This article appears in the January 2011 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.
I don’t know about you, but in the aftermath of holiday bingeing and gorging, I frequently find myself wanting to eat nothing but lettuce. Straight from the refrigerator. Even for breakfast.
But rabbit food won’t do it for most people in the morning, and besides, we all need more variety of color, flavor and texture in our diets, right?
With that in mind, and wanting to make the most of the fruits of the season, I have come up with the bright, restorative salad below. Citrus is at its height of abundance and juiciness in the winter months of January and February. The last (and sweetest) of the pomegranates are being stocked in the produce sections. And no fruit quite begs to take off the winter chill like a dried fig or apricot.
These ingredients work together not only for their contrast in textures but also because the juice from the citrus helps to soften the dried fruits, lending them a gently marinated quality. This salad is about 10 times easier to assemble than most fruit salads because it doesn’t require vast amounts of peeling and chopping. Finally, the whole thing is topped with just a bit of a cream so silky and rich that it might make your eyes cross just to have it in your mouth.
I first heard of cashew cream from the food maestro Jamie Oliver. As he began to describe it I thought, This is the sweet, morning version of what I eat several times per week in the afternoon and evening: peanut satay. It struck me as a great idea for the fruit compote precisely because in another incarnation of this breakfast salad, I have added various kinds of nuts. The cashew cream lets you have a bit of nuttiness without the actual salt and crunch that some might not want to do battle with in the a.m.
If you do prefer more crunch in the morning, however, another ingredient to add is toasted oats or some high-quality granola. My son even likes to mix in a chopped-up Nutri-Grain bar or two. (He also likes to drink the cashew cream and would mix it with vodka if I’d let him.) In addition, the salad is really kind of amazing with some leftover plain, chilled couscous mixed in.
On the other hand, this treat should not be limited to the morning. It works as a complement to a wide variety of menus, particularly those with Mediterranean or Southeast Asian leanings. I’ve been known to take the leftover ingredients, add goat cheese, and place it on top of a bed of arugula or spinach. (See? I will have my lettuce after all.)
Before I finally get around to providing the recipe, I have to put in a word about a source for top-quality dried fruits and nuts. Although I strive always to support local stores, and we go through far too much fruit per week in our household for me ever to miss at least a bi-weekly trip to Paul’s, I still have to fess up that the best dried fruit I’ve ever tasted comes from a website called nutsonline.com. The Turkish apricots from nutsonline are so stunningly plump, moist and sweet that they pretty much redefine the concepts of “dried” and “apricot.” You just have to taste them to believe it.
While you’re at the site, you can put in an order for other dried fruits you didn’t even know existed. I mean, seriously, who knew there were dried persimmons? And did you realize there’s a fruit called pluot? It’s a blend of a plum and an apricot. Not makin’ it up. They’re kind of obscenely bright red, to tell you the truth. Also, the site has (no exaggeration) 35 different kinds of cashews. So get ordering now! Detoxify! The dried lemon slices at nutsonline could instantly reverse the condition of an alcoholic’s liver.
The recipe: Winter breakfast fruit salad with cashew cream
For the fruit:
1 cup grapefruit sections, pink and/or white
1 cup clementine sections
¼ cup dried Calimyrna figs
¼ cup dried Mission figs
¼ cup dried apricots
The seeds from one pomegranate
For the cashew cream:
8 tablespoons of unsalted cashews
¼ cup water
¼ cup crème fraîche or Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine the fruit in a bowl that will illuminate its natural beauty.
Place the cashews, water, crème fraîche, honey and vanilla extract in a blender or food processor, and blend the mixture until it is smooth and creamy. Add more honey if you prefer a sweeter cream. Depending on the type of blender you use, it might take a few minutes. Just stop the blender every now and then to scrape the sides, making sure there are no clumps left in the cream.
Place the cream in the refrigerator to firm up, for a half hour or so.
Serve the salad at room temperature with the cold cream drizzled over it. Serves four.
Photo: John Nation