Sunday 24 May 2009

Fresh Persimmon Salsa, and lovely food words

Hachiya persimmon. A watercolour by Amanda A.
Newton,  1887, via Wikimedia Commons
The word 'persimmon' is, to my mind, among the loveliest words in the English lexicon: it's a feathery whisper of a word, ever so slightly astringent, yet with spicy and exotic undertones. It's certainly among my favourite food words, those wonderful epithets that evoke, sometimes in just a single syllable, the taste and perfume of a single ingredient. Take, for example, those ineffable words 'peach' and 'plum'. Just thinking these two juicy, crunchy, sun-warmed words makes my mouth water.

Or how about nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, citrus, pepper, fig, coffee and sherry? Do these words fire up any pathways in your brain, or tickle any scent receptors in your nostrils?

Then there are the less flattering food words, which do not exactly sit up and beg to be said out loud, but that perfectly describe the distinctive texture and shape of a foodstuff: think of yolk (round, golden and gloopy), gizzards* (grey, grizzled and gizzardy), cabbage (crunchy, peppery and farty), and parsnip (wizened goblins' legs).

These thoughts of food words passed through my mind as I was peeling a perfect persimmon because I had read, that very morning, in our South African Sunday Times, an interesting piece about how words have the ability to seduce us, or utterly repel us. I can't find the link to the South African version, but here is a copy of the original article by Kristi Gustafson, whose least favourite words are (sorry to do this to you, just before I post a recipe, but read them, and you will get my point), pus, panties and vigil.

Anyway, back to the persimmons (also known as Sharon fruit). The first persimmon I ever tasted was mouth-puckeringly, palate-strippingly astringent, and so traumatised was I by the experience that I avoided them for at least a decade. I had foolishly bitten into an heart-shaped persimmon, which contains exceedingly high levels of soluable tannins. The tomato-shaped persimmon, also known as fuyu, is far more palatable, with a sweet, distinctive flavour and, when just on the point of ripeness, a nice crunchy texture.

I gazed at my persimmons for a good twenty minutes, trying to think what to do with them.

They weren't soft or juicy enough for a crumble or a fruit salad, and there weren't enough of them to make a chutney, so I opted for a fresh, zingy, citrusy salsa, which I served with stir-fried, marinated chicken strips, wraps and shredded lettuce. This would be lovely with an oily, meaty fish, such as tuna, yellowtail or mackerel.

If you have any good recipes using ripe persimmons, please let me know.

Fresh Persimmon Salsa

2 just-ripe persimmons
½ yellow pepper (capsicum), finely chopped
5 little radishes, finely chopped
2 spring onions, white parts and pale green parts only, finely chopped
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
2 Tbsp (30 ml) freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
4 tsp (20 ml) olive oil
the juice of 1 sweet orange
a small handful of fresh mint or coriander [cilantro], or both, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper

Remove the stalk end of the persimmon, and, using a potato peeler or a small sharp knife, thinly peel it and chop into little cubes. Place into a mixing bowl, add all the remaining ingredients, and toss well to combine.

Keeps for up to four hours in the fridge.

Serves 4.

* Gizzards: two years ago, at a hotel in Mauritius, my sisters and I came across a buffet dish intriguingly labelled 'Candied Gizzards'. We took bets about what this could be, and all lost our wagers: it turned out to be a dish of caramelized chicken livers.

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1 comment:

Nina Timm said...

I think you did wonders with the persimmon......I have also just tried it once before without much success!!!