I love oranges. That sticky feeling as the sweet juice dribbles down your chin. The decision as to how many slices to cut it into. The inevitable orange skin mouthguard or dracula teeth. They bring back memories of halftime in rugby as a kid; that muddy exhausted feeling where you felt if you just had one more orange slice who knew what superhuman feat might happen back on the field. I remember the afternoons when you’d come home from school to find that mum or dad had bought a crate of oranges and you just knew you’d be having orange juice for breakfast, oranges in your lunch box and oranges for afternoon tea, but you’d still want more. I remember driving around Queensland with G shortly before we starting living together and finding vendors by the side of the road with so much produce they didn’t know what to do with it. Eating them with a pineapple from that same street vendor in the dusty carpark of a camp site with the person you loved and being intensely satisfied by the simplicity of what you were eating. However, since moving to the UK, I’ve found it hard to replicate those same intensely satisfying orangey feelings – whereas oranges in Australia are amazing, oranges in the UK are simply nice. Reflections of an ideal orange, memories, but not the real thing. This salad has changed all that. With a little help from some friends, it covers up all the blemishes of a UK orange and creates the kind of salad which transports me back to those rich memories. Refreshing, delicious, simple. So simple I almost feel guilty sharing it here as a recipe. But then if you enjoy it half as much as I do it’s worth sharing.
This salad has very few ingredients so the balance and the seasoning are quite important. Unfortunately, not all oranges are the same. Some are stickily sweet with hardly any tartness or acid and others have a harsh note to them. How much vinegar you need to add depends a lot on this so you do need to taste the dressing as you go. It may sound silly to say, but I’ve seen a lot of people taste dressing by tasting it on its own. It’s much easier to tell if the balance is right by dipping a piece of lettuce into it – no dressing tastes nice on its own!
There’s only one other little cheffy twist. There’s a technique for segmenting oranges. First you cut the peel/pith away from the orange, keeping it whole. Then, once the flesh is completely exposed you cut vertically right next to the visible membrane on the outside of the segment. Cut again on the other side of the segment before the beginning of the next segment. Here’s a video to help as it can be a little hard to explain. You’ll then be able to slide out segments which don’t have tough membranes. It makes all the difference to this orange salad, I promise you. That way they’re soft and unctuous – just make sure not to leave in any pips!
It’s a really simple orange salad recipe – but I hope you like it as much as me. Try it with Chicken Pastilla, Tahini crusted beef or jazzed up couscous – it’s the perfect foil for rich dishes, cutting through them and making the whole meal feel light as air.
- 1 orange – segmented (see above for the tip)
- 4 baby gem lettuce, root removed and separated into leaves
- 2 shallots, minced
- red wine vinegar
- extra virgin olive oil
- bunch of mint, finely chopped
- Segment the orange over a bowl so as to capture all the juice. Once you finished segmenting the orange squeeze all the remaining juice over the orange segments. Season with a good pinch of salt and some black pepper.
- Add the shallots, do mince them as finely as you’re able and the mint. Stir to combine
- Add the olive oil and the red wine vinegar. I haven’t given any quantities because it varies depending on the juiciness of the orange and so in testing I found the quantities more harm than good. Basic principle is you want about 2:3:1 orange juice:oil:vinegar. But life is too short for measurements here – this is a simple orange salad. Boldly slosh in some olive oil and add about a third as much red wine vinegar. Whisk to emulsify and taste it. If it tastes oily, then you need a bit more vinegar and probably a little salt. If it tastes too sharp then add a little olive oil and if you’ve still got some, maybe a little orange juice. Remember it’s better to go lighter with olive oil and vinegar than heavier as you can always add more. It will never quite thicken as much as some dressings because of the orange juice.
- Drizzle the dressing, shallots and orange slices over the lettuce leaves and serve immediately.
TimedEating tips and Tricks for cooking ahead
- Much as I love to give tips for making ahead – unfortunately this one is a simple salad and has to be made last minute. Only thing I will say is you can make all the dressing in advance, including segmenting the orange and simply toss with separated leaves last minute.
- One small tip – try refreshing the lettuce leaves in iced water for 10 minutes before drying on paper towels. It makes them extra crisp and plump.