Winter in North America a stark reminder of the lushness and abundance of summer. Summer is full of farmers’ markets and supermarkets loaded with the abundance of summer fruits that slowly fade and are replaced by the ghosts of their summer selves, imported during the winter from warmer climates. In today’s globalized market, there are still strawberries, blueberries, apricots and every other kind of summer fruit available and, while they are passable imitations using the eye test, when one bites into them, the illusion crumbles. They don’t taste of summer. Or much of anything, really.
The exception to this is citrus fruits. Winter is the resplendent dominion of citrus, the supermarkets loaded with numerous varieties of oranges, tangerines, pomelos, grapefruits, limes and more. Their bright peels, juicy flesh, aromatic zest, and tart flavors are welcome bursts of brightness in the darkest, coldest months of the year – welcome rays of sunshine on the supermarket shelf.
Here in Toronto we get an overwhelming variety of citrus fruits (comparatively), but over the past couple of years there have been a couple that have particularly caught my eye, citrus imported to Toronto under the ‘Jaffa’ brand: Jaffa Sweetie oranges or Jaffa Sweetie grapefruits.
Yafa (Jaffa) is a city on the coast of the Mediterranean, a city with a long, checkered, and distinguished history as an important seaport. During the 19th century, it became “the most important port in the Middle East and a key social, economic and cultural site in Palestine.” Jaffa was a cultural and commercial centre in Palestine, second only to Jerusalem in importance. It was also an important place for citrus groves because of its climate, with a much higher annual rainfall than areas farther inland. It was during the 19th century that Jaffa became globally known as a citrus growing centre, planting, growing and exporting citrus fruits to expanding markets around the world.
This all ended in 1948 when, as part of a larger Israeli effort to ‘depopulate’ Palestinian towns and cities (called ‘the Nakba’, or ‘the catastrophe’), Jaffa was attacked by Haganah and Irgun (Zionist paramilitary organizations) troops and the city was extensively bombed. The majority of the Palestinian population (50,000 to 150,000 depending on who is estimating) fled their homes, many forced to escape by sea as it was the only option in the face of the advancing land troops. Jaffa’s Palestinian residents were ‘literally driven into the sea.’ Not only was the city largely emptied and destroyed, but the surrounding citrus groves were also largely destroyed. Those that remained were seized by incoming Zionist settlers, claimed as “absentee property” under the newly formed Israeli state law.
More than a hundred years of Palestinian citraculture was destroyed and, as Tel Aviv (Jaffa’s Jewish neighbor) expanded and swallowed Jaffa, the citrus groves completely disappeared. Not only that, but the story of Palestinian citrus disappeared from the Israeli (and world) history textbooks, replaced with a new narrative. Jaffa became a trademark of the Israeli state, a name to sell their fruit internationally despite the lack of citrus groves in Jaffa and despite the fact that it was Palestinians who had grown citrus there, making a name for Jaffa. The Citrus Marketing Board of Israel controls production and marketing of all citrus in Israel, branding at least eight different varieties of citrus under the Jaffa name, part of a coordinated international marketing campaign.
Beyond the erasure of the city, its Palestinian citrus growing legacy, and the re-invention of Jaffa as a citrus trademark, the Jaffa citrus has played an important role in the narrative of the Israeli state as a whole. Part of the myth of Israel is that the Jewish people arrived in Palestine and found an arid desert, poorly utilized by Palestinians, and it was Israel that made the land flourish, turning a wasteland into a sustainable place to live. Without Israel there would be nothing but desert and nomadic wanderers, so the story goes. It’s a tactic as old as settler colonialism itself, told across settler colonial geographies: the erasure of Indigenous land use and food practices to legitimize settler theft of the land.
But, in reality, the citrus groves of Jaffa existed prior to occupation and it was the Palestinian growers who harnessed the bountiful region to first grow citrus fruits and turn Jaffa into a name associated with those bright, juicy, bursts of sunshine. But, in the narrative of Zionist occupation, citrus fruit became an important symbol that embodied their colonization of Palestine, their redemption of a desert land. Stamps were produced championing the Jaffa citrus, posters and propaganda highlighted the lushness of the Israeli state and its citrus fruits, with no mention of the Palestinian groves that had been destroyed in Jaffa. Israel had turned the desert into a greenhouse and the Jaffa citrus fruit was the branded version, the symbol, of that colonization story.
Today, Israeli citrus fruits are not grown in Jaffa but elsewhere in the West Bank, on land designated for the state of Palestine by the United Nations under the original partition agreement. These are illegally occupied territories, policed and patrolled to the detriment of the Palestinians who live there. Each year more land is taken for the benefit of the Jewish settlers. The Jewish settlements are always expanding, in contravention to international law, often demolishing Palestinian homes and farmland to make way for more Jewish homes and farms. Jaffa citrus fruits often appear on Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) lists, an appeal to the international community to stop supporting businesses that profit off of the illegal occupation of Palestinian land. In 2013, the CJPME (Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East) encouraged Canadians to boycott Jaffa citrus fruits, saying that “buying Jaffa oranges or other Israeli products reinforces the Israeli economy. This facilitates Israel’s ongoing violation of international law and helps normalize these violations.”
Recipe Notes: I’ve used blood oranges in this salad, but feel free to substitute with another orange or citrus variety not grown by Israel in the occupied West Bank.
Grilled Halloumi and Citrus Salad with Simple Sumac Vinaigrette
A salad, in its simplest conception, is a gathering of miscellaneous ingredients tethered by a shared dressing. But, a good salad, is more than this; a good salad belies its simplicity and steals the show with its collage of different flavors and textures and sensations. A recent Twitter thread went viral by sharing the building blocks to ensure your salads are never dull and flavorless (salad shouldn't be boring!): this one checks all the boxes of that thread (Herbs! Tasty greens! Cheese! Citrus!). Halloumi, common around the Mediterranean, including in Palestine, is also becoming more common here in North America (I found and used a locally made halloumi!). It's a firm cheese that doesn't melt easily, with a slightly salty character. Grilling it not only softens the texture but adds flavor and warmth (another sensation in your collage!). The richness of the halloumi is offset by the bright punch of the citrus and the earthy tartness of the sumac. The arugula (rocket) adds a spicy character, and is commonly used in the Middle East as well. This is a perfect salad as a side alongside some grilled meat, or even as a light, vegetarian lunch as the halloumi and seeds pack a protein punch!
- For the dressing:
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice (or 1 medium lemon)
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup (more, to taste)
- 1 teaspoon sumac
- 1 medium clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- For the salad:
- 1 small box/bag of baby arugula leaves
- 1 small box of mixed sprouts (or sprouts of your choice)
- 3 blood oranges (or another orange/citrus)
- 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
- 1 large handful of fresh mint leaves, torn or roughly cut
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 270-300 grams of halloumi cheese, sliced into 1 inch thick slabs
Whisk together all the ingredients for the salad dressing and set aside.
To prepare the citrus, I prefer cutting off the rind, then cutting the citrus horizontally into slices. From there, you can cut each slice into segments. This method reduces the skin and pith still attached to the orange and also allows a nice presentation of the citrus.
Prepare the salad in a large bowl, mixing together the arugula, citrus, sunflower seeds & mint.
Heat your oil in a frying pan until hot and then place the halloumi slabs into the pan. Grill approximately 2 minutes on each side, until the cheese has browned and has a crisp edge. Remove and cut into triangles or cubes or another bite sized shape.
Pour the dressing over the salad and mix well. Add in the halloumi and lightly toss. It's ready to serve!
Salad doesn't keep well once the dressing is added, but you can prepare the dressing and salad separately ahead of time and just mix before serving!