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Bright salad clears the winter palate

Recipe: Sweet and spicy oranges and carrots

Orange-carrot salad on a blue plate
I cheated and used slices from a purchased Cara Cara
orange for this display. My oranges are in the salad.
(Photos: Kathy Morrison)

Are your oranges ripening yet? My Washington navels are just starting to, and they're getting a burst of sweetness from the cold mornings lately.

I wanted to feature the first of the harvest in a bright salad that didn't taste anything like the foods I've been cooking this past week. This recipe, which I adapted from one on the New York Times Cooking site, fills the bill beautifully. The flavor influences, NYT says, are Moroccan, but it seemed fairly plain to me. I added cracked coriander seed and a bit of cayenne, as suggested by some of the site's users, and the flavors perked up immediately. Taste and adjust as you like.

By the way, do you know how to tell when oranges are ripe? The best indication is that the orange is no longer baseball-hard -- the rind gives a bit when you gently squeeze the outside of the orange. Of course, tasting helps, too: Try one before doing any harvesting. But oranges keep best on the tree, not on the counter, so pick only what you intend to use soon.

Carrot salad with oranges and dates

Serves 4 as a side dish

Ingredients:

3 to 4 fresh oranges, depending on size (most of mine weigh 4 ounces), washed

2 cups grated carrots, from about 4 large trimmed and peeled carrots

4 to 6 dates, pitted, each sliced lengthwise and cut into 8 pieces

1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling

1/4 teaspoon or more cracked or ground coriander seed

Dash of ground white pepper

Dash of cayenne (optional)

Grated carrots
Grating the carrots yourself does keep them juicy, but
I see advantages to buying pre-grated carrots.
(No scraped knuckles, for one.)

Instructions:

Combine the prepared carrots and cut-up dates in a large bowl. Juice one of the oranges to get at least 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice. (If desired, grate the orange first and save the zest for sprinkling at the end.)

In a small bowl, make the dressing: Whisk together the lemon juice, the 3 tablespoons orange juice and the olive oil until you have a good emulsion. (Add a touch more oil if desired.) Stir in the 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, the coriander, white pepper and (if using) the cayenne. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Set aside.

Remove the pith and peel from a second orange. Using a sharp knife (serrated works well), cut the sections away from the membranes, holding the orange above a bowl to catch the juice. Cut these "supremes" into two or three pieces, depending on size, and add to the carrot-date mixture.

Stir the dressing again, then add about half of it to the carrot mixture. Toss together, then check the flavors; add more dressing as desired.

Orange cut up
Making "supremes" from the orange is easier with a
serrated knife.

Slice the remaining orange or oranges into thin rounds. Cut these in half and arrange on a plate or platter for serving. (I had a purchased Cara Cara orange on hand, so I cheated and used it for the display -- the fruit is so pretty when cut.)

Using a slotted spoon, lift the carrot mixture from the bowl and arrange on the plate in the middle of the orange slices. Sprinkle the salad with a bit more dressing and cinnamon and, if using, some orange zest. Serve.

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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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