There are people who eat fruit as a snack, and then there's me. It's not that I haven't tried. Currently, as I stock up on fruit from the farmers market, I have grand visions of reaching for an orange from the fruit bowl, peeling it with my hands, then enjoying the juicy pops of the sections as I eat them. Healthy! Refreshing! "Mother Nature's candy," I've even heard, clenching my smile to stave off an eye roll. It should be so easy, but I can never commit.
Inevitably, I reach for a piece of cake or chips instead (don't worry, I balance my diet in other ways) and have at this point in my life overcome the guilt that used to accompany that.
No, I love fruit best when it's cooked down into a sweet jam or marmalade, baked under a bubbling biscuit crust or even blended into ice cream or sorbet. Influenced by a Southern upbringing, my predilection for eating fruit coated in sugar and butter is a difficult habit to break.
However, the one time I will happily eat fruit in a raw-ish state is citrus season. All those sweet oranges — Cara Caras, page and kishu mandarins and tangerines — are too wonderful to tarnish by cooking. Instead of eating them out of hand, though, I put in the smallest bit of effort and turn them into a salad. But there are no lettuce leaves or other vegetables in this salad to distract from the star ingredients. It's just cold citrus slices, seasoned with a simple vinaigrette and garnished with a few salty toppings to balance all that sweetness.
On a platter, I layer slices of at least three different sweet orange citrus: something large like Cara Caras or organic navels, something small like kishus, and then always blood oranges for their deep ruby color. Then, I mix up a tame rice vinegar dressing enhanced with some of the citrus zest and a pinch of chile flakes to spoon over the top, absorbing into their membranes and mingling with their juices. The vinaigrette makes the oranges taste, um, orange-ier!
Paper-thin slices of celery add crunchy salinity, while crumbles of feta offer a creamy, condensed brine, and torn Castelvetrano olives provide a pop of fatty brackishness. This trio of salty garnishes balances the sweet citrus perfectly, turning them into something one step removed from raw but exponentially more fun to eat.