Recipes

Discover the savory side of Fuyu persimmons

Persimmons add color and flavor to a pork stir-fry with walnuts. Cooking Fuyus (the flatter persimmons) mellows their sweetness.
Persimmons add color and flavor to a pork stir-fry with walnuts. Cooking Fuyus (the flatter persimmons) mellows their sweetness. rbenton@sacbee.com

I cannot eat a persimmon out of hand.

I’ll stare at people in the market plucking a Fuyu from a pile, its skin glowing like hot embers, and bite right into it, and I am filled with jealousy.

Each year I take a bite and each year my mouth has the same reaction: “Too sweet! I can’t! I can’t!” The sheer amount of natural sugar is dizzying to me.

Over time, I found I could mollify my reaction via pairings: nibbling at a tiny sliver served with a hunk of Manchego or maybe a crepe paper-thin wafer served alongside a hoppy beer.

Then, one day, the notion to simply cook these saccharine fall fruits struck. I peeled and diced a few Fuyus and tossed them in olive oil, honey, Aleppo pepper and a flurry of salt. Into the oven it all went.

The result? Life-changing, and at the very least, life-affirming.

A cooked Fuyu’s sugar caramelizes into something richer: an autumnal caramel flavor with hints of burnt sugar, allspice and clove. Behind it all is a whisper of something savory that makes the mouth yearn for more. A Fuyu – roasted, braised, grilled, baked, stewed, stir-fried or charred – begs to be anointed in fresh herbs, kissed with chili flakes, baptized in vinegars and bathed in sauces.

Plus, the longer a Fuyu sits ripening, the sweeter and softer it becomes. The peels have a muted, somewhat bitter bite to them. You can peel the fruits or not, it’s more a matter of texture than taste. If you’re feeling a bit lazy, simply leave them unpeeled as they’ll love your savory treatment of them all the same.

Camelia Enriquez Miller has developed more than a few recipes to use for her persimmons. She’s a fourth-generation farmer at Twin Peaks Orchard, a renowned farm in Newscastle, founded by Japanese immigrants in 1912. The family originally planted only a few persimmon trees for cultural reasons, but today farms about 3 acres with four different varieties.

“We sauté persimmons a lot, especially with greens. They pair really well with winter vegetables like Brussels sprouts and kale. We essentially treat them like carrots,” says Enriquez Miller.

And this very idea is a key tenet to cooking persimmons in a savory manner: Treat them as a root vegetable. Next time you decide to braise some turnips with herbs or sauté carrots, add a few diced Fuyus to the mix. I love roasting beets with olive oil, tangerine juice and thyme; adding persimmons makes the dish bejeweled in color and adds curiosity.

Enriquez Miller also recommends cutting persimmons in half along their equator so the interior star pattern shows, then broiling them cut side up until they begin to char a bit. Plate from the oven and dress them in a perky chimichurri sauce.

Of course, numerous other applications abound. Chef Chris Barnum-Dann at Localis uses them throughout his menu, recently in an addictive persimmon ketchup served with fried potatoes.

“We love to roast them or cook them down for soups and stews,” says Barnum-Dann. “They have a tomato-esque sweetness and a light acidity that makes them so useful.”

Fuyu persimmons are plentiful abound this year in farmers markets and compared to other produce are relatively cheap, usually coming in around $1.50 per pound (10 persimmons might cost just around $6), so be sure to stock up.

Beef & Persimmon Bo Kho with Star Anise and Lemongrass

Serves 4-6

A popular Vietnamese stew, every family has their own recipe for Bo Kho. I learned it from my friend, Andrea Nguyen, who detailed her recipe in her cookbook, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. My version uses chicken stock, cinnamon, and tomato paste for some extra savory bang. Fuyu persimmons add a velvety sweetness and a fruity aroma that mingles beautifully with star anise.

2 1/3 pounds boneless beef chuck, trimmed and cut into bite-sized chunks

2 hefty stalks of lemongrass, cut into 3-inch batons and bruised

3 tablespoons fish sauce

2 teaspoons Chinese five spice powder

2 ½ tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 bay leaf

3 tablespoons canola or other neutral-flavored oil

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

1 14-oz can crushed tomatoes

1 tablespoon tomato paste

generous ½ teaspoon salt

2 star anise

1 cinnamon stick

3 cups chicken stock

3 Fuyu persimmons, peeled and diced

cilantro for garnish (optional)

In a bowl combine the beef, lemongrass, fish sauce, Chinese five spice, ginger, brown sugar, and bay leaf. Mix well and allow to marinate for 1 hour.

In a heavy-bottomed large (at least 5-quart) Dutch oven, heat the oil over high heat until it shimmers. Working in batches, brown the beef on all sides, about 2-3 minutes for each batch. Transfer to another bowl. Reserve the lemongrass and bay leaf.

Lower the heat to medium low and add the onion and cook until soft. Add the crushed tomato and tomato paste, allowing the liquid to deglaze the pan from the meat (use a wooden paddle to scrape up those delicious bits). Cover and cook for 15 minutes until it bubbles into a rough paste. Add a bit of water if needed to keep it from sticking to the pan.

Add the bay leaf, star anise, cinnamon, and beef to the paste and stir together. Allow to cook for a few minute to allows the flavors to absorb into the beef. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for 75 minutes.

Add the persimmons and cook uncovered for 30 minutes. Do a taste test and adjust salt or add pepper or fish sauce if desired. Serve with chopped cilantro if desired.

Persimmon Ketchup

Makes 3 cups

Chef Barnum-Dann developed this easy tangy-sweet sauce to use the bevy of persimmons that hits in fall. He normally serves it with fries or light proteins such as pork or turkey. I also find mixing it a small dab with a bit of rye whiskey makes of a unique shrub-like cocktail.

10 Fuyu persimmons, roughly chopped, stems and leaves discarded

1 small yellow onion, diced

1 cup brown sugar

½ cup apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon molasses

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

good pinch of salt

Place all of the ingredients together in a medium pot and place over low heat. Stir often until the mixture becomes very soft and begins to break down; about 90 minutes. If the mixture dries out during the cooking process add a splash of water if needed. After cooking, place the mixture in a food processor or blender and blitz together until smooth. Place in an airtight jar in the fridge and use within two weeks.

Persimmon and Pork Stir-fry with Walnuts

Serves 2-4

A recipe I developed years ago when a friend’s persimmon tree had a bumper crop. It’s an easy, healthy weeknight recipe that always impresses.

For the Marinade

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry

1 tablespoon finely minced ginger

1 teaspoon sugar

For the Sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon water

1 teaspoon cornstarch

For the Stir-fry

1 pound pork chops

4 tablespoons canola oil

2 Fuyu persimmons, peeled and chopped into bite-sized chunks

2 green onions, diced (plus extra for garnish, if desired)

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 garlic clove, minced

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

Take the pork chops and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Whisk together the marinade ingredients. Add the pork and let marinate for 30 minutes. Remove pork and discard marinade.

Add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil to a wok over high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer (but not smoking) from heat add the persimmon and cook for 2-3 minutes stirring often and allowing the fruit to get a nice sear. Remove the persimmons from heat and set aside.

Add the remaining cooking oil to the wok and once hot (shimmering, but not smoking) add ginger, garlic, and green onions. Cook for about 10 seconds, then add the pork. Stir often for 90 seconds. Add the persimmons back into the dish along with the sauce and chopped walnuts. Cook for another 30 seconds. Remove from heat and serve. Garnish with extra green onions if desired.

Persimmon and Cheddar Grilled Cheese

Makes 1 sandwich

Camelia Enriquez Miller sort of stumbled on this by accident at a farmers’ market when a local chef ran out of apples for a seasonal grilled cheese. The chef used her persimmons instead and the sandwiches quickly became a hit. Enriquez Miller notes that her kids love cheddar, but that a favorite blue or soft goat cheese works equally well.

Butter

Two slices multigrain bread

Dijon or whole-grain mustard

A few good slices of your favorite cheddar

¼ cup of arugula

A few thin slices of Fuyu persimmon

Spread butter one side of the each slice of the bread, and spread with other side with the mustard. Layer in between the mustard-faced side of bread the remaining ingredients.

Toast the sandwich, butter-side down, in a skillet set over medium-high heat until the cheese has melted, flipping the sandwich as needed, but being sure not to burn the bread. Serve immediately.

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