Indispensable in continental breakfast, it is the twist in a screwdriver and the soul of a classic marmalade- oranges have travelled a long way through time and geography to become an permanent fixture in world’s food menu and traditions.
Now the most commonly grown fruit tree in the world, oranges are said to have originated in South East Asia, with records indicating that they were being grown in china as early as 2500 BC. But this sub-tropical fruit was first used for its perfumed skin rather than taste as its peel contains aromatic oils. Which is also the reason the zest is a great taste enhancer, highlighting the natural orange flavour in dishes. It’s worth keeping in mind that the oils are present only in the outer zest, and not the pith, which is quite bitter. So if you would like to make the most of the fragrant zest, stop before you hit the bitter pith. However, that doesn’t rule it out its edibility. Despite its bitterness, the pith is essential in making marmalade – as it contains pectin, which helps give a firm set to the preserve.
The world over there are over 600 varieties of oranges- too many to name but here are some of the famous ones:
Clementine: Deep orange, smooth and glossy on the outside, seedless inside, Clementines are sweet and juicy.
Seville oranges: The eye-watering tartness of these oranges means it is near impossible to eat them on their own, Seville oranges are perfect for turning into marmalade.
Bergamot oranges: This Italian native is known to flavour the delectable Earl Grey tea, or at least its peel does.
Blood oranges: More a red than orange, these sweet sensations make superb juice. It’s mainly grown in Italy and across the Mediterranean.
Navel oranges: There’s a miniature orange sitting atop the main fruit which gives them this unusual name! Because they’re seedless, these oranges are great in salads.
Nagpur oranges: Tangy, firm and juicy, this fruit can be used in salads as well as for cooking.
Eaten as a fruit or juiced, oranges are refreshing, fragrant and a great source of vitamin C. But there is more than what meets the eye with this versatile fruit- be it jazzing up a salad or put the tang in a Fuzzy Navel, or contrast the rich flavour of meat. Yes, you read that right- you can pair oranges (or components of it) with meat to create a balanced but delicious combination of flavours. One of the classic French dishes is born out of such a combination is the Canard à l’Orange- roast duck with orange sauce. Given the interplay of contrasting flavours, certain combinations have become age-old classics, like Pork and apple; lamb and apricots, lemon and chicken and so on.
The journey from the tree to the cooking pot has been long and circuitous. As a fruit that originated in South East Asia, orange was transformed into a cooking ingredient of note by the Persians, who loved (and still do) to cook with fruit. Delicately julienned orange peel is an important ingredient of the Javaher Polow, the crowning glory of a Persian feast. A colourful and aromatic rice preparation, it is a must in all important festivals and occasions in Iran.
Cooking with fruit is not an unknown practice in the Middle Eastern kitchens and given that our own Mughlai cuisine has a heavy Persian influence, one would think that using fruits for cooking savoury dishes will be more common place. However, this is not the case.
“Fruits are not generally a part of inherited Indian cuisine. And the times they are used it is desserts, Bananas; Pomegranates were used in some areas in cooking and grapes in some…” explains Chef Nimish Bhatia, Regional Executive Chef at the Lalit Ashok.
However, times are changing and Chef Bhatia is in on it. After successfully experimenting with mangoes and strawberries in the past, he is now busy finalising a brand new exciting menu at the picturesque Svasara resort near Nagpur. The theme? You guessed it- Oranges.
However, one may think that the choice of the central ingredient would limit the scope of the menu to a sweet fare. Not so, says Bhatia, who has used the orange and all its properties to create a medley of flavours- “I have combined all the elements of orange, with its vivid colour, wonderful aroma, texture of the segments and also the tangy taste. Now with all these properties, I have tried to do many dishes from an amuse bouché to a main course and of course a dessert in various cuisines.”
And he is not breaking the bank to import expensive foreign variety but experimenting with the local Nagpur oranges. “Nagpur grows some of the best oranges in India, the skin is firm and the orange segments have a very nice texture…they are very juicy also.” And these juicy beauties have helped him create quite a few interesting dishes.
On the menu are Murg boti aur santara masala, citrus and baby spinach salad with a tamarind dressing, orange zest flavoured tandoori prawns, santara biryani and orange rasgullas.
If these names set your taste buds tingling, you can sample these at Svasara Resort in Tadoba, which is situated at the Kolara Gate at Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra. The luxury chain is committed to conservation, local community development, quality, and delivering value to its customers. Located close to Nagpur, this resort is the perfect setting for a tangerine menu, which uses local produce and celebrates the best of the region.
“We believe every destination has its own distinct identity; hence, the inherent inspiration comes from the local culture (regional varadi cuisine) as well as the local eco system (Tadoba forest and Nagpur area’s abundant orange orchards). Nagpur, 100 kms from Svasara-Tadoba is often called the Orange City as it serves as a major trade centre for oranges that are cultivated in the region,” explains Ratika Sinha, Director, Svasara Resorts.
This seasonal menu was launched in March 2012 and will be available in the months from October to December and February to March.
If you are in a mood for a holiday that is geared to give your taste buds something to remember by, Svasara may be a good place to go. But if you still are not convinced, try out Chef Bhatia’s recipes and it may just whet your appetite enough to take a trip.
Recipes : Nimish Bhatia for Svasara Resorts
Text : Prerna Uppal
Concept and Photography : Sanjay Ramchandran
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Category: Culinary Gene