My kitchen table is currently groaning under the weight of an enormous cardboard box packed with fruit. If you know me, you'll know this basically means I've reached my peak of happiness. Yes, I lead a life of simple and edible pleasures. There are three bunches of bananas (which are just crying out to be left to blacken and become prime banana bread material), a scattering of plump marigold clementines, several voluptuously tapered conference pears, and an abundance of round rosy apples. There are also some beautiful plums, deepest purple with a gentle white bloom. This delightful array was sent to me by Fruitdrop, a company that delivers fruit to workplaces in London and across the UK to help keep workforces motivated, healthy and productive.
There are, of course, many advantages to getting fruit delivered in this way. You're more likely to eat it if it's just there, rather than it involving a trip to the shops. I know too many people who work in offices and complain about the amount of junk food they eat, just because it's 'there' on someone's desk. A box of multicoloured fruits is likely to brighten up any workplace. It's good for you. The list goes on.
However, I was also thinking about the potential downside to having a huge box of fruit. This may not apply so much to offices, where each box (containing around 50 pieces of fruit) is shared between employees, but for someone who lives alone like myself, eating 50 pieces of fruit before it all goes mouldy is quite a challenge. I've been coming up with recipes, therefore, to use up any fruit that's going a bit past its best, to create something delicious, healthy, and much more eco-friendly than chucking the lot in the bin.
This is something I love doing - coming up with slightly novel (I flatter myself here, really, because there isn't much that is novel in cooking, ever) ways to use fruit that are a bit more exciting than just 'a pie' or 'a fruit salad'. It's so easy to consign fruit to the realm of desserts, yet it's an incredibly versatile ingredient in savoury food too, often bringing a much-needed freshness to earthy ingredients like meat, cheese or nuts.
For my first recipe, I wanted to use the lovely plums from my fruit box. Plums are one of the few fruits I don't experiment much with, simply because I know exactly how to get the best out of them - halve and stone them, put them in a dish with brown sugar and ginger in syrup, splash over some orange juice, then bake until soft, silky and oozing pink juice. The result is sensational spooned over porridge or muesli, but equally good with ice cream as a warming autumnal dessert.
However, the plum has a flavour suited both to sweet and savoury cooking. When unsweetened, plums can be rather tart, possessing a refreshing bite that partners well with meat, particularly game and red meat. I came up with this because I had some smoked chicken to use up (yes, OK, a frightfully middle-class sentence). Smoked chicken is one of those things that needs a lot of assertive flavours to go with it, because it's very rich and cloying on its own.
Enter tart plums, sliced and caramelised with honey, fresh ginger, and Chinese five-spice. The latter because plums are a component of hoi sin sauce, which goes well with duck therefore also chicken, and has a heady five-spice note to it. Ginger because plums and ginger are just meant to be. Actually I'm not sure this salad had any rational thinking behind it; it was very much a work of instinct and what I suspected might work well together.
Nutty couscous, savoury spring onion, deeply earthy toasted almonds for crunch, fresh lemony coriander, tender smoked chicken, tart juicy plums, and the bite of ginger and five-spice. This is fragrant and delicious, a wonderful combination of tastes and textures. It's a bit of an odd English-oriental-Middle Eastern fusion, with the coriander/couscous/plums. It is an ideal lunch for one, but you could also make larger quantities and take it to work for a few days - it's good cold too.
Incidentally, if you can't find smoked chicken, just use ordinary leftover cooked chicken. I also think you could happily substitute chicken for feta or goat's cheese to make this vegetarian.
Thank you Fruitdrop for the fruit, and watch this space for more fruit-based recipes!
Spiced ginger plum and smoked chicken couscous salad (serves 1, easily doubled):
- 50g couscous
- Boiling water
- Salt and pepper
- 1 spring onion, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp almonds, toasted
- 3 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander
- 2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
- 2 plums, halved, stoned and thinly sliced
- 2cm piece fresh ginger, finely chopped or grated
- 1 tsp honey
- 1/2 tsp Chinese five spice
- 1/2 smoked chicken breast, thinly sliced or shredded
First, make the couscous. Put it in a bowl, pour the boiling water over it to just cover, then cover it with a plate and leave for a few minutes. When ready, stir in the spring onion, half the oil, the toasted almonds and coriander (reserve some for garnish) and some salt and pepper.
Heat the remaining oil in a non-stick frying pan and add the plums and ginger. Cook for a minute (they should sizzle), then add the honey and five spice. Cook for another few minutes until sticky and caramelised.
When the plums are ready, stir them into the couscous along with the chicken. Garnish with the extra almonds and coriander, then serve.