Pears are surprisingly hard to come by in Chennai. Sure, you find the locally grown green ones—the ‘hill station’ pears—but those still run a certain seasonal cycle and you see them around for maybe one or two months of the year. These local varieties are usually not very flavourful however, and the texture is often too firm to sink your teeth into. Forget the whole juice-dripping-down-your-arm appeal, you’ll more likely end up chipping your tooth if you bit into one of these. Great to cook with though (the firmer the pear, the better it is for cooking) so by all means use them if they’re available to you.
Underripe pears are ideal in this recipe, necessary even, because cooking will soften them up and won’t cause them to fall apart; they’ll still hold their shape. Perfectly ripe pears will just turn to mush.
Here’s how you do it: toss the pear wedges in maple syrup, lots of freshly ground black pepper and salt. Lay them out in a large wide pan, bump up the heat, and caramelize them on both sides. You want them to colour on the outside without actually cooking them all the way through (hence the high heat). The sugars in the maple syrup and pears will catch and burn a bit in the pan, but that’s a good thing. We want that. That’ll form a part of the dressing.
Once the pears are caramelized and golden on both sides, transfer to a bowl. A splosh of vinegar and shallots go in and we scrape up all those sticky bits from the bottom of the pan. This is your near-instant dressing. To serve, add the caramelized pears, crumbled feta, roughly torn lettuce, and walnuts to a large bowl. Pour over the dressing, give it a good toss-up with your hands, and fork away! You make this salad once and you’ll find yourself reaching for those pears every time you see them at the store. This, I guarantee you.
CARAMELIZED PEAR AND FETA SALAD
- 3 pears (you want them slightly underripe and firm)
- 50 grams feta cheese
- 1 tablespoon walnuts, roughly chopped
- Lettuce, to serve
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or apple-cider vinegar)
- 1 tablespoon shallots, finely chopped
- 1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Halve the pears, then cut them into wedges. I do 8 wedges with each pear. Remove the seeds.
- Toss the pears evenly with maple syrup, pepper and salt. Add them to a large wide pan over high heat and let them caramelize on both sides. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Do this in batches if required. The trick to get some good colour on them is to not move them once they’re in the pan. Once they are nicely caramelized on the first side, flip and colour the other side. Transfer the pears to a bowl.
- Keeping the heat under the pan on low, add minced shallots and vinegar. Quickly scrape up all the sticky bits from the bottom of the pan and take it off the heat. This is your dressing.
- Toss the pears in the bowl with most of the feta (crumbled with your fingers), lettuce and the dressing. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with chopped walnuts and more crumbled feta over the top.
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