French Recipes: Citrus Soup with Sichuan Pepper

French Recipes: Citrus Soup with Sichuan Pepper

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Photo: Allison Zinder.

With the holidays well behind us, lots of Parisians are trying to rid their bodies of the excesses of the fêtes and have resolved to eat better and get more exercise. Joggers are running me down on the sidewalks, the swimming pool is splashing mad, and the magasin bio – or organic grocery – near my apartment has a line out the door during rush hour. The word on everyone’s lips again this year? Détox.

In French, this word is a noun, but also a regular –er verb, as in “Je détoxe pendant quelques jours” or “I’m detoxing for a few days.” But like many words transformed from English, it’s also an adjective. Glaring down at a bowl of peanuts at a party last weekend, a friend told me, “Ce n’est pas très detox, ça.” Not very detox at all.

But you can bet that with plenty of citrus fruit, this dessert soup is definitely detox, besides which the Sichuan, or Szechuan, pepper, helps you digest your meal. Even though the pepper isn’t entirely noticeable in this dessert, without it, the recipe just wouldn’t taste the same.

Sichuan, or Szechuan, pepper not only adds a kick to the soup, but it helps you digest your meal. Photo: Allison Zinder.

The tonka beans are optional, since they’re tough to find in the U.S. I’ve seen them sold – but NOT as a foodstuff – on a website or two. If you’re in Paris, you can pick up tonka beans at Izraël, one of the best spice shops in the capital.

One technique in this recipe requires a little practice and skill: segmenting citrus fruit. If you’ve never done it, Saveur magazine has a great video that shows you how to segment (or supreme) any citrus fruit.

Since fruit is by nature variable in terms of acidity, I like to taste this before serving to make sure it doesn’t need a little extra sugar to cut that acidity. But the pleasing tartness is also what makes such a nice finish to a rich meal.


2 Valencia oranges

1 grapefruit

¼ cup (50g) sugar

⅓ cup (100ml) water

½ plump vanilla pod, split down the middle lengthwise

⅛ teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns (about 10), crushed

½ tonka bean, finely grated (optional)

3 blood oranges

To finish:

1 grapefruit

2 blood oranges

2 clementines

Blood oranges are in season now, and a beautiful way to use them is in this dessert soup. Photo: Allison Zinder.

how to make it:

  1. Zest one of the Valencia oranges into a small saucepan, then thoroughly squeeze the grapefruit and the two Valencia oranges directly into a small saucepan, picking out any large seeds with a fork. You should have about 1½-2 cups of juice and pulp.
  2. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat, and bring it to the boil. Lower the heat slightly, and let this juice reduce by half. (You should end up with about ¾ to 1 cup of reduced juice.)
  3. Combine the sugar and water in another small saucepan. Bring to the boil over medium heat. When all the sugar is dissolved (after about 1 minute of simmering), turn off the heat, and scrape the half vanilla pod’s contents into the saucepan using the back of a small knife.
  4. Add the Sichuan peppercorns and grated tonka bean if using. Cover and let steep for about 20 minutes. Strain this mixture into the juice reduction, which should be finished by now.
  5. Juice the 3 blood oranges to obtain about ¾ cup of juice. If there’s a little more, that’s fine. Add this juice to the reduction/soup.
  6. Segment the remaining fruit over a wide bowl to catch the juice, and squeeze into the bowl the leftover pulp and skins as you go. Pour any remaining juices into the juice soup. Taste the fruit soup – if it’s too tart, add a teaspoon or two of simple syrup or confectioner’s sugar that will dissolve quickly.
  7. Distribute fruit segments evenly into 4 transparent fruit coupes or any small shallow bowls.
  8. Pour about ½ cup of the juice into each, and serve, or refrigerate for a few hours to serve chilled. Bon app’!

serves 4