Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ingredient Spotlight for the New Year: Many Faces of Persimmon



One of my food resolutions for 2013 is to try new foods, not necessarily new restaurants or even new preparations so much as actual new food items that I haven't yet been introduced to--like an unfamiliar vegetable or a cheese or a type of fish.  I've also decided that I would like to introduce others to my favorite foods as well in this increasingly global culinary world.

As a child growing up in Korea, one of my favorite fruits was persimmon.  I have since come to discover that persimmons don’t appeal to many western tastebuds.  A friend I offered persimmon to once (almost twenty years ago) diplomatically declared that it must be an “acquired taste,” one which he clearly had no intention of trying hard to acquire.  Of course, I’ve also had the rude awakening to the fact that many westerners don’t consider sweetened red bean paste a dessert delicacy worthy of a place next to chocolate.  (Okay, I kind of see that one, but I still like my red bean paste!)

But, really, the world is changing.  I’m going to advocate for persimmon again.  One of the great things about persimmons is that you can enjoy them in so many different forms.  Remember though that you need to start with Fuyu Persimmon if you don’t accidentally want to be turned off these fruits forever.  While Fuyu is a variety that can be eaten firm or mushy, you can only tolerate Hachiya Persimmon completely ripe.  Otherwise, you’ll have a mouth full of chalky tannins and won’t want ever to try another one.

As you can see from the picture above, Fuyu persimmons are the smaller, flatter kind—Hachiya persimmons are the elongated ones—and there are at least 3 different stages at which you can enjoy these persimmons.

1) Firm, julienned for salads.


Williams-Sonoma’s Cooking from the Farmer’s Market has a very simple recipe for “Fuyu Persimmon with Napa Cabbage Salad” in which you toss a light dressing with shredded cabbage and peeled and julienned persimmon.  I’ve made this salad with Napa cabbage as suggested, but I find I make it more often with Romaine lettuce since the lettuce is in my fridge more often.  Really, either will do.


The recipe also calls for making a dressing with vegetable oil, white wine vinegar (or lemon juice), sugar, salt, and pepper before sprinkling toasted sesame seeds on top.  You can certainly make this dressing—and you can even add a little sesame oil or even a tiny bit of soy sauce, depending on what flavors you are looking to complement.  A favorite dressing of mine requires no work at all.  I whisk together a lemony olive oil with an orange white balsamic vinegar.  The combination picks up the sweet, tart, and citrus flavors and marries them wonderfully in a light salad.

2) Medium ripe.

This is really the way most people like to eat persimmons.  They should be still firm enough that you can cut them into slices, but just ripe enough that you might feel them smush a bit as you peel—and, yes, please do peel persimmons.  By themselves, they should taste honeyed, slightly citrusy.  Parts of the persimmon might have a bit more firm bite to them while other parts might disintegrate easily in your mouth.  There might be still a tiny bit of chalky aftertaste, but it shouldn’t be overwhelming.


3) Very Ripe.

Asians also eat persimmons—both Fuyu and Hachiya varieties—very ripe, but I don’t see many westerners rushing to eat them this way.  Once you’ve forgotten about the persimmons ripening on your countertop and discover that they do not hold their shape very well, you are ready to whip out the spoon.  Carefully take the leafy top (calyx) off of your persimmon and either discard the top or peel it back to expose the ripened fruit beneath.  Using one hand to cup the persimmon carefully (or placing it on a small plate or bowl), take your teaspoon (a tablespoon would be too big for the opening) and scoop out the flesh.  Continue until you’re left with just the thin outer shell of peel.


Asian grocery stores also sell dried persimmons.  They are chewy and sweet, perhaps like a combination between dried apricots and dried mangos.

Hopefully your 2013 will be full of other new discoveries as well!


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