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A Zest for Conquest:
Hernando de Soto (ca. 1500- 1542) was a Spanish conquistador. In other words, he was an invader and a pillager. History and modern culture tend to lionize the early European conquerors, but let’s face it, their goal was to seize other people’s territory, plunder the natural resources, pilfer whatever valuables they could, and eliminate any natural inhabitants that stood in their way.
De Soto first distinguished himself in the conquest of Central America where he was known for his brutality. Later he participated in the vanquishing of the Incas under Francisco Pizarro. He then returned to Spain and delivered a large cache of gold and valuables to the Spanish monarchy, for which he was handsomely rewarded. He was then commissioned to return to the New World on a new quest. His goal was to “explore” the southeastern US, which translates into finding new trade routes to the Orient, claim additional lands for Spain, purloin more gold, and bump off any natives that resisted.
He landed in Florida in 1539 with over 600 men. The exact route is debated but he traversed numerous southeastern states and eventually made his way to the Mississippi River, thus earning him the distinction of being the first European to discover it. Along the way tens of thousands of American Indians died, either from direct skirmishes with de Soto’s men, or the spread of European diseases to which the Indians had no immunity, (e.g., measles, small pox and chicken pox). De Soto himself succumbed to fever during the expedition in 1542. His men buried his body in the Mississippi River to prevent the natives from desecrating it.
While lauded for his marauding endeavors and “discovery” of the Mississippi, de Soto is also credited for one lesser known fact: the introduction of the orange to the Americas. He brought orange trees to St. Augustine where they flourished, eventually giving rise to the large scale production that Florida is so well known for today.
Oranges originated in Southeast Asia and were first cultivated there 6,000 years ago. Cultivation in China began around 2400 B.C. The Arabs introduced them to the Mediterranean region about 1000 A.D. Today they are found in warm weather areas all over the globe. The US and Brazil are the largest producers. Interestingly, the word “orange” meaning the color, comes from the fruit and not vice versa.
There are three general categories of oranges: sweet, loose skinned and bitter. Sweet oranges, such as the Navel or Valencia, are best eaten fresh and are prized for their juice. Their skins are somewhat resistant to peeling. Blood oranges are an interesting type of sweet orange, their sanguineous name arising from their crimson hue. Loose skinned oranges, as the name implies, are easier to decorticate. Mandarins and tangerines, (a sub-type of mandarin orange), are well known loose skinned varieties. Their taste is slightly tarter than sweet oranges. Finally bitter oranges, such as Seville or Bergamot, are sour and usually not eaten raw. They are best for cooking, made into marmalade, candying their peels, and infusing liqueurs such as Curacao.
Oranges are available year round. Choose specimens heavy for their size with no soft spots. Color is a misleading indicator of quality since some producers infuse them with food coloring to make their oranges look, well, more orange. Oranges can be kept in the fridge up to two weeks. As with all citrus fruits, the outer peel, known as the zest, can be utilized as well. The flavor of the zest of citrus fruits is even more intense than their juice, since the zest contains the essential oils. It is easily removed with a microplane grater. It can then be incorporated into all kinds of recipes. Extract only the outer most layer of the zest. The white pith underneath it is very bitter. Finally oranges are used in a variety of non-culinary products such as perfumes, furniture conditioners and cleaning agents.
For the salsa:
2 large navel oranges, peeled, segments removed, chopped
3 large on-the-vine tomatoes, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 small batch of cilantro, stems included, chopped
2 jalapeño peppers, chopped
A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
Combine all of the above ingredients and reserve.
For the Mahi Mahi:
4 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 jalapeno, finely minced
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 handful of cilantro, chopped
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 (6-oz.) Mahi Mahi steaks, (or substitute tuna or swordfish)
Thoroughly whisk all of the above ingredients, (except the fish) in a bowl.
Pour the mixture into a large zip-loc bag with the fish and marinate for NO MORE THAN 30 minutes.
Remove the fish and drain off any of the marinade. Reserve the remaining marinade.
Grill or broil the fish until seared on each side. Drizzle some of the reserved marinade on the fish while cooking.
Discard any marinade leftover that has not been cooked.
Serve the fish with the tomato-orange salsa.
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