Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Playdate Special: Persimmon and Fennel Salad with Lemon

091204_persimmon salad_3

This easy, delicious salad has only three primary ingredients: fennel, persimmon, and preserved lemon. If you're aren't familiar with all of them, it's time to be introduced -- they're all in season now. Your taste buds will be forever in your debt.

My 5-year-old has been on a persimmon kick, but I was bracing for him to balk at trying it with any seasoning. To my surprise, he loved it. Unfortunately, he was in kindergarten Friday and couldn't encourage his friends to try our new favorite salad. But they were happy enough to munch on delicately spiced popovers and Granny Smith apples.

The secret to the flavoring of this salad is preserved lemons. They're common in Moroccan food, and you'll find lots of tagine recipes requiring them. I've never made a tagine, but I've added preserved lemon to seafood, vegetables, grains, chicken, and salad. All you need are some lemons, kosher or coarse sea salt, a jar with a tight lid, and a month to watch that sunshine-yellow jar with anticipation. While you wait, however, you can enjoy this salad with simple lemon zest. The preserved lemons will stay good for a year or two.

Fennel, also known as sweet anise, looks a bit like celery. This recipe uses the fat bulb and the dill-like fronds; you can also use the stalks just like celery and enjoy with dip or flavor soups.

Persimmons are plentiful around here. Fuyu persimmons, used in this salad, are round and best enjoyed on the firm side. Hachiya are somewhat heart-shaped and need to be very ripe and soft (I use those for baking).

If you have still more persimmons, try Winter Jewel Salad, with persimmon, pomegranates, and dates in a cinnamon-orange dressing that tastes like fall, and Persimmon Compote, which is delicious stirred into yogurt or oatmeal or spooned over ice cream..

Persimmon and Fennel Salad

You probably won't need to add salt if you use preserved lemons (recipe below).

1/2 preserved lemon, rinsed well and diced, or grated zest from 1/2 a lemon
juice of half a lemon (Meyer, if you have one)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 fennel bulb
3 Fuyu persimmons
salt and pepper to taste
2 ounces baby spinach

Combine preserved lemon or zest, lemon juice, and olive oil in a large bowl. Whisk to combine.
Wash fennel bulb and remove any tough outer layers. Cut the stalks and fronds just above the bulb and set aside. Cut bulb into quarters and remove the tough core. Thinly slice fennel and put in a large bowl.
Peel persimmons and cut into eighths; add to bowl.
Stir gently, taste, and add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve on top of baby spinach leaves and sprinkle with chopped fennel fronds.

Use organic lemons -- you eat these peel and all, and it's worth the trouble to find ones that haven't been sprayed.

organic lemons (Meyer are especially good, but any kind will work)
kosher salt or coarse sea salt
large jar with tight-fitting lid
optional spices: cinnamon stick, cloves, cardamom pods, bay leaves, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, peppercorns

Be sure to have enough lemons to fill your jar, plus extras for juice.
Sterilize your jar and lid by boiling in water for 10 minutes.
Scrub lemons well. Cut away any stems. Slice the lemons almost completely in half, but not all the way through. Make another cut, perpendicular to the first, so you've cut the lemons nearly into quarters. Pack the cuts with salt and put lemons in the jar. Pack firmly! Add any spices, if you wish, and add enough lemon juice to completely cover the lemons.
Shake the jar every day or two to evenly distribute juice and salt. As lemons soften, add a few more.
After a month, your lemons are ready! They're very salty: Rinse before using, and taste before adding more salt to a dish.
I've been assured the jar never needs refrigeration, but I stick it in the fridge after opening it. The pickling juice can be reused over the course of the year.


Cindy Rowland said...

uh. yum! this looks amazing.

Heather said...

Making this for a dinner party tonight!

Heather said...

This is also good with apples instead of persimmons! (The end of persimmon season snuck up on me, but I still wanted to make the salad, so used Braeburn apples instead. Very tasty!)

Darienne said...

I will have to try that -- I was just thinking it was a shame the persimmons were gone. Glad you liked it!


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