Warming up to the tangy taste of Southern gold: grapefruit

February 24, 2010|By Rob Kasper

Iwas out in the alley digging through the lunar landscape of snow, when I accidentally hit the button on my cell phone and rang my brother-in-law in Arizona. I was up to my keister in cold, as I heard that the temperature in Phoenix was headed toward 80 degrees. Ouch! I switched the conversation to citrus.

In keeping with family tradition, the Arizonans had shipped us boxes of oranges and grapefruit. It is payback for the crabs we Marylanders feed them in the summer.

Our snowbound household had already polished off the oranges. Later that night after the shoveling had temporarily paused, I sat in the kitchen with a hot pad on my sore back, eyeing the grapefruit. Time to bring a little sunshine, I told myself, into our gloomy winter.

I went gung-ho for the grapefruit, putting it in salads, using it in a salad dressing, sticking it in sweet potatoes, adding it to a mustard sauce for grilled chicken. It even appeared twice as a dessert, once as a Jamaican dish of grapefruit sections coated with sweetened condensed milk, another time as an ice. Yes, an ice; since I was surrounded by ice, I figured it was worth trying to eat a version of it.

Of the half-dozen dishes I tried, three of them - the sweet potatoes, the Jamaican dessert and the ice, were keepers.

There are two caveats that go with working with grapefruit. First, most of the decent recipes require sectioning a grapefruit, a process that is almost as tedious and labor-intensive as shoveling snow off a sidewalk. Almost. The first time I sectioned a grapefruit - cutting off the skin with a sharp knife, then removing the membranes on each section of the fruit with the edge of sharp knife - I lost about half the fruit. But by the third or fourth grapefruit, I was slicing through them like a hot knife through butter.

The other caveat is that not everybody likes grapefruit. Its flavor is "bracing," as "Joy of Cooking" put it. Its juice can be a lively substitute for some of the vinegar used to make a salad dressing. But the juice has a distinct sharpness. My wife and I liked a salad dressing made with grapefruit juice, but our older son, an avid eater, backed away from it. For him it was too acidic.

My winter gloom seemed like it could be alleviated by a dose or two of grapefruit.

I looked over the work of the grapefruit propaganda machines in Florida and Texas that churn out stacks of recipes using the fruit.

Some of these recipes, I surmised, had trouble traveling to the frozen North. For instance, the grapefruit salsa I found on the Florida Department of Citrus Web site, which substitutes grapefruit sections for tomatoes, struck me as a dish you would make if you had a backyard full of grapefruit trees. Right now, thanks to 80 inches of snow, I can't even see most of my backyard.

But the sweet potato dish - mixing sweetened grapefruit with mashed sweet potatoes - was appealing to me, in part because this dish, unlike our weather, was warm and welcoming. I baked some sweet potatoes, peeled them and mashed them with butter, then mixed in a sauce made with grapefruit, brown sugar and dark rum. I like rum, but I added too much - 3 tablespoons instead of 1 1/2 . That can happen in the winter when you are holed up in the kitchen: You hit the sauce.

The grilled chicken entree, basically adding grapefruit juice to a mustard sauce served with the bird, was so-so. I liked the mustard component but couldn't see the point of adding grapefruit juice, unless, as I said before, you had an excess number of them.

Jamaica, it turns out, is another stronghold of citrus. As Enid Donaldson, author of a "The Real Taste of Jamaica," writes in her cookbook, the natives claim their fruit is "so sweet it scratch yu throat." Her recipe for grapefruit delight, sections of grapefruit covered with sweetened condensed milk, was a hit. Pouring on the sweetened milk might add calories, but, hey, when you spend your day shoveling snow, you are in the mood for a treat.

Finally, the big surprise for me was how I warmed to a serving of grapefruit ice. It was simply a mixture of grapefruit juice, sugar, water and salt that was popped into the freezer for a few hours to harden. Served up at the end of a February supper, it was refreshing. This proves, I guess, that if we are encircled by ice, one tactic is to eat it.

Grapefruit Ice
Makes: 1 quart (4 servings)

2 1/2 cup fresh grapefruit juice (3-4 grapefruit)
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon Campari (optional)
1/8 teaspoon salt

Stir all ingredients together in nonreactive bowl to dissolve sugar. Pour the mixture into two ice cube trays and freeze thoroughly, about 2 1/2 hours.

Once frozen, place the desired number of ice cubes (3-4 cubes per person) in a food processor or blender and pulse until smooth. Serve immediately.

From "The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook"

Mashed Grapefruit Sweet Potatoes
Makes: 6 servings

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