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Still LIfe, by Yana Golikova.

Recipe below: Bitter Greens and Mandarin Orange Dust Salad, with an Anchovy Vinaigrette

After days of post-Christmas fog, both atmospheric and spiritual, I needed a lift, so I decided to dry a bunch of Mandarin orange peels and grind them to a dusty powder. This was so helpful. Sometimes a seemingly small culinary move can lift my soul much more than I expect. I put the dust in a bowl and sniffed it in every time I passed it on my kitchen counter.

I always have a net bag of Mandarin oranges hanging around this time of year. They peel so easily, section without effort, and have a good agro dolce balance. A hopeful note in winter’s bleak culinary scheme. And, as I’ve discovered, their skins can be quickly dried, to give off a concentrated citrus aroma. You know how you can feel yourself downsliding in January? You might be tempted to throw your head under a grow lamp, but maybe try making this Mandarin dust instead. It worked for me.

So I took these dried skins and whizzed them up in my mini spice grinder to create essence of Mandarin. I could immediately see the uses. Sprinkled over a Provençal beef stew, for instance, picking up on the orange rind that’s usually added but doesn’t provide much impact. Same with a bouillabaisse, letting the citrus mingle with the fennely pastis. That’s a match made in my Mediterranean dream head. It was also great sprinkled over my avocado toast.

I also thought about all the bitter greens that are so good this time of year. They would be beautiful in a salad tossed with a bit of my Mandarin dust. So I went to the Union Square Greenmarket looking for the radicchio man. He usually has the Treviso variety, both precoce and tardivo, the latter being the same plant but left in the field to mature and grow long purple-striped fingers. He also grows the Castelfranco type that looks like a big, pink, overblown rose. He has puntarella, too. It’s all so beautiful. But unfortunately he wasn’t there. So I went over to West Side Market and settled on decent looking heads of frisée and escarole and a white endive. I did see dandelion bunches there, too, and they would have been a nice touch, but they were all wilty.

Anchovies seemed a natural for the dressing, as their flavor tends to both heighten and sweeten the bitter greens (if you’ve ever had puntarella salad in Rome you know what I’m talking about). You can add sliced fennel and a handful of its fronds, if you like. However you put it together, this is, in my opinion, as vibrant and appealing as winter cooking gets. And the dust seals the deal.

Bitter Greens and Mandarin Orange Dust Salad, with an Anchovy Vinaigrette

(Serves 4)

For the mandarin orange dust:

As many Mandarin oranges as you want to dry
Salt

For the salad:

A large head of escarole or frisée, or a little of both
2 red or white endives or Treviso radicchios, if you can find them, the leaves separated
A handful of dandelion leaves, if available
2 mandarin oranges, peeled and sectioned
1 scallion, cut into thin rounds
4 oil-packed anchovy fillets (I like Ortiz brand), well chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed with the side of a knife
Black pepper
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
Salt
Extra-virgin olive oil, about 2 tablespoons

To make the Mandarin dust: Peel the oranges. Use as many as you like, depending on how much dust you want. It lasts for a while but starts losing a bit of aroma after a few weeks, so bear that in mind. Next, dry the skins. I have a countertop Breville mini oven with a convection mode, but any regular oven will work fine. If you have a dehydrator, you can use that. I don’t own one, so I laid the peels out on a grill rack, set the oven at 250 degrees, and stuck them in with the convection on. The peels took about an hour to dry out. Pretty fast.  After that I turned off the oven and left them in it for about a half hour just to make sure they were really bone dry.

Then, working in small batches, I whizzed the dried peels to a powder in my mini spice grinder, adding a pinch of salt to each batch (this, I find, helps bring up their flavor). That’s it. I made about a cup of dust, which I’ll be playing with over the next few weeks.

To make the salad: Put all the greens in a big salad bowl. Add the orange sections and the scallion. Put the chopped anchovies in a small bowl. Add the garlic clove, the vinegar, and the pepper. Give it a stir. I like to keep the anchovy in discernible bits, but if you prefer you can mash it up more. Add the olive oil, and season with a little salt, if you think you need it. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad, and give it a toss. Sprinkle a little of the dust over the top, or sprinkle it onto your individual servings, or both.

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