Jan 30, 2020 12:08AM
By Lesley Stiles
As the month of hearts descends upon us and brings flowers, rain, snow, sunny days, and hopes of spring, life can feel pretty good in the Diablo Valley.
I have been away from my column for awhile due to opening a restaurant in downtown Martinez, Roxx on Main. Rebuilding this business has been an adventure, to say the least. Of course, we got in over our heads even though we had it all figured out. As soon as we started construction, doubt started creeping in and releasing anguish I had previously tucked into an old winter basket. Like the proverbial peeling of life’s onion, nocturnal prowls took up residence in my body and mind and tried to obscure normal pathways of productivity as more and more “ideas” of what would be the best path to completion took hold of contractor and client conversations. Naturally, it took twice as long and cost twice as much to reopen -- months longer than anticipated. It’s a fine dagger line between having profound knowledge of a subject and being merely clever in the execution of a project. It’s an eye-opener for sure and as exciting as being bushwhacked by cupcake bearing orangutans. That’s a good thing -- being a lover of the cupcake. We are having a blast and have been so far well received by the dining and live music community.
Even in chilly, snowy, rainy weather, the sun comes through enough to warm our hearts and clear some of the cobwebs out of the holiday hangover maze in our heads, possibly making room for New Year creations as well as resolutions. Narcissus are the early bloomers, foisting their scent upon anyone possessing a nose. If you are not a bulb grower and these amazing and special baby daffodils aren’t at your fingertips, don’t despair; they are available at farmers’ market stands and awaiting your retrieval for a cute little vase, possibly passed down from a sweet old granny somewhere.
Blessed are we to have endless fresh produce at our year-round farmers’ markets, as I have commented many times in this column. Currently, greens such as kale, spinach, lettuces, and thick herbs like parsley and cilantro compete with citrus to take center stage in the arena of seasonal produce in Northern California.
Meyer lemons hang sumptuously from neighborhood trees in a public show of immodest preening, begging to be swiped off that tree and squeezed into lemonade or whipped into a lemon pie. Kumquats are boiled into marmalade, and we even have a special cocktail shaken with kumquat simple syrup. Satsuma mandarins, pomelos, Cara Cara oranges, tangerines, and tangelos -- there are more kinds of citrus than Carter has pills.
Perfectly pairing a sour mandarin orange with an ichang papeda, an Eastern Asian fruit that slightly resembles a small grapefruit with overtones of lime, results in a yuzu, which is rapidly becoming the darling of the culinary world, regardless of the nature of the cuisine. The yuzu itself looks like a small, bumpy grapefruit mottled with yellow and green, and it has a history, in name anyway, of being confused with pomelos. Used for skin and juice, the center does have some pulp but is mostly seeds and juice. The flavor scale ranges from indescribable to not being done justice when described as a cross between the mingling, extremely aromatic, and best qualities of mandarin, lemon, lime and grapefruit. Possessing that ethereal quality of umami, where you have a taste of some delectable morsel and are hit with a “Wow! What is that flavor?” -- yuzu is indeed very difficult to put into a box.
Originating as a wild tree fruit in Central China, yuzu was introduced into Japanese and Korean cuisines during the Tang Dynasty. Often combined with honey to make wine, yuzu juice is also a central ingredient in ponzu sauce. American brewers have been using yuzu juice in beers since 2003. Rarely eaten as a fruit, yuzu rind can transform any dish you would add lemon zest to but takes it to a new level of mysterious, flavor raising eyebrows on the buffet. Juicing fresh cucumber pickles along with a touch of rice vinegar and yuzu rind makes a perfect accompaniment to grilled meat sandwiches as well as a relish for fish. Grating it into your persimmon cookie recipe or raspberry jam elevates your standing among food friends. Use juice in place of vinegar in salad dressing recipes or reduction sauces. Yuzu marmalade is a study in perfection on sourdough toast. Just the oil from the fruit rubbed behind the ears is enough to make you popular.
Extremely frost hardy, the trees have been introduced into California’s Central Valley and grow next to savvy, citrus growers’ oranges and mandarins. It’s also available through mail order, and you could be the first one on your block to not only know what a yuzu is but have it in your garden for pleasure year-round.
On a personal note, I am so happy to be finishing up our first six months at Roxx and back in a place where I can write my column again! Thank you so much for reading all these years, and we hope to see you downtown Martinez sometime soon!! Guaranteed we will have local, seasonal, organic, and amazing produce as well as products, always!
Roasted Beet and Orange Salad
4 medium sized beets (I use golden beets if I want color integrity of the dish, as red beets tend to color everything in their wake a hypnotizing red hue)
1 Cara Cara orange
1 blood orange
1 navel orange
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
¼ cup crumbled chevre or feta
½ cup toasted walnuts
3 cups assorted salad greens
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash beets and remove stem end and root tail. Rub with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in baking dish, cover, and roast at 350 for about 45 minutes to an hour until beets are easily pierced with a knife. Let cool until you can easily handle them. Peel, quarter and slice the quarters about ¼ inch thick.
Peel and slice the oranges. Place greens in a bowl. Toss in the beets, oranges, walnuts, and goat cheese. Drizzle with remaining olive oil and rice vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and gently toss to mix all.
Lesley Stiles is Chef/Owner of Roxx on Main Restaurant and Catering