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What’s in Season: Cooking with Citrus

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Winter is citrus season and the produce departments are overflowing. There are the diminutive Tangerines, Clementines, Tangelos, Mineolas, and Satsumas in the “cutie” citrus club. Down the aisle, big bold Navel oranges with their thick skins and bright colors rest aside their more thin-skinned, but certainly no-less-sweet juice oranges. With their intense colors and vibrant aromas, the decidedly more exotic Blood Oranges, Cara Cara Oranges, and Meyer Lemons often are featured in decorative baskets to highlight their preciousness — and higher price. Lastly, oversized red, pink, and white Grapefruit and the nearly comically large Pomello round out the bunch. There are a lot of kitchen choices for cooking with citrus.

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Usual Suspects

Lemon and limes are so commonly used when cooking with citrus that they are almost taken for granted. Both are available year-round and we hardly think about them having a season. They do, of course, it’s just that they are in the market year-round because they are being shipped from all over the world from where ever they are grown. Having said that, Lemon Roast Chicken is one of my all-time favorite recipes and my absolute go-to for down-home comfort. Check out my recipe for Whole Roast Lemon Chicken on Food  But, with so many choices in the market, it’s nice to consider cooking with citrus of all kinds. Last year we fell in love with a recipe for Spicy Chicken with Clementines. It opened my eyes to the possibilities of thinking outside the ordinary when cooking with citrus.

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What’s the Difference between a Tangerine and Clementine?

One of the most often asked questions regarding cooking with citrus is “What’s the Difference between a Tangerine and Clementine?”  To answer, we need to take a step back and consider that they are more alike than different.

Mandarin Oranges

All smaller oranges such as tangerine and clementine are in the master category of Mandarin oranges. It’s  a large category that contains all the zipper-skinned and easy-to-peel fruits. (Their tender skin is what makes cooking with them so intriguing because they literally melt into the dish.) Mandarins probably originated in northeast India, but like most citrus fruits were cultivated in China – hence the name “mandarin.” They are less tart than “regular” oranges.


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Mandarin oranges were exported through North Africa and tagged with the name “tangerine,” from the city of Tangiers, Morocco. (You will notice there are still a good many tangerines imported from Morocco.) However, the name “tangerine” has become less generic. Three commonly grown cultivars are Sunburst, Robinson, and Murcott. This photo is of a Murcott and you will notice the reticulated white veins of the fruit, which are present to some degree in all Mandarins.


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Clementines have a tart, tangy and slightly sweet flavor. They are usually seedless and honey-sweet. They’re even easier to peel than tangerines, hence their popularity for children.The Mandarins branded as “Cuties” and “Sweeties” are clementines. According to  the University of California Riverside Citrus Variety Collection Website, the mother load of citrus information, this highly important North African variety “originated as an accidental hybrid in a planting of mandarin seedlings, presumably of the common or Mediterranean mandarin, made by Father Clement Rodier in the garden of the orphanage of the Péres du Saint-Esprit at Misserghin, a small village near Oran, Algeria.”


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Satsumas are the Mandarin oranges that are most often canned. They’re seedless and the easiest to peel due to a leathery skin. Often you’ll see them with their leaves attached. I love to display a big, colorful bowl on my kitchen counter. Satsumas are more fragile than some other madarin oranges and most prone to shipping damage, which is why it is harder to find them fresh as compared to clementines or tangerines.


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Tangelos are a cross between a grapefruit and a tangerine. They’re especially juicy and lack grapefruit’s acidity. Minneolas and Orlandos are types of tangelos. The Honeybell tangelo is particularly distinctive due to their slightly bulbous knob at one end. I hope you enjoy my simple recipe for Citrus Avocado Salad. Thanks for reading!

Bon Appétit Y’all!
Virginia Willis

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Citrus and Baby Kale Salad

Bright citrus with baby kale and creamy avocado.
Prep Time10 minutes
Total Time10 minutes
Course: Salad
Cuisine: American
Servings: 2
Author: Virginia Willis


  • 2 handfuls baby kale
  • 2 tangerine clementine or honeybell oranges, skin removed and cut into wagon wheels
  • 1/4 sweet onion sliced very thin
  • 1 stalk celery thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 avocado sliced
  • 2-3 tablespoons of chopped almonds
  • Good quality sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


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Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 2 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

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