|Bowl by David Walters, Master Potter of Franschhoek. See my note about the damask napkin at end of this page.|
I thought I'd try prickly pears in a salad, for a change, and I hope you'll enjoy this unusual combination of green prickly pears, creamy feta and watercress, sparked with a little dried chilli. The first time I made this, I whisked up a fairly complex vinaigrette flavoured with mint, ginger and garlic, but it stomped rudely all over the simple, clean tastes of the key ingredients. On my second try, I sprinkled the salad with just a little olive oil and lemon juice, and a pinch of salt, and this more restrained dressing brought all the flavours together nicely.
This recipe is partly inspired by Nigella Lawson's Watermelon, Feta and Black Olive Salad, an intriguing combination of salty and sweet (with a punch of red onion and mint) that has spread like a rash across the Internet and, in the process, become a bit of a cliché. I don't know for sure that Nigella was the first to write this recipe down, but if she was, she deserves all credit for it. (And I think a few crescents of very finely sliced red onion would add some real zip to my recipe.)
Please don't be put off by the idea of peeling prickly pears. The skin comes away very easily and neatly, and you won't be pricked if you use a fork and a very sharp paring knife. I've used green-fleshed prickly pears here, but this is just as good with pink ones.
If this recipe convinces you that prickly pears are worth buying, try my Prickly Pear Granita, or my Prickly Pear and Grape Salad with Frozen Rosemary Sugar.
Salad of Prickly Pears, Feta and Watercress
6 large, ripe prickly pears, chilled overnight
2 'wheels' (about 140 g) creamy feta cheese, cubed
a small bunch of fresh watercress, leaves picked
1 tsp (5 ml) dried red chilli flakes, or more, to taste
salt and milled black pepper
a little extra-virgin olive oil
fresh lemon juice
First peel the cold pears. Cut about 5 mm off the top and bottom of each pear, using a kitchen cloth or a rubber glove to grasp the pear while you do so. Place a pear, upright, on a chopping board. Push the tines of a fork into the top of the pear to hold it fast. Now, using the tip of a sharp paring knife, make four vertical cuts, about 3mm deep, into the skin of the pear, scoring from top to bottom. Use the fork to peel away the skin in sections; it will come away easily if the pears are ripe. Cut the pear in half vertically and slice into thick half-moons. Repeat with the remaining pears.
Put the pears in a bowl and add the feta, watercress and chilli flakes. Season with salt and pepper (but go easy on the salt, as the feta is already quite salty). Toss all the ingredients gently together. Pile the mixture onto a platter (or onto individual plates) and drizzle with a little olive oil and a generous spritz of lemon juice. Serve immediately.
Serves 6 as a starter.
Note about the damask napkin in the picture: I'm a sucker for heavy damask napkins, and treasure the old ones I have, but they're looking more pink than white these days (having done heavy duty mopping up red wine puddles over the years). I was very pleased to find a bolt of prettily patterned damask at Fabric World in Main Road, Wynberg, and astonished when they charged me - last year's price, so don't quote me - only R13 per napkin to stitch the edges, which was very neatly done. I spent about R330 for 12 napkins, and I think they're worth every cent.