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Bright, floral flavors to get you through the gray days

Buddha’s Hand Marmalade
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times; prop styling by Nidia Cueva)

I’m the type of person who gets in “food moods” from time to time. I get obsessed with one particular fruit or vegetable for a couple of weeks, then move on from it until next year. Right now, of course, it’s anything and everything citrus. A couple weeks ago I scratched my itch for using them to make marmalades and jellies (like the one pictured above, made with Buddha’s hand), and now I’m enjoying them raw or tossing segments and slices into everything I eat. They’re particularly wonderful during these current gray days, coming along at just the right moment to brighten any gloom.

My current favorite citrus dish is this sweet orange salad garnished with lots of salty edible bric-a-brac like crumbled feta, torn Castelvetrano olives and slices of celery. I keep it in the fridge and dole out scoops on my plate as an easy, refreshing side dish to whatever meat or vegetable I cook for lunch and dinner. If you have a bowl of oranges sitting around waiting to be used, make that salad, or pick from any of the several orange citrus dishes complied by our recipe tester Julie Giuffrida in her excellent recipe gallery from a couple weeks ago.

Eating all that citrus has me feeling lighter in many ways, so to stay on theme, let’s turn to eating lots of food from Southeast Asia, which has cuisines naturally full of bright, aromatic flavors. A Cambodian pomelo salad takes those sweet, lightly bitter fruits and packs them with loads of fresh herbs and chiles, peanuts and coconut — all my favorite foods in one dish (like the orange salad, it too gets better the longer it sits and marinates). For a quick weeknight dinner, grill or broil some pork chops marinated in a salty-sweet lemongrass tonic spiked with lime juice and red chiles. And when I want something even quicker, it’s gotta be larb. That classic Thai dip — vibrant and spicy but grounded with toasted rice powder — is wonderful served straight from the skillet with lots of cold cabbage leaves to scoop it up.

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For cooler nights, I like to make this old-school Laotian fish curry made with coconut milk and infused with curry powder and fresh ginger; it’s exactly what you want to ladle over hot rice and blanket with a handful of fresh cilantro. And when the weekend comes, I’ll spend a little more time on this pho salad from my friend Andrea Nguyen. I’m making my once-a-month trip out to 99 Ranch this week to pick up everything I need for it — Japanese rice vinegar, Thai basil, fried shallots — so by the time I’m ready to cook, I know I’m prepared. It’s the type of dish that is worth the effort for what you get out of it: spicy, sweet, floral, bright, all the flavors you need to get you through the foggy days until the sun, again, shines everywhere.

This marinade is wonderful made in large batches and kept in the freezer for when you need a little to marinate pork chops, chicken thighs or even lamb shoulder.

Pork Larb

Time 1 hour
Yields Serves 4
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Prep all the aromatics while the pork cooks so you can toss it all together quickly and eat it straight from the skillet with lots of cold cabbage leaves or cucumbers.

Chicken Pho Noodle Salad (Phở Gà Trộn)

Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Yields Serves 4 as a light main course

The sauce is a wonderful condiment to keep around and toss with noodles and whatever leftover protein or fresh vegetables you have to use up.

Laotian Sheatfish Curry

Time 45 minutes
Yields Serves 4
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This recipe is great with the catfish that’s called for, but I also make it often with shrimp, chunks of sea bass or swordfish or even chicken thighs.

Cambodian pomelo salad

Time 40 minutes
Yields Serves 4

Here, bitter-bright pomelo sections are dressed like green papaya salad, infused with a heady vinaigrette of lime juice, fish sauce and fresh chile.

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Lunch with Costa Mesa’s Knife Pleat on Jan. 31
This is a benefit for meal-delivery nonprofit Project Angel Food. Tickets are $95 per person, with a minimum of two tickets per household.

The next installment in The Times’ Dinner Series moves the action to daytime: Chef Tony Esnault and restaurateur Yassmin Sarmadi of Costa Mesa’s Knife Pleat will host a four-course lunch to be picked up and reheated at home. “Ivory soup” (a purée of sunchokes, celery and leeks with winter truffle), sea bream with fennel and olives and a citrus Pavlova for dessert are on the menu. The event, on Jan. 31 at 1:30 p.m., includes a virtual live conversation with actors Eric McCormack and Dan Bucatinsky.


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