Friday 8 January 2010

Prickly Pear and Grape Salad with Frozen Rosemary Sugar

I don't know why prickly pears aren't more popular in this country. With their sweet perfumed taste, an elusive mixture of kiwi fruit and watermelon, and their gorgeous nubbly seeds, they are a rare treat in midsummer.

Prickly Pear and Grape Salad with Frozen Rosemary Sugar
My childhood friend Margaret, who lived on a smallholding near ours, introduced me to prickly pears, which grew on a towering cactus behind the barn.  I didn't believe her when she said you could eat the fruit from this plant, with its huge, frightening paddle-shaped leaves, so she put on some gardening gloves and picked a basketful.

She warned me not to touch them:  I did, of course, and later spent hours tweezing the little hairs from my fingertips. The next most important thing, Margaret, aged 8, told me, was that prickly pears should always be served ice-cold, and I have followed this instruction all my life.  I also still use her method of peeling the fruit, using a knife and fork (see recipe, below).

Those pears were a lovely green; these - from my local Pick 'n Pay - are an arresting deep pink that is so intense that my poor cheapie camera broke into a sweat trying to focus on them in poor light (hence the crappy picture).

In this recipe I have combined the pears with with tart, sweet, snappy seedless grapes - coming into high season in the Cape - and a dusting of sugar whizzed up with frozen rosemary needles.  I spied the frozen rosemary while I was rummaging in the freezer for the prickly pears, which I'd put there to cool off, and the combination of sweet pear with a hint of resiny rosemary is just delicious.

Prickly Pear and Grape Salad with Frozen Rosemary Sugar

10 ripe prickly pears [cactus pears]
a big bunch of crisp seedless red grapes
1/2 cup (125 ml) granulated white sugar
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, frozen overnight
the juice of half a lemon

Chill the pears by placing them in the freezer for 45 minutes (or overnight in the fridge). Push a fork into the flesh of each pear to secure it and cut off the top and bottom. Now, using a sharp knife, divide the skin of each pear into four quarters lengthways, cutting about 1 mm deep.

Using another fork, peel away each section of skin, which will come away easily if the pears are fully ripe.  Slice into discs. Halve the grapes and place all the fruit on a chilled platter. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and toss gently.

To make the rosemary sugar, strip the rosemary needles quickly from their stalks (they thaw fast) and place them with the sugar into the small chopping/coffee-grinding attachment on a blender (or use a mortar and pestle). Quickly blitz or pound to a fine dust. Don't worry if a few stray needles remain intact.  Take the dish to the table and serve the 'dust' separately: if you put it on beforehand, it will dissolve into the salad.

Serves 6 as a dessert.

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Maryon said...

Part of my mispent youth was spent in the Eastern Cape(Grahamstown..sound familiar?) and there are prickly pears in abundance..we had a holiday home at St Francis Bay not a million miles away from Uitenhague and how come I never knew there was a PP festival in the vacinity!
My father took great delight in showing us how to peel the little critters without "Hands" much as you did. Enjoy them..they are one of SA's hidden food delights.

Nina Timm said...

Wow, that is such a unique and interesting salad!!!! Love the rosemary sugar!!!

Jane-Anne said...

Maryon, I'm interested to see several comments on my Facebook link today from people saying they were also taught the hands-free technique. Then I remembered that my friend Margaret - mentioned in my post - had relatives in East London. I wonder if that's who taught her the peeling technique? Agree that PPs are one of SA's hidden food delights.

Jeanne said...

I remember people by the roadside when you drove between PE and grahamstown selling great big bags of prickly pears... I was always scared of the prickles though :) What a gorgeous salad!