Produce harvested at its peak is your sure bet for flavor and freshness.
By Barbara Kobsar | Illustration by Charmaine Koehler-Lodge
Those little golden-orange citrus fruits showing up at the market this month are a pop-in-your-mouth treat, but if kumquats are new to you, don’t let the first bite throw you off. Aficionados eat the kumquat whole to enjoy its juicy explosion of sweet and sour flavors, and some even happily crunch on and swallow the smaller seeds. The kumquat’s intriguing fragrance and surprising sweetness are concentrated in the oil in its thin, tender, edible rind, but the juice is quite tangy by contrast. If you prefer simple sweetness, nibble the skin off the top, squeeze out the juice (use that in a vinaigrette), and pop the rest of the peel in your mouth. To use kumquats in recipes, slice, halve, or chop the fruit and remove the seeds. Keep it savory in salsas, salads, and tagines, or go sweet and make marmalade or candy the fruits for use atop yogurt, in baked goods, or even in a cocktail (see recipes below).
Oh nuts, how do we enjoy all the local nuts that are now in season? It’s easy this month, when nuts are traditional on party trays or in so many holiday recipes. California is the country’s leading producer of almonds, walnuts, pecans, and pistachios, but chestnuts and macadamias are also grown in our state. All nuts are relatively high in fat and can easily turn rancid if they are not used fresh or stored properly. Keep in mind that all types of nuts keep better in their shells than out, better raw than roasted, and better whole than chopped, sliced, or ground. If you intend to store them, place in an airtight container in the fridge.
Start off the new year on a healthy note with cabbage and its low-cal cole-family cousins: broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, collard, kale, and kohlrabi. These are cool-season vegetables (even if they are available year round), and they offer lots of fiber and vitamin C with no fat or cholesterol and very little sodium. Their one common characteristic is a somewhat strong odor emitted during cooking, but that can be minimized by braising, simmering, and steaming rather than boiling the vegetables. Some cooks say that adding a stalk of celery to the cooking pot helps to diminish the odor…. It’s worth a try, anyhow! ♦
Barbara’s Kumquat Salsa
Enjoy with your favorite chips or crackers, or serve with seafood, fish, or chicken. It’s also delicious tucked into a taco.
Makes about 2½ cups
½ pound (about 2 cups) kumquats
1 shallot, diced
1 jalapeño or serrano, diced
Zest and juice from ½ lime
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash kumquats, thinly slice or dice coarsely, and remove the seeds (as desired). Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and serve.
If You Have Kumquats . . . Candy them . . .
Barbara Kobsar, our What’s in Season writer, likes to drop candied kumquats into tea, cocktails, or prosecco. They’re also delicious served with ice cream or yogurt drizzled with chocolate.
1 pound kumquats (about 4 cups)
1 cup water
2 cups cane sugar
Wash kumquats. Halve, slice, or chop (discarding seeds if you like). If leaving whole, poke a few holes in them with a fork.
Add water and sugar to a medium pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring as sugar dissolves. Simmer 3 to 4 minutes. Add kumquats and simmer for 10 minutes.
Drain kumquats in a colander over a bowl. Return syrup to the pan and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, reducing until it coats the back of a spoon. Add kumquats to ¼ cup of the syrup. Serve or place in an airtight container and refrigerate to store for up to 4 weeks.
. . . and make a Winter Traveler
Bull Valley Roadhouse bar manager Tamir Ben-Shalom created this version of a sherry cobbler cocktail so we could enjoy candied kumquats in a drink. He says the wayfaring theme came as he thought about the ingredients: “The brandy’s namesake, the peregrine [wandering] falcon is a wayfarer, and sherry has traveled the seas for centuries. Candied fruit is made to last for long voyages, and Krogstad Festlig Aquavit’s Portland-based maker describes their product as ‘inspired by the first Europeans to reach America’.” He adds, “We must accept morewanderers in our future.”
1 ounce Falcon Spirits Peregrine Immature Brandy
1 ounce manzanilla sherry
.5 ounce Krogstad Festlig Aquavit
2 tablespoons chopped candied kumquat (recipe above)
.25 ounce lemon juice
.25 ounce simple syrup
Shake ingredients well and single strain into glass. Top with pebbled or crushed ice. Garnish with pieces of candied kumquat and a fresh mint sprig. Serve with a julep spoon.
Veteran journalist Barbara Kobsar has authored two cookbooks focusing on traditional home-cooked meals using local produce. You’ll find her each Sunday at the Walnut Creek market and on Saturdays at the Orinda and San Ramon markets selling her Cottage Kitchen jams and jellies made from farmers’ market produce.
Digital designer and staff illustrator Charmaine Koehler-Lodge is a lifelong artist who grows most of her family’s food in their rural Pennsylvania garden.