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Opinion | When winter smells of mandarin peels

Dried, powdered, or fresh, orange peel can add a strong citrusy kick to any dish

(left) Orange ‘raita’; and ‘santrewali dal’. Photo: Nandita Iyer
(left) Orange ‘raita’; and ‘santrewali dal’. Photo: Nandita Iyer

Come winter, I would eagerly await the return of my grandfather from his twice-a-week market trips. Nagpur oranges flood the markets during November and December and he would invariably buy a couple of dozens at least. He would be relieved of the bags as soon as he rang the doorbell. This was no time to be patient. The bag containing fruits would be dived into and a few oranges consumed instantly. I’m talking about the days when we used to wait for our favourite seasonal fruits to grace us with their delicious presence.

I also remember this crazy game we played as children—squeezing the peel of oranges close to our eyes to see who could resist the sting better. Looking back, it was definitely a strange exercise in masochism.

Now I see orange peel, and I think thick-cut marmalade, a beauty face pack or a fragrant addition to my tea.

Break the peel into bits, spread it out on a cloth or a tray and sun-dry for a couple of days, until the moisture has dried out. Grind to a coarse powder. This can be mixed with full-fat yogurt and honey for a moisturizing face pack. I get into my soap-making mode once or twice a year, enhancing the soaps with essential oils and beneficial additives from the kitchen. Orange peel powder added to home-made soaps is a gentle exfoliant and also adds a mild citrus aroma to the soap.

Use bits of peel along with crushed ginger while brewing tea. Add milk as per your liking for a subtle orange-flavoured chai. Scrub and wash the oranges before using the peel for edible purposes. Orange zest in shortbread and brownies is another one of my favourite ways to put the peel to use. And how can we forget the flavour candied orange peel lends to a Christmas cake? Want to make your kitchen smell all Christmassy with no baking involved? Bring a pot of water to boil with peels from two oranges, two-three cinnamon sticks and a couple of star anise. Allow this to simmer in the open pot for 5 minutes and let this “tea" sit around any room you want to liven up with natural aroma.

Indian cuisine has a few recipes that use orange peel. Orange peel gojju is a popular recipe from Karnataka in which orange peels are cooked in a tamarind-based sauce, spiced up with rasam powder. In Tamil cuisine, orange peels are used to make an instant pickle that can be had with rice.

While I enjoy eating oranges as an anytime snack, there are a few orange-based bakes that I love. One of them is a Sicilian orange cake that surprisingly uses the puree of the entire orange—peel, pith and flesh (minus the seeds)—in the cake batter, giving the cake an intense citrus flavour.

If you are not feeling brave enough to grind the peel of oranges for your cake, use the zest, flesh and some freshly squeezed orange juice for a strong orange-flavoured cake. Using strong orange tea (fruit infusion tea bags) also fortifies the orange flavour in bakes.

Orange zest and juice add just the kind of sweetness and tartness to a salad dressing that makes you want to eat salads by the platter-full. Warmed up orange juice makes a most flavourful soak for couscous, amping up the flavour of this grain by leaps and bounds in a delicious Middle Eastern salad. Toss this along with pomegranates, orange segments, pistachios and some arugula. is an interesting website that lists foods that best pair with each other. A search for foods that pair with Mandarin oranges gave coriander, coriander seed and nutmeg as the best results, followed by cardamom, grapefruit, tarragon, lemon, lime, rosemary, basil, carrot, etc.

While using oranges in a recipe that involves cooking, keep other strong flavours to a minimum. For example, in my orange dal recipe, you will find that the only other major flavour is ginger and the garnish is fresh coriander leaves, keeping in mind the flavour pairing result. This is to make sure the flavour of oranges doesn’t get lost in the cooking process and in the presence of other ingredients with a dominating flavour.

Orange raita

Serves 4-6


2 cups thick yogurt

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp dried mint

2 oranges

1 sweet lime (mosambi)

1/2 an apple

fresh mint leaves

1 green chilli

1/2 tsp roasted cumin powder


In a bowl, whisk together yogurt, salt, sugar and dried mint until smooth. Peel the orange and the skin around each segment. Reserve the orange flesh. Similarly prep the sweet lime. Cut the apple into thin slices.

Add the fruits to the yogurt. Mix in gently. Garnish with roughly chopped mint leaves, sliced green chilli and roasted cumin powder. Serve chilled with any Indian meal.

Santrewali Dal

Serves 2


1/2 cup toor dal

1 tsp grated ginger

1 green chilli, slit

1/4 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp orange zest

2 oranges, segments only

2 oranges, juiced

2 tsp sunflower oil

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

2 tbsp finely chopped coriander


Wash and pressure cook the dal with two cups water, ginger, green chilli and turmeric. Cool and whisk well until smooth. Season with salt and bring this to a simmer. Turn off the flame and add the orange zest, chopped segments and freshly squeezed orange juice. Stir well to combine. In a small pan, heat oil. Fry cumin seeds. Once the seeds splutter, transfer over dal and garnish with finely chopped coriander. Serve hot as a soup or along with rice.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.

She tweets at @saffrontrail

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