as a side

2             oranges

2             small lemons

1             blood orange

1/5         medium red onion (one ounce), cut into slivers

3             springs mint leaves (some 25 leaves), half slivered, half left whole

1 tbsp      olive oil

freshly ground pepper

pinch of salt

1) With a paring knife, cut the rind and white pith from the first orange. Discard the rind and pith. With your knife perpendicular to the lines between the orange segments (the orange’s poles at east and west), slice the sphere into thin rounds, removing seeds from rounds that have them. Put rounds into a large bowl. With a paper towel, wipe juice that has pooled on the cutting board.

2) Repeat for other orange. Repeat for lemons and blood orange.

3) Add red onions, mint, and olive oil. Toss delicately.

4) Add 5-8 grindings of pepper and next-to-no salt. Toss delicately.

5) Cover and put in freezer for 4 or 5 minutes. Take out. Eat.

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Flavoring Vodka

Given a choice between the two, the cupcake vodka winking from the second shelf, and the Southeast Asian spirit in which snakes and scorpions swim, which would you rather drink? Me, I am choosing reptile over pastry. But the question matters little, for, though banana and iced-tea particles may lurk in commercial vodkas, the plain stuff takes well to home flavorings.

Vodka distillers aspire to a tasteless drink. As with rice or eggs, you can build whatever flavors you want onto the blank base. With these thoughts I had another: Why not, instead of turning my leftovers into fried rice or a frittata, turn them into a drink? I used ginger, mint, and jalapeno peppers to flavor the vodka. Here’s how it happened:

Makes 1 cup

1      Jalapeno pepper, halved lengthwise (for a milder drink, use just one half)

1      Ginger knob, golf-ball sized, cut into quarter-thick rounds

12    Mint leaves

1       Cup vodka (or so, I used about a shot glass more)

1) Put jalapeno pepper and ginger in a mason jar. Tear the mint leaves and add them. Pour vodka in jar and twist the lid shut. Let sit for two days, gently shaking the jar two or three times a day.

2) Unseal the jar. Strain vodka over a sturdy bowl. Pour now-yellow vodka back into jar. Seal. Drink soon.

What to do with it…

Mix 1:1 with cranberry juice in a cocktail shaker. Add ice. Shake for 15 seconds. Pour into martini glasses. Drink.