There are those dishes that awaken your taste buds with their scintillating mix of flavours and textures. There are those dishes that nourish your soul with a well-balanced combination of vitamins and nutrients. And then there are those dishes that tell the story of your life, encapsulated in one heavy forkful. This spicy citrus salad with pistachios is one of those.
I am eight years old. My father takes me by the hand and leads the way into the pardes. The sun is quickly setting ahead of us, a huge ball of energy being swallowed up by a vast sea of trees, its light spilling like golden blood on the the top branches. The fruit glisten from within the folds of greenery, their orange spheres promising sweet delights to those who dare. My father hoists me on his shoulders, helping me reach the higher branches; I grab an orange and twist, my fingers struggling against the nimble branch. Suddenly, I hear a satisfying ‘pop’, and the fruit comes undone in my hand. I hand it to my father, and reach out for the next one. Afterwards, my hands smell intoxicatingly of citrus peels.
I am nineteen, on holiday from my job as a social guide in a kibbutz. My high school best friend and I go to visit Ori, a boy we met on a youth delegation a year ago. I have a boyfriend who lives far away, in Canada, a man I pine for after the sun sets and the moon rises above the desert. And yet Ori makes me laugh, his too-long curls falling on his forehead and his mouth grimacing into a crooked, sardonic grin. He makes me think, his political views challenging me at every turn, forcing me to pause and re-evaluate things I hold dear. He makes me feel things I am uncomfortable with feeling. And so, when he slips under the chain-link fence, parts the branches of the orange tree and hands me a perfectly ripe fruit, I do not hesitate; I peel the fruit and bite in, juice dribbling down my chin. Afterwards, my hands smell intoxicatingly of citrus peels.
I am twenty-four, on holiday from my job as a legislative intern. My father swerves the car off the road and parks alongside a dirt path, only metres away from the familiar chain link fence. He and my mother grab bags and lead the way into the pardes, dragging my friend Joe and I behind. Joe is excited, a restless ball of energy. He cannot wait until he can reach up and pull an orange from the tree; “This is the stuff of movies,” he says. I am still making up my mind about the boyfriend in Canada, a man for whom I have stopped pining months ago. But as I watch Joe run among the trees, as my dad seats me on his shoulders and helps me pick a perfect fruit off the tree, I feel the rush of discovery, of youth. I know that I will love again like I used to, with the butterflies in the pit of the stomach, the sweaty palms and the sleepless nights, the juice dribbling down your chin and the heart fluttering with nerves. I know I will feel that rush. Just not with him.
I tear the fruit off the branch and hide it in my jacket pocket, to eat later. Afterwards, my hands smell intoxicatingly of citrus peels.
I first made this spicy citrus salad with pistachios for a big dinner with friends last year, a dinner which I originally planned for six but that ballooned beyond all expectations and left me with frayed nerves and a shortage of food. But despite the anxiety it all worked out, as these things do.
There are ten people seated around a long table in our dining room, their faces illuminated by the flickering light of a dozen candles, passing platefuls of food. A roasted chicken that Greg made from my grandmother’s recipe, its juices oozing down everyone’s chins. Barley salad from the Kinfolk Table Cookbook, glasses full of sparkling wine, and lace doilies as centrepieces. Laugher and several muffled conversations. And in the centre, a spicy citrus salad with pistachios on a big round plate. Blood oranges and mandarins and grapefruit slices intermingled with slivers of sweet onion, sprinkled with pistachios and ground hot peppers, and slick with a simple marinade of lime juice and fruity olive oil.
I take a huge forkful of citrus, juices dribbling down my chin. I smile. My hands smell intoxicatingly of citrus peels.
I look across the table at him, locked in conversation with Joe, the boy who ran in the pardes. I see his hair falling in waves on his forehead, the corners of his eyes crinkling when he laughs. I see his nose, sharp and a bit crooked like Ori’s. I hear his voice. And I know: it is here, that love with the butterflies in the pit of the stomach, the sweaty palms and the sleepless nights, the juice dribbling down your chin and the heart fluttering with nerves. With the midnight fights and the tears and the impatience and the requests to just. leave. me. alone. With all the emotion a young heart can take.
And this time, I’m not going to let it go.
Spicy citrus salad with pistachios and thyme
- 3-4 citrus fruit of various kinds and sizes oranges, grapefruits, pink grapefruits, pomelos, clementines, blood oranges and even kumquats are all good here - though I would stay away from anything too small and soft, like mandarins
- 1 Vidalia sweet white onion, or 1/2 a purple onion (I have made this both with and without the onions, and trust me, they're necessary; but if you only have regular yellow onions, then don't use more than 1/2)
- The juice and zest of 1 lime
- 1/4 cup pistachios
- 3 sprigs of thyme
- 1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil the fruitiest you've got
- Maldon sea salt to taste
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika or cayenne pepper powder
With a sharp paring knife, cut the peel away from the citrus, taking care to remove all the pith. Slice the citrus into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Slice the onion into half-moon crescents. Arrange the citrus and onions slices interchangeably on a big platter in several layers.
Chop pistachios and thyme roughly, and sprinkle on the fruit. Top with grated lime zest, smoked paprika or cayenne pepper powder. Drizzle olive oil and lime juice.
Finish the salad off with a generous sprinkle of Maldon sea salt.