Yes, although I hate to say so, I was not impressed by the highly-touted Naranjas Malaguenas of Costa Rica. We got a bag of them for a thousand colones, which amounts to less than two dollars. These oranges are organic as well, so figure that into the price we paid.
They are very pretty--looking almost like small grapefruit because of their pale yellow color--but I only wish they had the tang of grapefruit (which is called Toronja in Spanish). The only word I can use to describe Malaguena oranges is insipid. Their flavor is quite sweet, but they lack almost all the distinctive flavors that make us love orange juice (I squeezed myself a glass to get a good exposure to the taste). They lack acid; they lack orange flavor. It is as if they were already highly-diluted in taste before you cut them open.
That leaves us with Naranjadas, or American-type oranges, and Naranjas Criollas, the local wild oranges that I wrote about last week. Either one is just fine for all the uses of orange juice.
I should have known that Malaguenas are somewhat lacking on that "je ne sais quois" that the French speak of ("I know not what...") but they fall short on something, and that something is taste. The Criollas can be juiced, and that was what I got at the Agriculture Fair last Friday when I bought fresh-squeezed orange juice. They had sweetened the Criolla juice and put it over ice--I recognized the taste at once.
I made a juice drink successfully by combining Malaguena and Criolla juice in roughly equal proportions--I say "successfully" because it tasted good. But I have to say that our American orange juice is better, whether you squeeze it yourself as I do, or whether you buy it in the cold section of the supermarket. So I am going to coin a phrase and designate Malaguenas as "eating oranges," Criollas as "cooking oranges" and American Naranjadas as broadly applicable to any culinary use. When we hear the word "oranges" in the U. S., we think of Naranjadas anyway, and that's fine. There is no burning need to import Central American naranjas to the American culinary scene.
You could conceivably cut Malaguenas into sections and serve them in a salad with a nice, tart dressing. To that end, here is how you section oranges. First you get your super-sharp chef's knife and you cut off both the top and the bottom ends of the orange (narrowly; you don't want to cut off half of it right there). Then you stand the orange on one cut end.
The next operation is to take your sharp (I emphasize) chef's knife and cut in a downward and outward motion from the top to the bottom, removing the skin and as little of the fruit as you can.
After that is complete, you can use a paring knife to remove the sections from the core--and you have your chance here to remove the seeds. In the case of Costa Rican oranges of either type, and some naranjadas, this is something to do thoroughly. You may have oranges with a lot of seeds.
This procedure will give you orange sections with none of the inner membrane that normally encloses the actual fruit. You can then place the slices over salad greens and dress them. Salads made from fresh orange or grapefruit sections are traditionally served with very thinly-sliced red onions, which provide a pretty color to the dish.
To go with red onions, you could always try Prickly Vinaigrette, which is just a variation of oil-and-vinegar dressing. You see that kind of dressing all over Latin America, usually using a mild vinegar that lets the other ingredients shine through, although no one that I know of is producing a vinaigrette with prickly pear flavoring. Make some yourself--I'll put the recipe in the column again next week..
Malaguena juice can also make a good addition to baked goods such as quick bread; it will impart a subtle citrus flavor without being very acid. I may use it in Banana Bread this week.
It came up in the first place because I discovered that in Costa Rica it seems to be unknown as a way to use up bananas that are overripe. What a shame! I will introduce my hotel manager's wife, Graciela, to the basic baking technique this week with a batch of it later this week.
Another criticism that I have of Costa Rica, and I am afraid, of Latin America (though I will see later) is that their basic cakes and cookies tend to be much less tasty than the American varieties. I believe that is because we, as a nation, have been influenced by French pastries while Latin America has developed their baking style independently. Last week I ordered a slice of nice-looking cake that appeared to be a yellow cake with a thin chocolate glaze on top. But when I began to eat it, I can only describe the texture as pasty, and the glaze as flavorless. It wasn't even sweet.
If any of my readers are the entrepreneurial type, I can advise you to go into the pastry business in Latin America--you will sell out every day. I made a Famous Chocolate Cake yesterday and it received rave notices. Graciela took it home for her husband and kids and it was delicious, if I do say so myself, with the intensity of chocolate flavor that you get in the typical flourless cake.