Blood Oranges and Kitchen Intrigue

The blood orange is a violent-seeming fruit. Slice it open and it bleeds whereas other oranges simply dribble or, at worst, spray in offense. Even the name – no –because of its name, the blood orange stands out, conjuring images of food gone awry. Written on a sign in the produce store – “Blood Oranges $1.99/lb” – they come across as menacing in a manner Kiwis or pears could never manage. Who could ever take kumquats seriously as a threat?

Despite the fear factor, blood oranges are one of the high points of the winter. Their season is shorter than those of other oranges – or perhaps all the other oranges simply run together and it seems they’re available longer – but blood oranges are the ones whose absence I notice first. It’s difficult not to.

Squeeze yourself a glass of blood orange juice and it looks as if a terrible crime has been committed in your kitchen. “We never saw it coming, officer. It all happened so quickly,” and the splatters on the counter, on the cutting board, and against the wall all testify to the violence of the scene. A blood orange was squeezed here and the cook will never be the same again. A glass of blood orange juice conjures images of horror, of luxury, of perversion. Neither beets nor pomegranates can match a ripe blood orange for drama.

Because of that, they are also one of the most alluring of citrus fruits. The variety I seem to encounter most this season is what I believe is called the Moro. Round and pungently red, it has few if any seeds and its sweet tart flavor carries – at least I think – vague notes of vanilla. I have been squeezing them into everything: sauces, dressings, baked goods. Tonight, I used blood orange in black bean sauce for stir-fried vegetables and noodles.

I love black bean sauce but have been adding orange juice and zest to mine for years. The sweet acid offers a needed counterpoint to the salty, earthy flavor, lifting it above what you usually find adorning your standard plate of beef chow fun. Even more, I love the contrast – not just in taste, but in context. Blood orange juice and black bean sauce seem so far removed from one another – Mediterranean and Chinese, murky and bright – but they marry beautifully producing a deeply flavored sauce.

Matchstick vegetables and noodles in blood orange black bean sauce

Make the sauce first so that the flavors have time to mingle while you prepare the rest of the meal.

Black bean sauce

1 heaping tablespoon preserved black beans
1 clove of garlic, mashed and minced
1 teaspoon grated ginger
Zest of half a small blood orange
Juice of a whole blood orange
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shao Xing rice wine
½ teaspoon sugar

  • Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, mashing the beans with a spoon and stirring several times to bring all the elements together. Set aside.

Noodles

8 ounces Udon or similar style noodles

  • Boil and drain the noodles, rinsing them under cold water. Set aside in a strainer or colander to continue draining.

Vegetables

1 medium carrot, peeled, cut into matchsticks about 2 inches long (see notes)
1 stalk broccoli, peeled, cut into matchsticks about 2 inches long (see notes)
3 scallions, white parts chopped fine, green ends cut into 2-inch lengths
1 quarter-sized slice of ginger
1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil

The best way to produce matchstick cuts of carrots – and broccoli stems, as you’ll see – is to slice the peeled carrot much as you normally would to make ¼-inch thick rounds except this time you’ll cut them on a diagonal, producing elongated slices. Then, following the length of the carrot slices cut them into ¼-inch thick sticks.

For the broccoli, trim off the florets fairly close to the dark green buds on the top. Now, trim off the scabbed end at bottom, as well as the stalk’s protruding branches. Grab a vegetable peeler, and peel off the stalk’s thick skin. Beneath, you’ll find the stalk’s tender, jade colored flesh. Now cut it into matchsticks the same way you did with the carrot.

  • Over a high flame, heat your wok or large skillet until hot and add the oil.
  • Toss in the ginger slice and stir fry for about 30 seconds, then discard it.
  • Add the carrot sticks and the chopped onion whites to the wok and stir fry for 30 seconds.
  • Add the broccoli sticks to the carrot and onion mixture, stir them about for another 30 seconds or so, and then add the remaining broccoli florets and onion greens.
  • Add the black bean sauce, and continue cooking – still stirring everything in the pot rapidly – for about another two minutes.
  • Add the drained noodles to the pot, tossing them until they’re well coated with the sauce and the vegetables and noodles are nicely blended together. Serve hot.

Makes two servings.

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