If you are like me, everyone I know is discussing their menu for the big T-day meal on Thursday. And, while most people serve the same main course and side dishes, the starter is often up for grabs.
If you are still looking, I have a Thanksgiving appetizer that is tasty and feels special but doesn’t kill your appetite for the rest of the meal. After all, you want everyone to be able to eat and enjoy the spoils of your labors.
Pears and blue cheese are a classic combination but I like to use Asian pears for a lighter, crisper and more lively dish. This “salad” appetizer is made without any lettuce and with the juicy crunchy Asian pears, you won’t miss it at all! [If you are someone who has to have lettuce, you can lay everything on top of a couple of leaves of butter lettuce and call it done.]
If you haven’t eaten an Asian pear before, expect the texture of a very fine jicama crossed with a sweet apple; juicy and cool, firm and crunchy. The flavor is muted when the pears are cold but they get sweeter and slightly floral as they come to room temperature. People compare them to an apple but the flavor to me is much more delicate and not tart at all. But of all, the texture is never mealy.
Asian pears originated in China and migrated to Japan where a Pennsylvania business man named Joel Spira tasted it for the first time in 1973. He was so taken by the fruit that he started growing his own Asian pear trees at home. Lucky for him, his wife, Ruth, was a botanist and she joined him—alongside other experts—to create new and unique varieties in eastern Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. They named their orchard, Subarashii Kudamono which means “wonderful fruit” in Japanese. Today, their daughter runs the orchard. You can order the Asian pears and other products made with them such as dried pears, pear spread and pear vinegar on their website.
My Asian pears came from their orchard and were pristine as they are all tree-ripened and hand picked. Because they bruise easily, they came carefully packaged in a foam box and each one was wrapped in red tissue paper like a jewel. If you refrigerate them as soon as they arrive, they will last for a month in the refrigerator.
The Asian pear is a symbol of beauty and longevity and I can’t think of a more fitting fruit (with the exception of maybe a pineapple for hospitality) for the Thanksgiving holiday.
This starter is one of my favorite ways to begin the Thanksgiving meal because it is full of flavor, refreshing and doesn’t fill you up. You can make individual salads on plates or make a platter and let everyone serve themselves. The recipe is as simple as the list of ingredients. Thinly sliced Asian pears, your favorite best-quality blue cheese and lightly toasted or sprouted walnuts.
You don’t need a vinaigrette or even salt as the blue cheese provides the salty notes to the dish. These three ingredients provide everything you need to fill your senses before the big meal—sweet from the pears, salt from the cheese, slightly bitter from the skin of the pear and the walnut tannins, fat from the cheese and the walnuts, and umami from all three. Happy Thanksgiving to all!
Asian Pears with Blue Cheese and Walnuts
When serving fresh Asian pears, you don’t need a lot to complement them. A bit of the best sharp blue cheese and lightly toasted walnuts are all you need for a festive starter that excites the appetite without killing it. This recipe also makes a great light dessert or cheese course.
2-3 ripe Asian pears
4-5 ounces best-quality blue cheese such as Roquefort, Stilton or Saga Blue Cheese
Walnut halves, lightly toasted, about ½ cup
1. Pick firm but ripe pears. Wash the outside well but there is no need to peel. I like the look of the contrasting skin color.
2. Slice thinly and using an apple corer, or a knife, remove seeds. You can cut them however you like in whole round slices, half slices, julienne or a combination of all of the above. Just make sure that they are thinly sliced.
3. Arrange on individual plates or a serving platter.
4. While the blue cheese is still cold cut thin slices or crumble using a cheese knife or fork and scatter over cut pears. Sprinkle with toasted walnut halves and serve at room temperature.