Dried Orange Peel Tea

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It’s a cold, bright, winter day that is on the verge of feeling like spring. I am wrapped up in a pale pink quilted nightgown that I’ve owned since I was 8 years old, not because I’m feeling stylish, but because our heater has taken an untimely holiday from its duties. All in all, things are not bad though. I am sipping on some of this tea I’ve just made. It’s a homemade drink made of dried mandarin orange peels that I’ve let settle to the bottom of my steamy cup of hot water.

A few weeks back, I made Hawaiian oxtail soup. While I was shopping for those ingredients, I spied these cheerful mandarin oranges, all dressed up with their waxy green leaves, sitting in a bin at our local market and thought they would be just the thing for the photo op. Of course, once the camera was put away, the husband and I got busy popping the juicy segments into our mouths. As I gathered up the peels we had flung to the side, I thought about all of those Chinese medical scholars of yore. They were resourceful people. After all, the Chinese herbal materia medica is filled with roughly 13,000 medicinals, most of them odds and ends of barks, peels, leaves and roots. Nothing went to waste, and the history of Chinese medicine was better for it.

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In my hands, I held the fresh version of chen pi, the darkened, aged orange peel used in both the Chinese culinary and medicinal worlds. So, I thought I’d make my own. Traditional Chinese orange peel is aged to the point where it darkens and sometimes, the peel is dry-fried in a wok to speed up this aging process. The more aged the peel, the more potent its therapeutic energy. Freshly dried orange peel doesn’t have the same strength, but it’s still a good source of Vitamin C, beta-carotene, riboflavin and potassium, and therefore a great way to give your immune system an extra boost and ward off colds, especially as we transition into a new season.

Orange peels are considered aromatic in their therapeutic nature, warm in temperature and spicy and slightly bitter in taste. The citrusy brightness and pungency of the fruit makes it a natural mover and shaker of qi. In other words, orange peel can help get things going, especially when mucous in the body (and the lungs, specifically) has you feeling congested and phlegmy. By drying out the mucous and phlegm, orange peel can help re-establish qi flow, soothe coughs and help you breathe more easily.

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This concept isn’t mutually exclusive to coughs and colds though. Orange peel also makes for a great digestif because of its moving nature. Feeling like your digestive track is stuck or going one way or the other (think vomiting or diarrhea) calls for some orange peel in your life. It’s a balm for nausea, bloating, hiccups, heartburn and even flatulence (whoops – excuse me!). And orange peel’s flowing and moving qualities even extend emotionally, as it is also known to calm and soothe the nervous system and help with sleep.

Preparing dried orange rind is simple and therapeutic in its own way. I scraped off a bit of the white pith with a spoon to foster the drying process. Another method is to use a vegetable peeler, especially if you’re using a firmer type of orange, like a navel or seville. Make sure to wash the skin and rub off any waxy residue. If it’s possible, buy  organic oranges so you don’t have to deal with any residues from pesticides.

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Traditional  chen pi is made from tangerines, which belongs in the same family as the mandarin oranges and clementines.

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Slice the rinds into strips or leave them in larger pieces, it’s up to you. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the strips or pieces out in a single layer. Set the oven at a low 200 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes, until they curl slightly.

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Once out, they’ll crisp up more as they dry.

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And that’s it, really. Keep them stored in an air-tight container and toss them into your soups, stews and dishes for an extra burst of brightness. DSC_0517

Or…make a tea. Steep a teaspoonful of orange rinds in a cup of boiling water. Take a sip. It feels like submerged sunshine in a cup.

For an extra boost, add the traditionally aged orange peel to your freshly dried ones and steep until the rind has softened and the liquid emanates with a soft, gold-orange hue. Variations-wise, the husband added a stick of cinnamon in his cup for a more energetically warming drink. And a slice of ginger would also be a welcome addition, especially to soothe grumbling, upset stomachs.

May the transition to spring be a happy and healthy one. And stay tuned, there are more recipes on the way!

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Dried Orange Peel Tea

  • organic oranges (tangerines, mandarins, navel, etc)
  • hot water, boiled
  • 1 teaspoon honey, or to taste, optional
  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F.
  2. Peel the oranges with your hands or using a vegetable peeler. To avoid the bitterness of the white pith, keep the peel shallow, or scrape the pith off with a spoon. If you don’t mind the bitterness, however, it adds to the therapeutic quality of the peel.
  3. Slice the peel into thin strips.
  4. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, spread the orange peel in a single layer. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the peel is slightly hardened and curled.
  5. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let cool completely. You can store the peels in an air tight container and keep in a cool, dry place or in the fridge for up to 3 months.
  6. For the tea, add a spoonful of dried peel into a cup of hot boiling water. Let steep for 5-10 minutes. Stir in a teaspoon of honey. For variations, add a cinnamon stick or a slice of ginger and steep for an even more warming effect.

Hawaiian Oxtail Soup with Dried Orange Peel

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I believe every moment in life deserves its own soundtrack. Experimenting in the herby kitchen is rarely a quiet endeavor – and I am not speaking of the avalanche of sound that occurred earlier today when my packages of precariously perched herbs all toppled from its shelf onto the floor. Note to self (must organize…soon). No! I am speaking of cooking music. Last week’s mountain yam pancakes got serenaded by this guy. Today, I let the musical gurus of Songza take charge of my cooking soundtrack. I always get a little kick out of the curated playlist names they have for practically any activity of the day. “Kitchen Karaoke”, “Fireside Folk”, “Snuggling with Your Sweetie”. That’s when it occurred to me that today’s featured herb, the humble orange peel, is the very essence of “Sunshine Indie Pop“.

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I don’t think it takes a whole lot of explanation to understand the comparison. Dried tangerine orange peel, or as it’s known in Traditional Chinese Medicine, chen pi, is an herb with a perky nature that’s palatable in many circles, but still under the radar as far as its health power goes. We spend a lot of time enjoying the juicy orbs of the fruit itself, but the orange peel is something to be reckoned with on its own. For one, orange peel is a rich source of vitamin C and contains properties that soothe and support the body’s digestive functions.

Energetically speaking, orange peel is an aromatic agent, which means that it’s a mover and a shaker. Just think of biting into an orange or sipping orange juice. Even that is an instant invigorator. In an even more dramatic way, orange peel has the properties to move and regulate the qi energy of the body. What does that mean? Orange peel can get things moving in your body and it does this partially by helping dissolve mucous and permeating congestion.

In TCM, the gradual build-up of mucous and phlegm in our bodies are often the usual suspects behind many of our ailments. Feeling nauseous, bloated or foggy headed? A cup of orange peel tea would do you a world of good. Yet, sometimes phlegm-build up is not so obvious. Being super tired or not having much of an appetite could be a symptom of being phlegmy (if that’s you, much applause on being on this food blog).

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In the Chinese material medica, there are a host of medicinal formulas that include orange peel as a key player. But in my family, food is the go-to cure first. The husband tells the story that when he was a kid and feeling queasy in the stomach, his dad would hand him a bowl of food and say, “Eat! You’ll feel better”. And you know what? His dad was right, as long as you ate the right thing. I experimented with that idea today with this belly-nourishing oxtail broth enhanced with just a bit of dried, aged orange peel. It’s an Okinawan recipe heralding from Hawaii and the traditional recipe often includes other Chinese herbs, like red dates. For mine, I kept things simple with just an addition of dried shiitake mushrooms for added umami roundness, and lots of fresh spring onions and ginger as a garnish.

Just like the cheerful songs of “Sunshine Indie Pop” wiping away the malaise of a gloomy day, this soup is uplifting, but in a stabilizing kind of way. Oxtail, with its bone in, is an especially supportive and nourishing cut of meat because it’s literally the tail end of the ox and strengthens the kidneys, which is an organ that energetically supports your bones. Oxtail is not always easy to find, but search around. Costco supplies oxtail, although it’s always better to find organic or grass-fed, if you can.

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After parboiling the oxtail for 30 minutes to rid it of blood and other foamy excesses, add in the orange peel, star anise and ginger slices. I used medicinal orange peel which is aged and dried. It should have a strong citrus aroma and a dark skin. Homemade dried orange peel can be used too, although the qi-moving properties will be considerably weaker. I’ll be writing about how to make homemade dried orange peel later this week.

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Fresh Shanghainese bok choy makes an appearance here and adds a cool, pungent and slightly sweet energy to this warming soup. Any kind of bok choy or mustard green will do, but I welcomed these green-ombre’d beauties for their delicate flavor and light crunch.

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Refrigerating the soup overnight does wonders to meld the flavors together and to get the most out of the oxtail bone. What you get is a bone broth soup with a bang – and a happy belly at the end of the day. Add the fresh greens at the very end. Oh! And there’s peanuts – it’s part of the traditional Hawaiian recipe. We didn’t have any on hand, so I substituted cashews and was happy with the creamy way it dissolved on the tongue.

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This soup gets simmered until the meat practically falls off the bone. The orange peel is hidden away, but it’s there and you’ll notice its presence in the meat and broth. Drink it up on a day you’re not feeling so great and you’ll thank yourself. Or drink it any day for an instant pick-me-up.

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Hawaiian Oxtail Soup with Dried Orange Peel

Makes 4-6 servings
Adapted from Simply Recipes

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs oxtails
  • 1 piece dried orange peel, or a sliver of fresh orange zest minus the white pith
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 2-inch knob of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
  • 5 dried shiitake mushrooms, rinsed, optional
  • 1 tablespoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 cup of raw peanuts, shelled and skinned (or cashews)
  • 1/8 teaspoon chili pepper flakes (or more to taste)
  • A handful of bok choy, coarsely chopped (about 2 loosely packed cups)
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped (or not, for you non-cilantro lovers)
  • Green onions, sliced
  • Fresh ginger, grated
  1. Fill a 5-quart soup pot halfway with water and set on high to boil. Place the oxtail in and boil for half an hour, allowing the blood and foamy excess to float to the surface. Drain the pot and rinse the oxtails off. Trim them of any excess fat.
  2. Toss the oxtails back into the pot and fill with water until it reaches an inch above the oxtails. Add in the orange peel, star anise, ginger, mushrooms and salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer for an hour. Add the peanuts (or cashews), then simmer for another 2-3 hours until the oxtails are so tender it starts to fall off the bone.
  3. At this point, you have the choice of skimming the fat off the surface and finishing the soup, or letting the soup cool to refrigerate overnight. Allowing it to sit overnight gives the flavors a chance to meld and deepen. The fat will also solidify so it will be easier to pull off from the surface the next day.
  4. Bring the soup to a simmer. Add the chili flakes and bok choy. Cook for another 5 minutes until the greens are tender.
  5. To serve, place 3-4 oxtails in each bowl, with enough soup to cover. Garnish with cilantro, green onions and more fresh ginger on top.