A tablespoon measure gives the scale. What you see here is the zest from a single, softball‑sized navel orange. Once it had dried, I tipped the large and small segments into a couple of ziplock bags. These will stay in a cool, dark cabinet until I need them. How long will my zest keep? Unless it's exposed to high humidity, it should last for months. That's a good return for a few minutes' work, don't you think?
Of course, we're not done yet. Now that you have your zest, how will you use it to …
Add a‑Peel to Your Meals?
I find lemon and orange zest most useful, but you should be guided by your own tastes. I also prefer to cut my zest large, rather than small. Why? Easy. You can always whittle a big piece down to size, but you can't make a small piece big. Most folks fish larger slices out of a dish before eating it, by the way. The zest has already done its job, and you don't have to eat it to enjoy its contribution to the meal. But you can.
And what if you're caught short? Well, if you have fresh citrus in your pack, you have the means at hand to stretch your supply. In fact, I often make fresh zest in camp on the first or second night, saving my dried zest for later. Both are powerful flavoring agents. A teaspoon — fresh or dried, it makes no difference — is a good starting point for most dishes. The following examples will give you some idea of the range of applications:
Homemade Carry‑Alongs Add zest to quick breads, oatmeal bars, brownies, and cookies. Just sprinkle fresh or dried zest into the dry ingredients before adding liquid and forming the batter or dough.
Beverages Drop a large curl of zest into a hot drink — coffee or tea, say — and let it steep for a couple of minutes. By the time the cup is cool enough to bring to your lips, the zest will have imparted an intriguing citrusy note to the contents. (Earl Grey tea, a popular specialty blend, gets its unique flavor from oil extracted from the peel of bergamot, a sort of dwarf orange.) Or make flavored gelatin according to the package directions, adding a curl or two of zest to the pot while the powder dissolves. Serve immediately. The sweet, hot liquid is a welcome pick‑me‑up on a chilly day. Zest is good with cold drinks, too. Mix a powdered drink in your water bottle in the morning and add a large curl of zest. It's particularly good with citrus drinks. (No surprise, really.) Or make zesty solar tea, putting a couple of curls of zest in each batch.
Breakfast Stir fine‑chopped zest into hot cereal as it cooks. Mix it in with your pancake batter, or fold it into biscuit dough. Cook up stewed fruit (fresh or dried) and add zest to the dish as it simmers.
Lunch Mix fine‑chopped zest into your favorite bonk‑buster. Add zest to tuna or chicken (from a shelf‑stable pack or a can) or hummus to make a zesty spread for bread, crackers, or bagels. Or try it in a pita sandwich.
So far, so good. But to my mind, zest really shines at day's end, when the question on everyone's lips is …
What's for Dinner?
After all, breakfast is frequently a hurried affair, and lunch is often nothing more than a handful or two of trail mix, but the evening meal is a time to unwind and enjoy your food. And with the pressure off, the cook can relax, too. Dinner is the meal I'm most likely to lavish extra attention on. There's ample scope for a special touch or two. Zest makes it easy. Here are some ideas:
Zesty Risotto Risotto is simple, satisfying, and versatile. For a tasty variation on the theme, follow my recipe for Reggie's Lemon Risotto, adding about a tablespoon of lemon zest to the rice. If you don't have the reconstituted lemon juice the recipe calls for, don't worry. Lemon zest will lend just the right amount of zing. And if you don't have lemon zest? Use orange or lime. You won't be disappointed.
Quick and Zesty Pasta Stir in 1 or 2 teaspoons of finely chopped zest (dried or fresh) when you put the pasta in the skillet in my One‑Skillet Garlic Pasta recipe.
Citrus Tuna (or Chicken) and Beans Heat a can of white beans in a pot. Stir in a packet of tuna or a can of chicken (be sure to include the juices), along with a generous sprinkling of zest — plus dried chives and cracked pepper, if you have them. Serve when hot.
Zesty Peanut Butter Sauce Make a thick sauce from peanut butter, a clove of garlic (chopped), a dash of soy sauce, and some fine‑chopped zest, along with a small amount of clean water. Use as a dipping sauce for satays or kabobs, or stir into hot pasta.
Want to put some zest in your life? Of course you do. And it's easy. I've outlined a few ways in the paragraphs above, but I'm sure you can think of many others. Experiment at home first, though. Then you can leave your mistakes behind when you head for the put‑in.