Winter Greens with Persimmon and Vanilla-Citrus Vinaigrette

I enjoy this salad from mid-Autumn to the end of the year. The flavors, colors and textures make it a perfect candidate for any holiday meal.

I developed this salad years ago when I held a popular cooking course that featured market-fresh vegetables and fruits. I introduced persimmons to the class one November after I decided they would replace pears in a salad recipe I made in restaurants. And just like that…the salad became an instant hit with everyone.

I highlighted the subtle vanilla flavor from the persimmon with a fruity vinaigrette I scented with ground vanilla beans. And to compensate for all that sweetness, I decided to add chunks of salty Bulgarian feta cheese – replaced today with crumbled tofu feta that works remarkably well as an alternative. The pine nuts add a bit of texture to the salad, and thinly sliced red onions create a hint of sharpness. Together, the ingredients blend into a heavenly mix…one I am sure you will come back to time and time again.

Difficulty: simple 
Yield: makes about 4-6 servings 

  • salad ingredients 
  • 500 grams (1 pound) mixed winter greens (see tips)
  • 1 smallish red onion, sliced thinly
  • 100 grams (3 ½ ounces) pine nuts, lightly roasted (see tips)
  • 2 fuyu-style persimmons, sliced
  • 175 grams (6 ounces) crumbled tofu feta
  • vanilla-citrus vinaigrette
  • juice of one orange
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons maple syrup
  • ½ teaspoon ground vanilla bean
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 140 ml (about ½ cup) extra virgin olive oil
  • Wash the greens and allow them to completely dry on a towel (you can do this job up to one day in advance).
  • Add the prepared greens to a large bowl. Add the sliced onions and a small pinch of sea salt and several good turns of black pepper. Toss the salad well.
  • Add all the dressing ingredients to a blender (or use a hand blender). Process until the dressing is well-mixed and slightly thickened. The dressing will split rapidly, but it comes back together when whisked or given a good shake.
  • Add enough dressing to coat your salad – get in there and mix it with your hands but be gentle and avoid harming the greens by squeezing them too tightly. I think about 60-80 ml (1/4- to 1/3-cup) of dressing is enough.
  • Add the persimmon slices and the crumbled tofu feta. Toss well – the salad is now ready to serve. Top with the pine nuts and adjust the seasoning to finish.

Jack’s Fresh Tip

I use a combination of winter greens in this salad – mild lamb’s lettuce, young spinach, robust rocket and touch of spicy watercress or lemony purslane. The point is to combine different flavors in your salad, so every bite is new and interesting. I try to mix mild and assertive flavors. I have also made this salad with just a nice batch of freshly harvested salad spinach leaves, and it worked great.

It is important to make sure the greens are completely dry before adding the dressing. Wet or damp leaves cause the dressing to run off the leaves and create a puddle of dressing on your plate – and that is uncool.

Pine nuts are simple to toast in the oven – they are a nightmare to toast on the stovetop because they burn very easily. Place the pine nuts on a baking tray – something like a pie tin. Put them into a cold oven. Turn the temperature to 150°C (300°F) and set your timer for 24 minutes…this is important if you want to avoid burning them.

There are many different varieties of persimmons that are available during the cooler Autumn months. Generally, they fall into two broad categories: Hachiya and Fuyu. The Hachiya variety is very soft with incredibly high levels of tannins that make them inedible until the fully ripened. The interior is soft and jelly-like. The Fuyu is reminiscent to the pear. It is usually harvested underripe, then allowed to develop at room temperature. The flesh is firm, with a beautiful vanilla-like flavor. This is the type of persimmon to look for when making this salad.

Tofu feta is becoming easy to find in health-food stores in larger metropolitan areas throughout the world. Making your own is also simple and certainly ends the problem of trying to find some. Here’s our recipe.

The dressing recipe makes much more than you need. Put the extra dressing in a jar with a lid and keep it refrigerated for up to 6 weeks (about 1 and a half months). Use a normal dark balsamic vinegar as a substitute to the white balsamic vinegar. You can use a vanilla extract instead of the ground vanilla bean – use a full teaspoon instead and adjust the flavor to your liking.

Techniques used

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