Fall fruit

For many diners, coming across the sweet bites of fruit feels like a reward for the palate for eating their greens.

faye salad 88 (photo credit: )
faye salad 88
(photo credit: )
It happened to be autumn when my husband and I visited Istanbul for the first time. A Turkish acquaintance commented that the variety of fruit available in their cooler months is at least as good as their summer fruit. There certainly was a wonderful selection at the markets, like the plump dark figs, which were perfect as a scrumptious snack, and the large quinces that turned red after being poached in a sweet, dense syrup and were served topped with a luscious thick cream called kaimak. Fortunately, I don't have to go to Istanbul to enjoy the abundance of fine fruit during this season. I have always loved the fruits of fall, whether I lived in Israel, France or California. And the selection available to us just keeps getting better. Of course apples are the stars. Even though we can find them year round, at this time of year the orchards produce the greatest number of varieties, of different hues and flavors. Pears are easy to find too and now, in addition to the usual European pears, there are Asian pears as well, called nashi in Israeli markets. Some people call them apple pears because they are crunchy and are often round like apples and their flavor recalls pears. Although you can cook them, I prefer to use them raw because their crisp, refreshing texture is the secret to their charm. The same is true of persimmons, another seasonal favorite of ours. Fall is the time to feast on this fabulous fruit and to remember that its season is fleeting. This year we were delighted that our tree gave us a bountiful crop over 20 kg., but that hasn't stopped us from buying more, of a different variety, at the market. Like Asian pears, persimmons are best used raw, as they lose their subtle flavor and texture if you cook them. Although autumn is associated in our minds with apple and other fruit pies, quite a few of the fruits we find in the fall are best left uncooked. Grapes, kiwis, pomegranate seeds and citrus fruits are much better left in as natural a state as possible. Of course, you can serve them in dessert salads, but when I studied cooking in France, I learned that all make terrific embellishments for green salads. At that time, the late 1970s, adding fruit to a first-course salad was quite unusual, almost revolutionary in France, and only innovative chefs did so. But the custom caught on quickly and soon became popular in American cuisine as well. I did not know then that combining fruit and vegetables in salad was not really a new idea. In Russia, Germany and Eastern Europe doing this is quite common. Lesley Chamberlain, author of The Food and Cooking of Eastern Europe, wrote that Germans particularly like to combine green vegetables with fruit, for example green beans with stewed sliced pears. She also makes a Czech salad of raw celery root, apples, green onions and a light oil, vinegar and water dressing with a touch of sugar. Mimi Sheraton, who wrote The German Cookbook, makes a red cabbage salad with celery root, chopped apples, dill pickles, grated horseradish and a sour cream dressing with a little sugar and vinegar. She also has an unusual appetizer salad of halved grapes, sliced pimento-stuffed olives and a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice and sugar. According to Siri Lise Doub, author of Taste of Latvia, Latvians make coleslaw from cabbage with apples, carrots, parsley and a sour cream dressing; they make a similar salad from sauerkraut too. Apples also enter their beet salads, mixed with celery, onions and a sour cream and mayonnaise dressing. Russians also like greens with fruit, wrote Nina Petrova in The Best of Russian Cooking. For a chicory and fruit salad, they mix the sturdy greens with orange and apple slices and mayonnaise. Another green salad calls for pineapple, celery and diced beets, with a slightly sweetened French dressing. Even white beans benefit from fruit, and Petrova combines them with beets and apples in a sweetened vinaigrette dressing. Chefs in East and West know that if you garnish your greens with just about any fall fruit - pomegranate seeds, kiwi, persimmon, pear or apple slices - your salad will become a festive appetizer. For many diners, coming across the sweet bites of fruit feels like a reward for the palate for eating their greens. GREEN SALAD WITH PEARS, POMEGRANATE SEEDS AND PECANS Use European or Asian pears in this salad, or substitute crisp apple slices, kiwi slices, orange wedges or a mixture of fruit. 6 to 8 cups mixed baby lettuces, bite-size pieces of romaine or other greens 1⁄2 cup shredded red cabbage (optional) 11⁄2 Tbsp. white or red wine vinegar Salt and freshly ground pepper 4 to 5 Tbsp. walnut oil, olive oil or vegetable oil pinch of sugar (optional) 2 large pears 1⁄2 cup walnut or pecan halves, lightly toasted 1⁄4 to 1⁄3 cup pomegranate seeds or golden raisins (optional) Rinse and dry greens thoroughly. Tear or cut large leaves in bite-size pieces. Add red cabbage and toss to combine. Whisk vinegar with salt and pepper in a medium bowl; whisk in oil and add a pinch of sugar if you like. Just before serving, cut pears in thin slices. Toss greens with just enough dressing to moisten them. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve greens topped with pear slices, pomegranate seeds and walnuts. Makes 4 to 6 servings. Faye Levy is the author of Fresh from France: Vegetable Creations.