Few people seem to know what to do with a persimmon. In fact, most people I know have never encountered them before. They’ll either hear me mention one and say ‘what’s that?’, or they’ll glance over at it in the fruit bowl and look confused. I can kind of understand why: persimmons do resemble large, squat orange tomatoes, so seeing them nestled there amongst the bananas, apples and pears might seem a little odd (even though the tomato is, of course, technically a fruit). I explain the unique qualities of this fine fruit, tell them how good it is in a variety of dishes…and then of course they say ‘Oh right’ and promptly forget, assuming this is another of my mad fruit whims to be humoured and then quickly disregarded.
The persimmon you buy in the UK are usually the fuyu variety, and are sometimes called sharon fruit. They are squat and firm, with a tough, shiny skin, and can feel quite hard even when ripe. However, once you slice through that skin, you get to the most succulent juicy flesh, sweet and perfumed with hints of mango and peach. It’s hard to describe, but they’re absolutely delicious, both in flavour and texture: the contrast of that crisp, grainy skin against the jelly-like flesh within is delectable. I like to eat them as they are, sliced into wedges. Apparently persimmon sales have increased by several hundred percent in the last couple of years, as they become more widespread in our supermarkets and we become more adventurous fruit consumers. This can only be a good thing, I think.
Yes, persimmon are delicious raw. They are also lovely in a fruit salad, pairing particularly well with mango, peach and papaya, possibly with some raspberries or redcurrants or pomegranate seeds scattered in too. The hachiya variety of persimmon is a beautiful baking ingredient: this type softens into a quivering, gelatinous ball almost too fragile to hold, and its jelloid pulp can be used in much the same way as mashed ripe bananas: in loaf cakes, to sweeten granola, in ice cream or pudding. Fuyu persimmons, however, because of their slightly firmer texture, are more suited to savoury dishes.
There aren’t many recipes out there featuring the fuyu persimmon, which is a shame because it’s an incredibly versatile ingredient. It works in any recipe where you want a little crunchy sweetness to counteract other fresh or rich flavours: use it instead of pear alongside some crumbled cheese, peppery leaves and walnuts, or toss thin slices into a couscous or lentil salad with leftover cooked chicken or game. It’s very good with salty feta and wafer-thin slices of parma ham in a summer salad, replacing the more usual peach that I tend to use in this combination. It’s also a beautiful thing, gorgeously bright and marigold-hued, livening up anything you tuck it into.
When I cook tuna or swordfish steak, I usually like to serve it with a salsa of mango, avocado, cucumber and chilli with lots of lime juice and fresh herbs (basil, mint and coriander). Given that persimmon have a delicious peach-mango flavour, I decided to experiment with them in a similar recipe. This version, I think, is even better. Firstly, you get that delicious contrast between the crunch of the persimmon skin and its gelatinous interior. Secondly, I’ve made a more interesting dressing that gives everything a delicious sweet-salty-tangy eastern flavour, with lashings of fresh ginger, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce and, of course, lime juice. Extra sweetness and tang comes in the form of pomegranate seeds, which are delicious but also look stunning against the other vibrant colours of this salad. The avocado is essential, beautifully mellowing out all the other vibrant flavours, its creaminess adding a touch of luxury that works beautifully with the meaty flavour of tuna steak. You could use swordfish, salmon or mackerel, but just make sure to season it well and cook it on a griddle for those sexy chargrill marks (it’s probably my imagination, but don’t they just make everything taste so much better?)
It might sound like a slightly unusual combination. Go with it. This is genuinely one of the best, most vibrant, zingy, healthy, beautiful platefuls that has ever emerged from my kitchen, and a fabulous way to introduce yourself to the joys of the persimmon.
Seared tuna with Asian-style avocado, persimmon and pomegranate salad (serves 1):
2 tbsp chilli-infused (or normal) olive oil
1 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
Juice of half a lime
1 tsp ginger syrup from a jar of stem ginger in syrup
1 small cucumber (Asian ones are best if you can find them)
Half a ripe avocado
A few sprigs of fresh basil, mint and coriander, shredded
2 tbsp pomegranate seeds
A handful of green beans, topped and tailed and halved
1 tuna steak
Salt and pepper
A large handful of rocket, to serve
First, make the salad dressing. Whisk together the oil, soy, vinegar, ginger, lime juice and ginger syrup. Taste and adjust: you might want it a little tangier, sweeter or saltier.
Dice the cucumber, avocado and persimmon into 2cm cubes. Put in a bowl with the pomegranate seeds and herbs. Boil the green beans in salted water for 3 minutes or until just tender, then drain and add to the salad. Toss with the dressing and arrange with the rocket on a plate.
Rub the tuna steak with a little oil then season well with salt and pepper. Get a griddle pan very hot, then griddle until cooked to your liking – I like it rare, so I cook it for a minute on each side. Serve the steak on top of the salad.