Welcome Fruit To Savory Dishes
My first memorable experience with fruit in a savory dish was my mother's chicken curry. She served it with bowls of diced bananas, pineapple, raisins, mango chutney and segments of orange for toppings. The flavors of the fruit stood up to the robust spiciness of the curry and offered a wonderfully sweet note that really made the meal. It was a dish I could eat until I could eat no more.
Fruit hasn't completely disappeared from savory dishes in the West, and may even be staging a comeback. A Google search for 'meat and fruit recipes' turns up nectarine sole, steak with apricot glaze; and meatloaf with mustard and dried fruit.
I also recall pork chops with cinnamon-spiced applesauce on the side, and my grandmother sometimes gave us pickled pears, which we savored alongside fried chicken or macaroni and cheese.
Today, many Americans eschew combining sweet and savory flavors and typically reserve the sweet taste of fruit for dessert. This isn't true everywhere, though. Southeast Asian cuisines make great use of tropical fruit in savory dishes, adding mango, papaya and bananas to many dishes. Fruit such as figs, dates and apricots are common additions to Middle Eastern and North African main dishes.
Yet, I have a friend in Texas who is utterly opposed to the idea of cooking savory dishes with fruit. For her, sweet and savory simply don't belong together. Then again, she also insists on adding a bit of sugar to bitter greens such as collards and turnips — something I consider antithetical to the idea of bitter greens. They should be bitter. So I question the purity of her prejudice.
But even the ancestral cuisines of Europe made great use of the combination. In the Middle Ages, sweet and savory were often combined, and the most common sweet was fruit. Minced meat pie is an example.
Although modern versions of mincemeat typically don't include meat, the original versions did. According to a recipe in the 16th-century English cookbook A Propre New Booke of Cokery, "Pyes of mutton or beif must be fyne mynced & seasoned with pepper and salte and a lytel saffron to colour it / suet or marrow a good quantitie / a lytell vynegre / pruynes / great [raisins] / and dates."
A 15th-century English manuscript offers a recipe for a fruit pie composed of figs, raisins and dates topped with salmon or eel. Another pie from the same collection combines pork, raisins, currants and prunes (main dish pies were hugely popular at that time). A German recipe from around 1350 stews chicken with quinces or pears.
Fruit hasn't completely disappeared from savory dishes in the West, and may even be staging a comeback. A Google search for "meat and fruit recipes" turns up nectarine sole, steak with apricot glaze; and meatloaf with mustard and dried fruit. Although I don't particularly like it, I have a good friend who adores Hawaiian pizza — with Canadian bacon and pineapple.
Think about it: What can improve a perfect pear? Blue cheese. Or a perfect apple? Cheddar. The savory cheese complements and enhances the sweetness of the fruit. Spoon apple sauce on your latkes or make a blackberry gastrique (French sweet and sour sauce) and drizzle it over smoked turkey. I find fruit is best combined with pork or poultry (the slightly metallic taste of red meat doesn't always match fruit).There are, however, exceptions, such as lamb tagine with dried fruit or a grilled steak with mango salsa.
Savory doesn't necessarily mean meat. Add some dried fruit to a rice pilaf or couscous. Take a tip from the Greeks and roast potatoes with lemon juice. Add diced apples or pears to mashed turnips or rutabaga. Or garnish roasted Brussels sprouts with segments of tangerine.
During the summer months, fresh fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, cherries and apricots appear on my dinner plates as gastriques, salsas, purees and simply grilled fruit such as peaches and pineapple. When fall arrives, I turn to figs, apples and pears. In winter, the oranges, lemons and limes come in season — supplemented by the dried fruits of earlier seasons.
The next time you're trying to figure out what do with that chicken breast or pork chop, take a look in your fruit bowl. That apple that's getting a bit long in the tooth may be just the thing to turn a boring turkey cutlet into something bright and new.
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