Our neighbor Marcia was kind enough to gift me with some Asian pears from her tree. These unusual autumn fruits taste like pears but maintain a crunch more like an apple, and while they ripened up a bit, I have been trying to decide the best ways to showcase them. I’m saving a few to bake with, but two of them played a major role in last night’s Asian-inspired dinner.
Jeremy went to the store on payday and stocked up on some things we had run out of at the end of September. In the midst of sharing samples with Nolan, the only meat he remembered to grab was whole chickens, so our meals this week will be a little repetitious that way. Fortunately (and typically), I got carried away at the farmer’s market and we have tons of vegetables, along with the Asian pears, to keep things interesting. This meal used two boneless skinless chicken breasts that I carved out and threaded onto skewers in chunks. The meat marinated in a Korean blend of grated Asian pear, ginger, garlic, onion, soy sauce, and brown sugar while I got a head-start on a rather unlikely salad to accompany it.
Two of the three vegetables shown here got to come out and play in the salad: daikon radishes and Brussels sprouts. Earlier in the day, I broke down that huge stalk into individual sprouts since I had no good way to store it whole. Detail-oriented as I am, I ended up with three bags of produce: tiny sprouts, big boy sprouts, and individual leaves, which mostly came from the top of the stalk. I’ve made various recipes that call for shredded sprouts, and I thought perhaps the leaves would be appropriate in that capacity, but before long, I started to wonder if it was possible to treat them like kale and make a massaged raw salad. A web search yielded no identical results, but I was slightly encouraged since Heidi of 101 Cookbooks posted a raw sprout salad last year. What I ended up with was an outlandish massaged Brussels sprout salad crossed with the Asian slaw of shredded daikon and purple carrots that I had already planned for.
Careful preparation of the vegetables is key for this salad. I trimmed, washed and finely shredded the Brussels sprout leaves and massaged them with a liberal dose of kosher salt until they darkened and began to give up liquid. Then they sat in a colander for an hour or so, breaking down further while I worked on the rest of dinner. The daikon, peppery and somewhat bitter when freshly grated, got a 5-minute bath in some lightly salted ice water. After whisking together a dressing of almond butter, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, canola oil, mirin, ponzu, minced ginger and garlic (adapted loosely from this one), I tossed the drained daikon with a shredded purple carrot, some julienned Asian pear for sweetness, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Since I was still wary of my Brussels sprout creation, I decided at the last minute to use it as a vibrant bed for the slaw rather than throwing it all in together.
Rice in the cooker, chicken on the grill, and dinner was served. The chicken was easy and tasty, although the Asian pear flavor was kind of lost there, but the salad was another story. I had my doubts about practically every item in it: the salty and somewhat bitter massaged Brussels sprouts, the peppery daikon, the somewhat under-ripe and sweetly tannic Asian pear, the odd off-the-cuff almond-ginger dressing. But put it all together and the flavors balanced beautifully. I am wishing now that I had paid a little closer attention to the amounts I was throwing around, but hopefully you get the idea.
I have plenty of chicken left, not to mention armloads of vegetables. I still have an inkling that those remaining Asian pears might like to become a crisp one of these days, and if that bagful of Brussels sprout leaves doesn’t find its way into a creamy pasta dish or a chicken potpie, I will almost certainly be experimenting with the massaged salad idea further. As for my remaining daikon—pickles? fritters? roasted roots? Only time will tell.