Disappointment, you are called winter fruit salad.
Is winter coming, how many baby shows, how many brunches, how many holiday buffets and dinners have touted “seasonal” fruit salads that turned out to be dull – at best?
There you are, trying your damn thing to put something healthy on your plate, something like a counterweight to Eggs Benedict / baked brie / eggnog / cream cream coffeecake / French onion dip, which you send quickly as the winter kilos accumulate quickly. Minus its bright colors, however, the fruit salad has no appeal. The pink watermelon squares, mushy blueberries, fibrous orange segments and flinty cantaloupe cubes certainly do not call your name.
We live in northern New England. I understand it. This summer’s delicious berries and sugary melons are only a distant memory. Even the satisfying crunch, juice and sweet-tart taste of apples and pears has mostly passed. Ground-to-table fruit salad in January in Maine is an impossible dream. Maybe we should all just eat half the sugary grapefruits or peel an orange and call it a day.
Wait. There is hope.
Over the years, I have found that with these nine kitchen tricks it is possible to revive the winter’s sad fruit salads, to boost the taste of bland fruit and hide its less than perfect texture, to (briefly) learn to embrace – and improve – the fruits of Florida, California, Mexico and a whole lot longer until Maine’s strawberry season rolls around to delight us again.
In the meantime …
plan ahead. In the hot summer, the fruit ripens if you look at it as much as possible. The challenge in those months is to use / eat the fruit quickly before it starts to rot or mold. In the cold winter you have the opposite problem: rock-hard pears and kiwi, green bananas, pineapple with a slight hint of aroma. It goes without saying – even if I say so anyway – when you make a winter fruit salad, buy the fruit and give it REAL time to ripen.
Make friends with simple syrups and poaching liquids. In summer, high season fruits need no help. In the winter, fruits that have been refrigerated or traveled many miles to reach your kitchen need all the help they can get. I spice up the fruit with a generous splash of tasty (read on for details) simple syrups (equal parts sugar and water are brought to a boil to dissolve the sugar), reduced cider syrups and remnants of poaching (maybe from that time last fall you made poached plums) .
Place herbs, spices and peel. Intensify the aforementioned syrups with herbs, spices and fruit peels. Add cinnamon sticks, orange peel, a vanilla bean and whole cloves to the reducing apple cider; lime peel for sugar syrup for a Mexican fruit salad; crushed lemongrass, ginger root coins, star anise and Thai basil to an Asian-like. Try sage with pineapple pieces or fennel seeds with grapefruit segments.
Drink up. Add alcohol within reasonable limits. Sake can enhance the fruit salad with Asian flavor. Sweetened concentrated red wine syrups with flavor – more often thought of as the cousin of the fruit salad, the compote – can take your winter fruit salad to new heights.
Do not forget dried fruit. Mankind (or more likely woman) has been drying fruit for millennia as a way to preserve it for the lean winter months. For better or worse, with the advent of cooling and global trade, you live in a time and place without lean months. Still, the concentrated flavor of dried apricots, plums (prunes), dates or green grapes (golden raisins) delivers together in your optional syrup and mixed with fresh fruit (see below) delicious, unexpected intensity for the winter fruit salad.
Travel to the tropics and play around. Reserve strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and melons of all kinds for the summer when you can grow or pick them yourself or buy them at a farm stall or a farmers market. Next summer, be aware of how indescribably delicious they are when in season. Since almost nothing in the fruit department is local now, have fun. Range for persimmons, kumquats, lychees, pomegranates, Medjool dates, finger or red bananas, kiwi and pineapple. I also use apples, pears, grapes, bananas, oranges and grapefruits, even cranberries – the last thing I think of is almost in season. If you simply need to have California strawberries, at least fry them first to highlight the little flavor they have.
Experiment with the salty side. Shaved fennel, diced avocado, chopped chili, even crumbled feta cheese or a nice fruity olive oil can benefit blah fruit salads. Somewhere I once read that the late food and lifestyle writer Lee Bailey thought an item on a good menu was surprise. That’s good advice.
Add a little fat. Top winter fruit salads with a blob of good quality whole milk yoghurt, sour cream, mascarpone or crème fraîche. A little fat makes most things better.
In short, when it comes to winter fruit salad (and much more in both cooking and life), let your imagination guide you. The recipes here are templates and are variations on a theme. Adjust the amounts and flavors to please yourself and those you feed.
Fruit salad with spicy cider
This is my winter fruit salad. If friends come to brunch anytime from November to February, a sadly rare event these pandemic days, they are likely to find this fruit salad on the table. Adjust it as you like and add, for example, ginger root coins, whole cardamom, allspice or peppercorns to the reducing cider. I always convince oranges if I include the fruit because I’m picky that way, but you need sharp knives and it’s your call if you should bother.
Serves around 5
1 cup sweet apple cider
1 cinnamon stick
8-10 whole cloves
1 strip of orange peel
Slightly dried fruit of your choice
5-6 cups of chopped fresh fruit such as pears (peeled or unpeeled, you call it), apples (same as for the peel), oranges, kiwi, banana, medjool dates and whole cranberries (they are sour, so be restrained)
1 cup plain wholemeal yogurt for serving
Boil the apple cider in a small saucepan with the cinnamon and cloves and any other flavors you want until the cider is reduced to about 3/4 cup (or a little more, you want it a little thicker). Cool the cider with the seasonings so that it can absorb.
Once the cider syrup has cooled, remove the spices and pour the syrup over the chopped fresh and dried fruit in a bowl. (If the dried fruit is aged and hard, add it when the cider syrup is hot so that it can be full-bodied and softened.) Let the mixture macerate for several hours to allow the flavor to develop, and occasionally stir gently to redistribute. the syrup. Serve cool, not cold, topping each serving with a dollop of yogurt.
Guacamole fruit salad
A few years ago, I ran into a recipe for a variation of standard guacamole called guacamole con frutas. It adds, as the name suggests, fruit to the guacamole, and … wow, just wow! For this recipe, I borrowed the idea and turned it into a fruit salad.
Serves around 5
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
Shell from 1 lime, plus 1 tbsp lime juice
A few coriander stalks plus a handful of coriander leaves
1/4 to 1/2 slices serrano chili, or to taste
5-6 cups diced pears, mango and avocado, halved purple grapes and pomegranate seeds
Sour cream or Mexican crema for serving if you are so inclined
Bring water, sugar, lime peel, coriander stalks and chili to a boil and let it stir for a minute until the sugar has dissolved. Turn off the heat, add lime juice and let the syrup cool and infuse.
Put the fruit in a serving bowl. Strain the sliced jalapenos and coriander stalks from the simple syrup and pour the liquid over the fruit and let the mixture macerate for several hours so that the taste can develop. (Or, if you want adventurous eaters for the fruit salad who don’t mind the heat, leave the serrano slices in, which are now a little candied.)
Stir in a pinch of salt and coriander leaves before serving with sour cream or Mexican crema.
Fruit salad with Asian flavor
Serves around 5
1 stalk of lemongrass
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 -2 star anise pods
1-inch piece of ginger root, cut into coins
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tbsp sake
5-6 cups of fruit such as lychee, longan, rambutan (either remove the seeds of these three preceding, or warn eaters about the large seeds), chopped red or finger banana, kumquats, pineapple, kiwi
Handful of Thai basil, fine hair
To prepare the lemongrass, peel and discard the stiff outer leaves until you reach the softer surfaces. Cut the lemongrass a few inches lengthwise until the place where the whitish color begins to turn green. Cut the white part into thin slices (hang on the green part to use to add a soup or stew), then beat the slices into a paste in a mortar and pestle (you can also grate the stem on a grater or grater). Measure approx. 1 teaspoon of.
Bring water, sugar, 1 teaspoon beaten lemongrass, star anise and ginger root to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring for a minute until the sugar is dissolved. Remove the syrup from the heat, season to taste and add more lemongrass or ginger root if necessary, then stir in the lime juice and sake.
Once the simple syrup has cooled, transfer it to a bowl, remove star anise and ginger root, then add the fruit to the syrup, mixing gently. Let the mixture macerate for several hours so that the taste can develop. Add basil before serving.
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