today is Jan 22, 2022

Persimmon and Pecan and Lettuce Cups

Our neighbors have prolific persimmon trees of the Fuyu variety -- the squat kind. After we moved in, they started gifting us the fruit every fall. I live next to the best people. Turns out, the neighbors felt the same about me because they didn't like persimmons. Dan explained his redemptive motive in a funny essay that I shared on Viet World Kitchen a few years ago.

In 2020, Dan passed away from cancer. It's hard for us to believe that he's gone. His son, Keegan, is determined to keep up the persimmon tradition going. He told he hates persimmons and that he'd be glad to pick all that we ever wanted. My husband and I eat some of the fruit but the bulk of it goes to my mom, who adores them. This year's harvest was bigger than others so the family that owns our go-to Chinese restaurant in town got a box of persimmons, and so did my buddies John and Mike who live in New Mexico. Persimmons mail well because they're hard as rocks before they ripen to a sweet delicateness. To many Asians, persimmons are like gold.

fuyu persimmon

What the heck do we do with the persimmons? We let them ripen until soft-firm (give them a squeeze and they give a little) and eat them as fresh fruit. Mom uses a dehydrator to turn overripe mushy ones into persimmon leather. My family doesn't usually cook with them. I usually don't either, but this year, I hatched a plan to see if I could get Keegan to eat persimmons. As we progressed from summer into fall and watched the fruit ripen on their trees, Keegan would remark about his hated fruit. We bantered about how some day, I would make him like persimmons.

Motivated by proving Keegan wrong and wanting to create a dish suitable for the autumn, I dreamt up this lettuce cup snack. It's fruit filled, zesty, spicy and beautiful. It's easy and delicious -- perfect for persimmon lovers.

Peel Persimmons or Not?

I grew up with persimmons (called hồng in Vietnamese) as a prized autumnal fruit for the autumn season. Our family had access to the lantern-shape Hachiya persimmon but my parents swooned for the squat Fuyu persimmons called hồng giòn (literally "crunchy persimmon"). We always peeled them because the skin is tannic.

It wasn't until I dined at a Cal-Med restaurant in Berkeley years ago that I had a persimmon salad and the skin remained on the fruit. The textural contrast seemed unfamiliar, even though I ate fruits like apples, pears, and peaches with their skins intact.

Some folks find it strange that I'd peel every persimmon I eat. But to me, the tender-firm flesh of the Fuyu persimmon suffers if that tough skin remains. It's not like an apple, whose flesh is enjoyed crisp so the skin remains copacetic with the flesh. Unripe persimmon is crunchy and astringent. Ripe persimmon is silky, tender-firm.

When I made this salad, I pondered peeling or not. It's more nutritious to keep the peel on but it's elegant to remove the peel. You choose. Or, peel half and keep half and see what you think!

Why the apple and dressing?

Persimmon is fruity sweet and I wanted textural and flavor contrasts. A tart, crisp apple counters the persimmon perfectly. I chose Granny Smith but there are many other kinds out there. It's apple season.

As for the dressing, it's a slightly tweaked version of the lime-chile vinaigrette from my book, Vietnamese Food Any Day. I wanted something zippy with citrus notes. There's soy sauce in the dressing for savoriness but not too much to discolor the fruit.

Finally, I threw in a lot of fresh herbs to enliven the mixture with color and pungent herbaceous verve. I picked herbs lingering in the garden which is why you see mint, Thai basil, Vietnamese coriander (rau ram) and Vietnamese balm (kinh gioi). Use what you have so long as it's tender. Cilantro would be great. So would tarragon.

How to peel persimmons -- Video

Peeling fruit seems tedious but the persimmon is an easy one to peel. I do it and so does my non-Asian husband. Here's a video to encourage you to do it too!

How to Peel a Persimmon

For fresh flavor and silky tender texture, peel persimmons. Make a zippy salad with it!

0 seconds of 2 minutes, 44 seconds Volume 90%

Why Buttery Pecans and a hint of bitterness?

The go-to nut for Asian dishes like this one would be peanuts or walnuts. I used pecans because they have a delicate buttery sweetness. Given that people bake pies for the holidays and may have some around, I realized that the seasonal stars had lined up for me to go with pecans.

It was the right nut, though you may try something else -- even roasted peanuts will do! Regardless, coarsely chop or use a mortar and pestle to crush them.

To balance the flavors of the fruit, add a hint of bittersweet. I chose radicchio because of its mild bitter flavor and gorgeous color. Lettuce leaves would be fine. So would endive or escarole.

Did this recipe convert Keegan?

I brought my first batch to surprise him. He looked at the handsome persimmon mixture with a certain joy -- and he ate it! And he liked it! He said, "It's genius, phenomenal! Now I need serious therapy because I'm eating my hated fruit."

Ha. He's a joker and good sport. His mom loved the dish and they saved some for Keegan's wife, who's been hopeful about getting him to eat their family's homegrown persimmons. So, mission accomplished.

Who knows if Keegan will eat more persimmons but this terrific salady snack may be part of his repertoire. I hope it will become part of yours!

It's easy enough for a weeknight but special enough for the holidays. The recipe introduction below has extra serving ideas.

Chile-Lime Persimmon, Apple and Pecan Lettuce Cups

Peeling the persimmon and apple creates a clean fresh flavor. See the main post for a video on peeling persimmons. If you keep the skin on and the fruit came from a supermarket, scrub the fruit to remove any wax. Likewise, scrub the lime before zesting.

If you don't want to serve the the mixture as a lettuce cup sort of thing, offer it as a salad. Chop up some of the lettuce or radicchio and dress with a little salt, lime juice and oil. Put the persimmon mixture on top. The persimmon mixture would be a lovely relish-like side to roasted meats, too!

Course: Appetizer, Salad, Side Dish

Keyword: lettuce cup, persimmon

Servings: 6

Ingredients

Vinaigrette

  • 1 large lime, or 2 medium limes (smooth-skinned ones are juicier)
  • Unseasoned rice vinegar as needed
  • 1 tablespoons sugar, agave syrup, or honey
  • Mounded 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 big pinches recently ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon canola or other neutral oil
  • 1 small jalapeño or Fresno chile, finely chopped
  • 1 pound firm-ripe Fuyu persimmon
  • 8 ounces Granny Smith or other tart apple
  • 1 cup roasted pecans
  • 3/4 to 1 cup torn or coarsely chopped cilantro, mint, basil, and/or shiso leaves
  • Leaves from 1 small head soft leaf lettuce, or 1 medium head radicchio

Instructions

  • To make the dressing, using a fine-rasp grater, such as a Microplane, zest the lime directly into a small bowl. Squeeze the lime to get 3 tablespoons of juice; if you’re short, add vinegar to make up the difference. Add the lime juice to the zest and then add the sugar, salt, pepper, soy sauce, and canola oil. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then taste and season with extra salt or pepper to create a balanced, savory-tangy. When satisfied, add the chile and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes to develop more flavor before using.

  • Peel the persimmon and apple then dice them smallish, aiming for 1/4 and 1/2 inch cubes. Transfer to a bowl. Cover and chill up to 4 hours, if you need to hold it before serving.

  • As needed, cut the lettuce (or radicchio) into pieces about half the size of the palm of your hand. Set on a plate.

  • Coarsely chop or crush the pecans and add them to the bowl of persimmon. Add the herbs too.

  • To serve, pour the dressing over the persimmon, apple, pecan and herb mixture then gently toss to coat with flavor. Pile onto a shallow bowl or onto a plate. Serve with the lettuce or radicchio and invite diners to make little wraps.

Notes

The dressing may be kept in a lidded jar and refrigerated for up to 5 days. Bring to room temperature before using.

When is a Fuyu persimmon ripe? When gently squeezed, it gives a little. The color is bright orange but not yet reddish orange. 

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