Asian persimmons are festive: in shades from yellow to red-orange, depending on the variety, they glow in the crystalline light of the final months of the year. In neat rows at farmers' markets and grocery stores, persimmons look like lanterns lit for a street celebration. Due to a poor season, local supplies are short, so enjoy them before they vanish, likely at the end of November.
Asian persimmons (Diospyros kaki) come in astringent and non-astringent varieties. The astringent variety, like the elongated, heart-shaped Hachiya, must be eaten fully ripe, basically a serving of fruit custard enveloped in a skin that splits open easily. I have always heeded the warning against tasting an unripe one, so I don't have direct experience of its mouth-puckering taste and am not planning on it. Instead, I practice delayed gratification as I watch it slowly ripen until I can reward myself with the pleasure of eating it.
A non-astringent persimmon, like the Fuyu, which is squat with a flat bottom, can be eaten when still firm, or it can be left to ripen and soften, according to personal taste.
When it comes to persimmons, I am deeply nonpartisan: I like them all. My preferred way of enjoying an astringent persimmon is still the simplest one: I gently pull away the flower-shaped stem (calyx), quarter the fruit, slice away the white core and eat the fruit as is, a dessert quite satisfying in its natural sweetness and delicacy of flavor. As for a non-astringent persimmon, I like to use it as an ingredient in a favorite salad.
It is my firmly held opinion that a good salad is composed of a few carefully selected ingredients put together like the guests of a dinner where the host wants the conversation to flow and to involve everyone around the table. This recipe is an actualization of that tenet: It starts with butterhead lettuce (aka Boston or bibb lettuce), a balance of soft and crisp. A Fuyu persimmon contributes a sweet nuance. Sliced almonds, lightly toasted, add a crunchy aromatic note. Finally, a ripe avocado, mashed with Meyer lemon juice and some sea salt, brings the ingredients together.
It is also my firmly held opinion that such a salad would be a refreshing addition to the Thanksgiving menu. Just saying ...
Butter Lettuce Salad with Persimmon, Avocado and Almonds
Ingredients and method:
One head of butterhead lettuce, about 9 ounces
3-4 tablespoons sliced almonds
One medium avocado
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
Fine sea salt, to taste
One medium Fuyu persimmon (a non-astringent persimmon, which can be eaten when firm)
Separate the leaves of the lettuce, place them in cold water and swirl them around to clean them well. Drain and repeat. Drain and inspect leaves to ensure they are free of dirt. Spin them in a salad spinner until dry.
Chop the lettuce and place in a salad bowl.
Lightly toast sliced almonds in a dry skillet on medium heat. Shake the skillet often to ensure even toasting. This step takes only 2 to 3 minutes, so do not abandon your place at the stove or you will end up with charred almonds.
Dice the avocado in a small bowl. (A grapefruit spoon is a great tool to carve it out.) Mash it with a small fork. Add Meyer lemon juice and salt and mash some more until you have a dense cream with some texture from bits of avocado.
Distribute dollops of mashed avocado on the chopped lettuce and mix. I do this with my clean hands, which I have found to be the most delicate and precise of salad tongs.
Wash the persimmon, halve it, pull away the stem and use the knife to remove the core. Thinly slice the persimmon onto the salad (removing any seeds). If the slices are long, halve them crosswise. Toss the salad, sprinkle with sliced almonds, then toss again and serve.
Simona Carini also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her blog, www.pulcetta.com.