Persimmon. It has always been a mythic fruit to me, one my grandmother talked about from her childhood. Because they grow in warm climates, and because I have never lived in one of those, they weren’t ever part of my diet.
Oh, I occasionally found them at the market in New York when I lived there, but the persimmon remained a fanciful fruit of memory, not something I ate.
Until I moved to France, where they grace market stands for many months of the year, beginning in about November, and lasting through January. They are one of the least heralded delights of winter, a fruit that is more jelly than fruit, more dessert all on its own than many a tart.
There are too many persimmon varieties to mention, grown in warm and sunny places like Japan and China and, closer to home, Italy, Morocco, and Israel, and of course California, Texas and dozens of other hot places. Part of the Diospyros family, there are two varieties that we commonly see here. Legend says they originated in China, which is probably true. For now, though, the area around Nice is home to most persimmon orchards, though a new one in the Herault has been planted experimentally, with the hopes of finding new varieties to put in the French market.
The persimmons I get at my market come from Morocco or Israel, and they are the type we call hachiya (diospyros kaki). Until I came to trust them, I would always let them ripen until their gorgeously gelatinous flesh was so liquid it practically ran off the plate. The reason? An ill-fated dessert I served once. I didn’t realize there was another common persimmon variety, the fuyu ( (disopyros lotus) that can only be eaten when it is fully ripe, which it wasn’t. It was so astringent it sucked very drop of liquid from the mouths of those of us who took a bite.
The hachiya, which the French call kaki, is delicately perfumed with a ripe texture like jellied heaven, and an unripe texture simlar to a tender apple. When under ripe, I use it in savory dishes. When thoroughly ripe and translucent, it is almost like jelly and then I use it in desserts.
Today, I came home with a kilo of persimmons. The vendor told me to set them on the counter, stem-side down, to let them ripen. He thought they would be ready by Monday, but I found one that was ready today, and I combined it with avocado and set it atop fresh-from-the-ground spinach and ate it for lunch. The amount of Vitamin C and A ripping through my system made me feel like running a marathon; the flavors and textures were gorgeous.
I’m sharing the recipe with you. I hope you can find persimmons – while they’ve mostly been harvested, we’ll see them at the market through this month, and you should too! Bon Appétit!
Persimmon, Avocado and Spinach Salad
One of the best parts of this salad is the drizzle of pistachio oil on the persimmon and the avocado. If you don’t have pistachio oil, substitute 2 tablespoons pistachios that you’ve minced very fine.
Persimmon, Avocado and Spinach Salad
If you don’t have pistachio oil, don’t worry. Mince 2 tablespoons pistachios (salted or otherwise), and sprinkle them over the salad right before serving.
For the vinaigrette:
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pinch fine sea sat
Several grinds black pepper
1 shallot, sliced paper-thin
1 small clove garlic, green germ removed, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
For the salad:
8 cups fresh spinach, stemmed, rinsed, spun dry,
and torn into large bite-sized pieces
1 slightly under ripe fuyu persimmon, skinned and sliced into thin slices
1 avocado, skinned and pit removed, cut into ½-inch strips, then cut into ½-inch pieces, on the bias
To finish the salad:
2 teaspoons of pistachio or extra-virgin olive oil OR minced pistachios
Fleur de sel
1. Whisk together the lemon juice, salt, and the pepper in a large bowl. Add the shallot and the garlic, whisk, then whisk in the olive oil. Add the spinach and toss thoroughly, until all the leaves are coated.
2. Divide the spinach among four large plates. Arrange slices of persimmon and piece of avocado artfully atop the salad. Drizzle the persimmon slices and the avocado with pistachio oil (or sprinkle with minced pistachios), and season with fleur de sel. Serve immediately.
4 first-course servings