Apples aren't the only great autumn fruit

The Front Burner

(Kelly Cline, )
October 06, 2011|By Donna Ellis

This time of year school and work lunchboxes can provide a plethora of healthy local fruit that will please even the most meticulous food Nazi. Apples come to mind, but so do pears, which are readily available at the supermarket.

There are almost as many varieties of pears as there are of apples, but we usually see only a few of them around here: Bosc, Bartletts, d'anjou, seckel, maybe Asian (aka Nashi) pears. Boscs generally appear later in the season, are tall, lean and have a brownish skin. Bartletts are usually all green outside and nicely grainy within. Anjou pears tend to be largish and have a yellow-green outside with sweet eating all over. Seckels are on the small side, also greenish-yellow, and are, arguably the sweetest of the pears. And Asian pears are more round than classically pear shaped, with a crunchy texture that mimics the apple.

Whatever pear you choose for lunch or an afternoon pick-me-up, you're undoubtedly aware that they are a bit more fragile than apples, but well worth the effort of protecting them with careful wrapping. After all, a six-ounce pear contains only about 98 calories, and it's low in fat and sodium and, of course, doesn't contain any cholesterol. What pears do contain are goodly amounts of vitamin C and folate (to help the immune system). They provide a good sodium/potassium balance, which can help control high blood pressure. Nor should we forget that they provide ample fiber.

And a little bit more trivia: Pears are among the few fruits that can be picked while they're still green, as they ripen well off the tree. At the market, you can tell if a pear is ripe if it yields to gentle pressure at the stem end.

Our exercise du jour is to take pears beyond their lunch box or after-school snack status (they're extra good sliced up and spread with peanut butter or topped with cheese) and incorporate them into some sit-up-and-take-notice dinnertime treats.

Pear slaw

Since most pear skins (except Bartlett and Seckel) tend to be grainy, you really should peel the fruit so you can enjoy the lovely flavor within. However, the skins provide needed nutrients (and fiber), so when we use them raw in the following preparations, we cut the pears into smallish shapes (matchsticks, paper-thin slices) so we can get the full flavor, along with the nutritive values.

Here's a suggestion for using uncooked pears in a very low-cal form. Employing Asian pears (but you can use Bartlett or d'anjou), this "slaw" makes a wonderful side dish to perk up a simply cooked meat dish. Try it with skewered teriyaki chicken. Add some rice or stir-fried vermicelli noodles. Good enough for guests (not that the family isn't worth the effort).

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

2 teaspoons finely grated fresh (peeled) gingerroot

1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes (or to taste)

3 smallish (unpeeled) Asian pears cut into 1/4-inch-thick matchstick shapes

3 celery stalks, peeled if too stringy, cut into 1/4-inch-thick matchstick shapes

6 radishes, in 1/4-inch-thick matchstick shapes (do the best you can)

2 large scallions, thinly sliced diagonally

1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

Whisk together lime juice, vinegar, ginger root and dried pepper flakes. Stir in pears and celery. Taste for salt and pepper. Let stand 15 minutes at room temperature so flavors can marry. Taste again. Makes 6 or more servings.

Spinach pear salad

This side dish goes well with pork and cous cous or rice pilaf. Consider it as a co-star on your holiday entertaining table. Or, add some supermarket roasted chicken and serve it as a main dish lunch or light supper, along with some chewy artisanal bread.

Boscs are among the less sweet pears, making them well suited to this salad, but you can use whatever pear you like. You can prepare the mustard vinaigrette ahead, then put the salad together at the last minute.

2 Bosc pears, cored and thinly sliced

1 (6-ounce) package baby spinach, stems removed, if needed, rinsed, patted very dry

3 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

4 teaspoons olive oil

2 teaspoons grainy (country style) dijon mustard

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper

1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese

1 to 1 1/2 cups diced supermarket rotisserie chicken, optional

In a large bowl, combine pears and spinach. Add chicken if using. In a shaker jar, combine water, vinegar, oil, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper. Drizzle some over salad and toss to combine. Taste and add more dressing, if desired. Remove to a pretty serving bowl. Sprinkle on the shredded parmesan. Makes 6 or more servings.

Pear-y autumn salad

This salad can also take you through the holiday season as it employs hearty escarole and licorice-y fennel, along with pears and Gruyere (Swiss) cheese. It's quite good with virtually any meat dish, although poultry (including duck and maybe even goose) take quite a shine to it.

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

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