There’s a scene in the Hollywood remake City of Angels that’s indelibly etched in my memory.
The heroine is making a breakfast fruit salad for her lover, which sounds simple enough, but there’s nothing ordinary about this moment. She sinks her soul into the process and brings the viewer with her. We are meticulously drawn in to the color, texture and taste of her experience. The most memorable moment comes when she hand squeezes fresh orange segments all over the bowl, the explosive juices unbound and running glory over the fruit.
It’s been almost 17 years since I watched that movie, and that scene, that otherwise innocuous moment, has done more to ignite my culinary appetite than any other.
Fast forward two decades and here we are with a beautiful mandarin tree that is now rendering gorgeous, juice-filled fruit with skin that rolls off almost effortlessly.
We watched with hopefulness through the summer as the tiny dark pigmented fruit grew a little each day and mother nature took its course helping the globes graduate through deliberate shades of green, yellow and orange.
One thing we’ve discovered about harvesting mandarin is that sharp garden shears are necessary to properly release the fruit. If you try to hand pick the fruit by pulling it away from the branch, the way you would an apple or lemon for example, it will actually rip the skin off the orange at the tip, leaving it behind on the tree, something like so:
To avoid this, we simply snip mandarin-heavy branches off the tree and then unmold the fruit when we are ready to eat them.
Growth is eventually so prolific that regular harvesting becomes necessary to avoid spoilage. We share with neighbors, incorporate the fruit into recipes and juice like the best of the west coast crunchies.
There are few things quite as delicious as freshly squeezed mandarin juice (great insurance policy against winter colds too). My husband filled four large mason jars worth over the weekend (though not hand squeezed).
Surrounded by these fragrant, Vitamin C-rich beauties, I couldn’t help but create a cleansing winter salad for you.
I wanted something that allowed the mandarin to shine and enhance rather than detract from its taste and beauty. I opted for fennel bulb and angel hair coleslaw (another bow to the movie perhaps) and bejeweled the whole affair with another seasonal beauty, pomegranate.
It all comes together in a zingy citrus-ginger dressing that is rather irresistible.
By the way, the movie is memorable for another reason. You see, we also happened to have our brand new six-week-old baby boy in the theater with us that afternoon. He slept (yes, you might say like an angel) on a soft blanket nestled between us.
You just never know the potential of an ordinary moment to transform into the extraordinary.
- FOR THE SALAD
- 3 cups angel hair coleslaw (from finely shredded light green cabbage)
- 1 fennel bulb, ends snipped (you can reserve for soup) and bulb chopped into bite-sized pieces
- ½ cup arils (pomegranate seed)
- 4 juicy seasonal mandarin, peeled and divided into segments
- handful of fresh delicate greens of choice
- FOR THE CITRUS-GINGER DRESSING
- 2 Tbsp fresh mandarin juice
- 2 Tbsp white rice vinegar (substitute cider vinegar)
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp sesame seed oil
- 1 heaping tsp grainy Dijon mustard
- 1 nub fresh ginger, grated (about 2 tsp or to taste)
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
- pinch of sea salt and coarse black pepper to taste
- Place angel hair coleslaw (or finely shredded light green cabbage) into a large mixing bowl.
- Add chopped fennel pieces to the same bowl.
- In a small container with fitted lid, combine citrus-ginger dressing ingredients: mandarin juice, vinegar, oils, mustard, ginger, garlic, salt and pepper. Close the lid and shake the contents. Be sure to taste the dressing and make any taste adjustments desired.
- With your mandarin segments and pom seeds ready, whisk or shake the dressing a final time before drizzling most of it over the coleslaw/fennel, reserving some for topping.
- Mix the coleslaw/fennel and dressing together to integrate flavors.
- Divide salad mixture among four bowls or plates and top with pom seeds, mandarin segments and greens of choice.
- Add a final drizzle of dressing to the top of each salad as desired.
2) Pomegranate seeds are now also widely available for purchase but I find they do not last very long before spoiling and I have never been disappointed with the freshness, color or taste of seeds drawn directly from the fruit. Despite the minor mess potential from extracting the seeds, I find it well worth the small inconvenience.
3) Keep in mind that the citrus-ginger dressing is slightly less sour/acidic than a traditional vinaigrette and slightly sweeter. I find it a refreshing change and one that works well in this salad but if you prefer savory/sour, just go lighter on the fruit juice and allow the vinegar to take over.
4) For the greens, you can work with fresh chopped herbs or salad greens of choice - we found peppery arugula (rocket) to be a particularly welcome addition here.