It’s ten years since Artpiece Gallery owner and foodie Nadine Abensur, took her vows to be an Australian and to celebrate this week, she’s created a wonderfully exotic salad with salmon, peach, passionfruit, avocado and black sesame…
Some enjoy the pairing of fruit with savoury, some don’t. In Jeanette Winterson’s latest, Christmas Days, Winterson goes so far as to title one of the chapters: ‘No more fruit in main courses’. I understand the sentiment. She describes Mrs Winterson’s curry, tinned fruit and crystallised ginger, its “exotic” additions. It’s a nauseating note in a book which is otherwise as warm and comforting as an oversized cardigan. She makes you feel that any dream, any flight of fancy, any wicked thought you may have, is just part of the fabulously fashioned cloth of your life – part thread, part breath.
So I think I’ll dedicate this recipe to her and to any of you who are of a similar disposition.
To bring it all home; this week we celebrated Australia Day and whatever else may be said about that, it is my 10th Anniversary as an Australian citizen and so, here goes – my Australia Day Salad of Passionfruit, Cured Salmon, Avocado, Peach and Black Sesame.
First, there’s a passionfruit vine in my garden (grown from a seedling, rather nonchalantly stuck in the ground two years ago and woefully ignored) which now garlands itself around and around the pool. It’s laden with yellow fruit, each bigger than a tennis ball. Then there is a grape vine, also neglected and mostly abandoned to the birds but I’m determined to share the spoils.
I’d planned mango in the salad but the bright skins however, hid pallid, insipid flesh. The peaches on the other hand were amber rich, juices thick as syrup. The avocado yielded just so to gentle touch. Salmon came with a back-story but its provenance is as good as I can manage. There are black sesame seeds in a jar – the recipe composes itself.
You’ll need 6 humongous passionfruit, or equivalent
A handful of grapes
3 mid-section fillets of salmon, skin removed
3 perfect peaches
1 avocado, pristine, yet yielding
2 baby gem lettuces (or, if you are lucky, watercress)
2 baby cucumbers, peeled (optional)
5 tablespoons of lightish olive or macadamia oil, more if necessary
1 red chilli
2 cloves garlic
A dash of Tamari or light soy sauce
A tablespoon of Brandy
A tablespoon of white vinegar (see recipe for more on the subject)
A small knob of ginger
A tablespoon of black sesame seeds
A handful of coriander
You may approach this as systematically and slowly as you please, because I’m telling you from the get go that the final assemblage will happen at speed, on high heat. Be prepared.
First, peel the cucumbers and with the same peeler, slice them paper thin. (A French peeler is a U shaped, metal gizmo and makes other peelers look as clunky and ineffectual as they are, even if they are prettier colours. The kitchen shop in Brunswick Heads sells them…)
Cut the passionfruit, scoop out the flesh and pass through a sieve to catch the bright juices. Do the same with the grapes. They are there to add sweetness and sugars for the all important caramelisation that’s to come, while doing away with the need for added refined sugar. Unless you think sugar is sugar. In which case, I can’t help you. You’ll have to do it your way.
Transfer the fruit juices to a large deep dish. Add a red chilli, cleaned of pith and seed and chopped fine as can be. Chop the garlic to minuscule. Last thing you want is bits stuck in your teeth. If you have a knob (a small knob) of ginger, finely grate it and squeeze with your fingers to extract the juice. Again, no fibrous bits please. Finally, add just a dash of Tamari or light soy sauce, just enough to stain, rather than overly darken what’s now become your curing medium.
Use the point of a small, sharp knife to turn the peach to eight even sized segments.
Place them in the dish with the juices and let them sit there while you cut each salmon fillet in half, then slice finger thick. Then while you cut the avocado in half, remove the stone and slice the buttery flesh into fine crescent moons. Leave in their skin for now. Swap the peach for salmon and lightly move it about in the juices. The peach, the salmon are going to stay intact, retain their integrity, while each being gently permeated by the essence of the other. (Note: Jeanette – this is how fruit works in savoury courses.)
Line a large plate with the cucumber slices. Pile with the baby gem lettuce leaves. (I wish I’d found watercress instead. Maybe, you can.)
And now the heat is on.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan until it is very hot, then fractionally lower the heat. Quickly, one after the other, drop in the peach slices. Do not disturb them for at least a minute or two.
They need time to yield all their sweet gifts. If the pan is now any less than very hot, turn up the heat once more. Now you can get under the peach with a metallic spatula, turn over and start again, except this time, you’ll also scatter black sesame seeds over the top – to add bite, a hint of bitter to the sweet. Remove to a waiting plate.
Add a little more oil to the pan if you need to but don’t clean it. Any nubble (one of my favourite kitchen words) left from before is good.
Gently lay the salmon slices in the pan. This time be as quick as you were previously patient. A scant thirty seconds on each side is all. Again remove and set aside. You are almost at the end. Pour in all the juices, add a dram of brandy, if you have it, or a tablespoon of your best white vinegar. (Here I’d like to send you off to the best deli in town for a stupendously expensive but-oh-so-worth-it, bottle of Chardonnay vinegar. Failing that, a bottle of ‘White Condiment’ – – someone was paid to come up with a name like that – Mama Mia! It’s what used to be called White Balsamic by the way, until someone else got their knickers – I mean apron – in a twist about it.)
Anyway, that’s about it. In the time it took to say the last sentence or two, you’ve reduced the juices to a slinky, finger licking sauce and you’re ready to dance, one quickstep at a time.
Go back to your plate and gently lay the salmon, then the peach, the avocado, the dressing drizzled, rather than poured (any extra can served by the side), and the coriander. It’s nuanced and it’s delicious.
Eat it soon.