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The humble orange

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Alby Hailes30 July 2020

As we move well beyond the Winter solstice and start to claw back those stolen daylight hours, the Hawke’s Bay citrus harvest continues in abundance. While I always look forward to this fruiting season, it also fills me with sadness as I sight the countless citrus trees that are neglected by their proprietors — luscious, vitamin-rich fruit left to fall to the ground and rot to waste.

To anyone reading this column who owns a fruiting citrus tree — please utilise your crop.

Make citrus curds, sauces, chutneys, and preserves; share with your friends, neighbours, and workmates; donate to food banks and community groups.

This week our focus is on the humble sweet orange, Citrus sinensis, commonly known as Valencia or Navel oranges. Oranges are a hybrid between the pomelo (a type of grapefruit) and mandarin.

Historical evidence suggests that sweet oranges were first documented in India/China around 300 BC, and it is thought they did not reach Europe until the 14th century. This contrasts with bitter oranges which were globally ubiquitous in the first and second centuries. These days, Brazil is the world’s primary producer of oranges, producing 20-30% of the global orange supply.

Like most citrus trees, oranges are reasonably autonomous plants. Here are some useful tips to ensure successful growth and healthy produce:

  • Oranges do best in mild or warm climate zones, especially in regions like Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne, Northland – but they can be grown in most New Zealand climates.
  • Trees from nurseries will often come in large plastic pots – ensure the trees do not stay in these pots for too long as they can become root-bound which will stunt growth. It is best to transplant into a large well-drained/aerated pot rich in compost, or into the ground, ideally in sandy/loam soil.
  • Young trees are best planted in early autumn or spring to avoid the winter cold and summer heat. Plant in a sunny spot with access to rainfall.
  • Organic citrus fertiliser should be given in Spring/Summer to promote flowering and fruiting. Place fertiliser at the ‘drip-line’ of roots, which lies under the outer foliage, as opposed to at the base of the tree.
  • If there is low rainfall, then a decent water once a week is ample, and increase watering during the summer months if soil is becoming dry.
  • Yellowing leaves are a sign of magnesium deficiency – apply Epsom salts to the soil where the leaves extend to.
  • Harvest timing varies for different types of oranges – while most oranges, including Navel, are harvested over Winter, Valencia fruits are harvested over the Summer months. This means that if you have one Navel and one Valencia tree you will have orange production all year round.
  • Once ripe (you will know this by tasting one of the fruits), use secateurs to cut stems close to the fruit when harvesting – do not just pull the fruit off as this can damage the plant.

While people often think of oranges in their most pure forms, either eaten fresh or squeezed into orange juice, they are a killer ingredient to use in both sweet and savoury cooking. The juice brings a deep fruity sweetness and mild acidity, and the zest is incredibly fragrant and flavourful. They are high in Vitamin C, essential for immunity, healing, bone/muscle formation and the absorption of other nutrients (e.g. iron).

The recipe below showcases the versatility of the orange in savoury cooking, where its sweetness/acidity balances and enhances this delicious curry.

Orange & Coriander Beef Curry with coconut & cumin rice

Ingredients (serves 4)

Curry:

  • 2 Tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 Tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 Tbsp fennel seeds
  • 2 Tbsp poppy seeds
  • 1 Tbsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 2 Tbsp oil (canola or coconut)
  • 2 large onions, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp ground garam masala
  • 800g chuck or blade steak, fat trimmed and cut into 2cm chunks
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp cracked black pepper
  • finely grated zest of 2 oranges
  • 400ml can coconut cream
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 Tbsp chopped fresh coriander
  • juice of 2 oranges

Coconut & Cumin Rice:

  • 2 Tbsp oil (canola or coconut)
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 ½ cups (300g) basmati rice
  • 400ml can coconut cream
  • ½ cup (125ml) cold water

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan-forced).
  • To make the curry, place a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the coriander, cumin, fennel, poppy and mustard seeds. Dry toast the seeds for 1 minute until fragrant and starting to brown. Transfer to a pestle and mortar (or spice grinder).
  • Place the oil in the frying pan over medium heat and once hot, add the sliced onions and sauté for 5 minutes until starting to soften. While the onions are cooking, using the pestle and mortar grind the toasted seeds to a reasonably fine powder.
  • Add the chopped garlic and chilli to the pan with the onions and fry-off for a further minute. Add the ground seeds (that you have worked so hard on!), ginger, turmeric and garam masala, and stir through.
  • Add the beef chunks, salt and pepper to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes until lightly browned. Stir through the grated orange zest and cook for a further 30 seconds.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the contents to a casserole/ovenproof dish. Add the remaining ingredients, excluding the juice of 1 orange – leave this to the side as you will stir this through the curry at the end of cooking.
  • Cover with a lid, place in the pre-heated oven and cook for approx. 2 – 2 ½ hours until the meat is tender, giving it a stir at halfway (you can add a little water if desired but the sauce should end up quite thick).
  • Start cooking the coconut rice 30 minutes before the curry will be ready. Place the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and once hot, add the cumin seeds and garlic and fry for 1-2 minutes until fragrant and the garlic is starting to turn golden brown. Add the rice, coconut cream and water to the pot and stir once to combine. Place the lid on the pot (ideally do NOT remove the lid off the pot during the cooking process) and place on the stovetop over high heat to bring to the boil.
  • As soon as the pot is boiling vigorously, reduce the temperature to low and leave to simmer for 10 minutes. Then turn the element off and leave the rice to stand (with the lid still on) for a further 10 minutes. Remove the lid from the pot and fluff up the rice with a fork.
  • Once your curry is finished cooking and the meat is tender, remove from the oven and stir through the remaining orange juice that you set aside earlier.

Serve your curry hot with the coconut & cumin rice, extra fresh coriander, and a dollop of natural unsweetened yoghurt.

For this recipe and more, visit www.treatrightnz.com or follow @treatrightnz on Instagram.

More BayBuzz articles

Alby Hailes30 July 2020

One response to “The humble orange”

  1. Nita says:

    I drive by so many laden citrus trees on many properties And I would love to see them putting out their excess crops on the road for anyone to pick up.

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