Moving closer to local, citrus still seasonal

After a year of writing a monthly column on seasonal eating and cooking for the newspaper’s HomeLife magazine, I’m almost painfully aware of which foods are freshest, most cost-effective and environmentally sound at any given time throughout the year.

Occasional wintertime trips to Southern California always remind of the natural cycle of citrus, which isn’t observed too readily in the Rogue Valley. Just about any decades-old home in Los Angeles has a lemon tree in the yard, and even office buildings may have dwarf lime trees in pots outside the front doors. It took all my sense of propriety not to help myself.

Happily, citrus travels well to our grocery stores and is best enjoyed for the next couple of months. I’ll confess to buying lemons and limes year-round for cooking but perish the thought of purchasing dried-out tangerines and grapefruits in summertime.

But there’s some good news for Rogue Valley locavores striving to eat in season. Ashland Food Co-op has a supplier of citrus in Northern California that fits into the locavore’s range, provided it’s 200 miles, not 100. But logic says that Rogue Valley locavores purchasing foods from Portland should include Northern California on the opposite end of their radius.

It’s most tempting, of course, to throw the whole eat-local concept out the window in the depth of winter, when little fresh produce is available that wasn’t stored or shipped very long distances. Anything bright, fresh and juicy in the perfect counterpoint to starchy roots and bitter greens.

Knowing its shoppers need a little pick-me-up, the Co-op kicks off more than a week of citrus tastings at its store, with recipes for oranges available for sampling at 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and at 11 a.m. Saturdays through Jan. 21. The first dish, which also uses grapefruit and avocados, sounds similar to one of my favorite wintertime salads. The following recipe is one rendition. I also love the combination of grapefruit and avocado with grilled haloumi cheese as the protein and toasted pine nuts instead of sunflower seeds.

Seared Scallops and Butter Lettuce Salad With Grapefruit Vinaigrette

3⁄4 pound medium sea scallops

Kosher salt and ground black pepper, as needed

1 cup Wondra or all-purpose flour, for dredging

1⁄2 cup vegetable oil, divided

1⁄3 cup grapefruit juice

1 small shallot, finely chopped

1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar

1⁄8 teaspoon sugar

2 small heads butter lettuce, torn into bite size pieces

1 ripe avocado, pitted and sliced

1 small pink grapefruit, peeled and sectioned, each section halved.

1 medium scallion, green part only, thinly sliced crosswise

1⁄4 cup sunflower seeds

Season the scallops to taste with the salt and pepper. Spread the Wondra or flour on a plate and dredge scallops in it, shaking off any excess.

In a large skillet over medium, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add scallops to skillet and saute for 2 to 3 minutes per side or until cooked through. Transfer scallops to a plate and let stand until they are at room temperature.

In a small saucepan, simmer the grapefruit juice until it reduces to 2 tablespoons. Transfer to a small bowl. Add the shallot, rice vinegar, sugar and 1⁄4 teaspoon salt. Whisk until sugar and salt have dissolved. Slowly whisk in remaining oil, then whisk in juices that have accumulated on scallop plate until dressing reaches desired consistency.

Toss the lettuce with 1⁄3 cup dressing. Mound lettuce over 4 plates and divide scallops, the avocado and grapefruit over each salad. Sprinkle each plate with some of the scallions and sunflower seeds and drizzle with remaining dressing.

Makes 4 servings.

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