As the Fall firmly takes a hold even in southern California, at least judging by the calendar, the last brave specimens of the late summer fruit slowly retreat and surrender the coveted shelf space to bright orange persimmons, dark red pomegranates, apples colored every hue from green to yellow to red, Weeble-shaped, fragrant, and sun-kissed pears, and ubiquitous pumpkins who reign not only because of their heft, but also because of their colorful and adorable kitschy appeal.
And as if we did not have enough drama in the produce department of any given grocery store, enters Korean pear, the prima donna of fruit, the spoiled Asian heiress grown to be the juiciest, the freshest, the lightest one in the aisles. Its delicate brownish-yellow skin is thin, unblemished, and perfect, as the fruit is wrapped while it grows for protection from the elements and parasites that threaten to mar its smooth surface. The flesh is white and crunchy. It does not turn brown or wrinkly when exposed to air. You can imagine it in a floppy hat and big sunglasses, sipping a mint julep at the races, looking all fabulous and haughty.
When I bought them, Korean pears nestled comfortably in soft indented trays, wrapped in delicate netting, not touching each other. I gingerly picked one out of its nest, unwrapped it, and barely resisted the temptation to start chanting a line from one of my favorite Loony Toones, “I will love him, and pet him, and squeeze him, and call him George.”* But I remembered in time that it was, after all, only a piece of fruit. I dropped the silliness and started thinking of the ways to use them in my kitchen. They are like Kobe beef of produce, coddled, nurtured, loved, but destined to satisfy the gourmands of the world in search of the best culinary experience.
My daughters ask for them at every meal and they make a perfect addition to their school lunches. They are crunchy like an apple, extremely juicy and refreshing, and sweet without being overbearing. For their size (and they are pretty hefty at about 10 ounces or 275 grams a piece), they pack surprisingly few calories, only 115, and less than 30 grams of carbs. They are available November through March, which means that they will start appearing at your local grocery stores soon. If you are not sure what stores carry them, contact Melissa’s Produce, the largest U.S. distributor of Korean pears, for the information.
We could have easily eaten them all just like that, fresh from the box, crispy and firm and juicy. But I knew that I could pair them with a few other seasonal ingredients that would allow them to shine, all sophisticated and special. I picked up some gorgeous, dark green Tuscan kale at Torrance farmers’ market and decided to tame it with these juicy pears, plump dried cranberries, crunchy pecans, sweet matchstick-cut carrots, and roasted chicken breast. The salad came together with a light dressing of lemon juice, Dijon mustard, honey, olive oil, salt and pepper. A pinch of lemon zest on top added just enough citrus fragrance to make it Californian.
I was happy. I shared it with a friend and she was happy. Looking at the small chunks of Korean pears glistening from the dressing, pristine and white in the sea of bold colors, made me confident that they were happy, too,
*You do know which cartoon I am talking about, right? It features Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the Yeti. Only recently have I found out that it plays homage to the book Of Mice and Men. Go figure! If you have not seen it, find it on YouTube; it’s hilarious.
- A bunch of Tuscan (Lacinato) kale, rinsed, trimmed of tough stems, and cut into thin strips
- 1 Korean pear, cored, cut in wedges and then in smaller chunks (I prefer mine smaller, as I like to get a bit of everything on my fork, but this is up to you)
- 1 handful of dried cranberries (dried cherries or even raisins would work, too)
- ½ cup of chopped pecans (or walnuts)
- 1 medium carrot cut into matchsticks or grated
- 4 oz roasted chicken (I used ½ of roasted chicken breast) cut into cubes
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp honey
- ½ tsp coarse salt
- a twist or two of freshly ground pepper
- Toss all the salad ingredients together in a big bowl.
- Place the dressing ingredients in a small recycled glass jar, twist the lid on tightly and shake vigorously for 30 seconds to combine.
- Pour over the salad and toss well. If you want kale to soften a bit, let the salad sit for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.