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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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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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