I live on the East Coast. Winter sets in with dull, grey, bone-chilling cold days. Since I can’t always jet off to a tropical paradise for a break from winter blahs, what’s a girl to do? I take my pale-face to the market and pick up some mandarin oranges. They’re like my own personal dose of sunshine, as well as a bit nostalgic since my mother used to put them in the toes of our stockings at Christmas.
The fruit of the mandarin tree, native to China and Indochina, this splendidly sweet orange was, for a long time, known only to Asia. Its name comes from the fact that its richly colored rind is the same as that of the robes worn by the public officials of the Chinese empire…the mandarins.
Despite three thousand years of cultivation in China, the mandarin was not introduced to Europe and America until the 19th century. It didn’t take long for the world to realize what a jewel this yummy fruit was…now it is cultivated in the Mediterranean basin, Japan, Brazil and Spain.
The mandarin resembles a small, slightly flattened orange, with an easy-to-peel rind and the most delicate, incredibly sweet, succulent flesh, divided into small segments that come apart easily. It is, in my opinion, the most sensual of all oranges (except maybe the blood orange, but that’s another story). Less acidic than most other citrus fruit, the mandarin can be found in both seedless and seeded varieties.
From the mandarin, many hybrids were bred…the tangerine (from the mandarin and the bitter orange) is named for Tangier, the Moroccan port which was its main port of departure…the clementine, (also a cross between the mandarin and the bitter orange), named for Father Clement Dozier, a French missionary living in Algeria, who created this hybrid at the beginning of the 20th century…the Satsuma mandarin, a Japanese variety that is very small and virtually seedless (and oh, so yummy), to name a few.
The mandarin orange is at its best when the fruit is unblemished and a bit heavy for its size and free of spots, mold and overly soft areas. Most frequently eaten out of hand, with no enhancements necessary, mandarins can also be added to fruit salads, sauces and are simply splendid in sweet and sour dishes. Used to decorate cakes, puddings and pies, mandarins also add a unique touch to main courses when you want a bit of zesty flavor to enliven the dish. And then there’s the peel…less bitter than oranges, the peel requires less pressure when zesting and adds a delicately sweet flavor to any dish.
An excellent source of vitamin C and A, potassium, and folic acid, mandarins are at their best when consumed as fresh as possible, but will keep, refrigerated, for 1-2 weeks.
If you can’t find mandarins, choose tangerines, clementines or a simple naval orange to bring some sunshine into your life.
Mandarin Orange Tart with Caramel Sauce
I love these sweet oranges. I put them in salads, add their luscious juice to sauces, or simply munch on them. But when I really want to showcase their stunning beauty and yummy flavor, I make this tart.
Makes 1, 11-inch tart
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
pinch sea salt
1/3 cup avocado oil
cold spring or filtered water
2 cups oat or soy milk
1 cup plain amasake
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons brown rice syrup
1/3 cup fresh mandarin orange juice
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
grated zest of 1 mandarin orange
3 tablespoons kuzu or arrowroot, dissolved in small amount blood orange juice
6-8 mandarin oranges
brown rice syrup
Preheat oven to 350o and lightly oil an 11-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
Mix flour, salt and oil together, with a fork, until the texture of wet sand forms. Slowly add water, mixing just until the flour gathers into a smooth ball of dough. Knead 3-4 times just to gather dough together. Roll dough out between two sheets of parchment to be 1-inch larger than the pan. Fit crust into pan, without stretching, gently pressing it into all the curves of the pan. Cut away excess crust flush with the top of the rim. Pierce in several places with a fork. Cover loosely with foil and bake for 7 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until crust is firm and lightly browned, 7-8 minutes more. Set aside to cool.
Make the custard by combining milk, amasake, vanilla and rice syrup in a saucepan and cooking over low heat until warmed through. Add orange juice, lemon juice and orange zest to the pan and cook for 1 minute. Stir in dissolved kuzu, stirring until the mixture thickens, 3-4 minutes. Spoon into a heat-resistant bowl and cover with plastic. Set aside to cool.
When the crust and custard have cooled to room temperature, loosen the custard with a whisk. Spread evenly in pie shell, filling abundantly.
For the topping, peel the oranges, removing all the pith. Separate the oranges naturally into their sections. Arrange orange slices over the custard in concentric circles, covering completely. Remove tart from pan. Bring rice syrup to a boil over high heat, cooking until it foams. Spoon over orange tart to cover the fruit completely, allowing the glaze to run over the sides. Allow to stand for 10-15 minutes before slicing into wedges.
Cook’s Tip: If you can’t find amasake, a fermented sweet rice milk, simply use an additional cup of oat or soy milk.