By Mary Ann Ebner
Give me an edible gift and I’ll give you a nourishing meal in return. If we’re sustaining the age of natural and delicious gifts of food, I’m going to do my part to continue the trend.
Who doesn’t love the surprise of a beautiful bottle of wine or even a pint of maple syrup? I’m grateful for all the bounty that comes my way, from free-range eggs that my neighbor offers to me from her share to vibrant green sprigs of basil that Kate Vikstrom, our graphic designer and layout editor at The Paper, showers coworkers with when her basil plants are producing at peak volume.
Beyond providing the simple joy of being on the receiving end of someone’s thoughtfulness and generosity, the givers of edible gifts help us discover new tastes. Food gifts (all the better if givers know the tendencies of recipients to like or dislike particular flavors or to tolerate certain foods) can spark a new appreciation, inspire a unique recipe and renew the motivation to create meals with fresh ingredients (and the unshrinking culinary connoisseur will find a way to make use of even the most obscure edible elements).
The latest wave of sweet and savory gifts that has made a way to our home includes a wide range from Greek wine to luscious linzer cookies to Hudson Valley honey, and we’ve enjoyed everything. But the most succulent gift of all was undeniably the parcel of persimmons. A native Asian seedless fruit, dripping with sweet flavor and bold orange flesh, the Fuyu persimmons that we received turn up seasonally around the Hudson Valley.
I can’t offer the reason why I’ve skipped the purchase of persimmons for the past several years, but I resolve to change the pattern. It’s just one of those produce items that I pass by, pausing briefly to notice how appetizing they look, but then I keep right on moving to avocados or some other staple that I probably overuse.
The Fuyu variety of persimmons given to us, round shaped with taught skin, was selected with a keen eye for quality, and a sticker on one of them revealed their Spanish origin. This particular variety, #4428, was labeled as “sharon fruit,” a seedless treat that can be eaten raw, cooked or juiced.
Our bright orange fruit rested on the kitchen counter for several days, and one of my sons said they looked a lot like tomatoes. And they do. But he couldn’t quite believe how their taste differed from tomatoes. Once they ripened to perfection, we pulled away the waxy peel with a paring knife and sliced one to sample the flavor. Each piece burst with a sweet and juicy sensation. They taste so ambrosial that you want to savor every bite. We polished off the slices, which needed nothing to enhance their natural goodness.
For the remaining persimmons, I chose to showcase them as the star of a salad. Not a side salad, but a superb family meal of a salad. A mature jicama sat in my refrigerator, and I decided to assemble it as a key ingredient as well to amp up the salad’s taste and texture. The crunch of the jicama added the perfect complement to the velvety smoothness of the persimmon slices. Served on a bed of greens, baby spinach and kale, and finished with a citrus-enhanced vinaigrette dressing, the persimmon and jicama salad not only created a splash of color on our dinner plates, but satiated us with a healthy and hearty menu.
It might be time to give your table the gift of an upgraded salad, embellished with ingredients that you may be overlooking at the farmers market or the produce aisle at Foodtown. Assemble a salad of a different sort and keep its components in mind: a nice bed of whatever’s leafy green and in season (or for the lucky ones — what your neighbor is growing next door), a key vegetable or two from peppers to carrots, your preferred protein (meat, fish or a selection of beans), something crunchy from seeds to nuts, and a subtle splash of vinaigrette dressing.
I used hulled organic sunflower seeds in this salad, since one among us has a nut allergy. For those who are able to indulge, consider a hazelnut, almond or pine nut addition. And a cheese (goat cheese would be spectacular) may perfectly finish this effort. We didn’t add cheese this time, but there will be a next.
Give a gift to savor and build a better supper salad.
Baby Greens and Persimmon Supper Salad
½ teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon orange zest
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange (or clementine) juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon light balsamic vinegar
pinch of sea salt
Combine all ingredients except oil. Add olive oil and whisk thoroughly.
6 to 8 handfuls of baby greens (rinsed and dried)
1 medium jicama, quartered, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons hulled sunflower seeds
¼ cup pomegranate seeds
3 ripe persimmons, peeled and sliced
Place jicama, sunflower seeds and pomegranate seeds in mixing bowl and toss with half of the vinaigrette. Arrange greens on platter and layer jicama mixture on top. Add persimmon pieces. Drizzle with remaining vinaigrette. Serve immediately.
Photos by M.A. Ebner