Adventures in Cooking: Zesty oranges

Majida Rashid

My father always touted how vitamin C in oranges protects us from getting a cold or flu. He would cut an orange, girth-wise, into quarters and then suck the juice leaving behind the skin and empty pulp. This little trick of juicing with teeth, as I call it, takes a little practice but it makes it easier to consume more oranges in less time. Cutting the orange from the peduncle extremity, where it has been attached to the branch, would not expose the flesh like my father’s method did.

On snowy days, my father also suggested heating the oranges a little. We would gather in his room, someone would bring a kerosene stove and place a big water-filled aluminum pot on the burner. We would lower the oranges in the simmering water. Upon the first boil, oranges, like buoys, would bob up and down, an indication that they should be removed. This made it easier to consume the fruit that otherwise got extremely cold due to lack of central heating. On sunny days we would sit in the courtyard with our back to the sun and snack on oranges.

Oranges were sold by the hundreds in the vegetable bazaar of Abbottabad, Pakistan. I was in my teens when for the first time I discovered that one could buy oranges by the dozen as well. Later, I would purchase them by weight.

A variety known as “red blood” was also popular at home but they were not always available. Haripur, which is about a two-hour drive from Abbottabad, was the only city in what was called the Hazara district of Pakistan that grew these oranges. They were thin-skinned and taut and their sweet reddish juice dripped on white plates when grownups quartered them. My fascination with their red flesh gave way to me feeling uncomfortable because their juice made my hands messy. Only a decade or so ago I noticed oranges with colored flesh appearing ubiquitously in American supermarkets.

Then came keenu, which is a cross between an orange and a tangerine, and they are easy to peel because of their soft skin. It was said that they were developed in California, though I never saw keenu in California markets.

Growing up I ate oranges only in the winter but my horizon broadened when I lived in countries where food was imported from around the world. Now, in addition to being available throughout the year, oranges also come in several varieties.

In Pakistan I thought oranges were either eaten or made into marmalade. Seville oranges are the best for making marmalade because they are high in pectin, which gives a thick texture and imparts a wonderfully bitter flavor to marmalade. I do not like jams but I can have bittersweet marmalade any time.

Middle Eastern countries further expanded my perspective on oranges. Even though I immediately took to Egyptian orange candied rind because they reminded me of marmalade, it took a while to appreciate the full bodied, rich and sweet-scented orange flower water that Moroccan and Lebanese cooks use to flavor desserts, salads and drinks. Due to its nectar-like concentration, only a few drops are sufficient to flavor a dish. Restaurants there mostly served only freshly squeezed orange juice. In its absence, the serving staff, after apologizing, would ask if it was okay to serve the juice from a carton. There is nothing more refreshing than freshly squeezed orange juice. Adding a dash of black pepper brings out the sweetness.

In my experience oranges are the one fruit which, despite their thick skin, ooze out the smell of pesticide used on orange trees.

Flavedo, the orange-colored skin, contains oil glands that develop when the fruit starts taking shape and expand to store oil as the orange grows bigger. Orange oil or limonene squirts outwards when we remove the skin and fills the atmosphere with a beautiful zesty scent. The oil that we cherish so much is toxic to organisms that are harmful to the fruit. Flavedo works like a waxed polyester sheet and protects the fruit from the environment and insects. Parenchyma tissues and thin cells, with the capacity to grow and divide, reside in the softer pith also called albedo and transfer nutrients to the flesh.

I thought the best way to peel an orange was to lightly score around the top in a circle with the tip of a small sharp knife. Discard the circle and then delicately score the skin from one side all the way to the other. Repeat in the opposite direction so that the rind is scored in four quarters. Peel the skin using the thumb and forefinger. The problem was that sometimes my thumb would hurt. That is until I saw my landlady in Iran peel an orange. After quartering the skin, as described above, she would gently score the pith around the circumference on the top. This made it easier to grab the skin before detaching it.

Egyptian Candied Orange Peel

Servings: 2


Skin of 2 oranges, quartered

1/2 teaspoon whole cloves

1/4 cup granulated sugar


Place the skin and cloves in a pan and cover them with water. Boil for 15-20 minutes or until the skin softens. Drain the water and spread the peels on a tray lined with paper towel for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Cut each quarter into 3-4 long strips and coat with sugar on both sides. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Enjoy with coffee!