A zingy fruit salad for the New Year

January 3, 2012 § 1 Comment

I’m sitting down with a well-earned cup of coffee (the last of the Züri Kafi blend from H.Schwarzenbach Kolonialwaren in Zürich’s Aldstadt) having just about recovered after a Swiss food marathon over Christmas and New Year. We ate extremely well in Klosters over Christmas, then stocked up with yet more Swiss goodies for an alpine-themed New Year celebration at home. I’ll be writing more about these later in the month…

The crystal glasses and decanters are polished and put away in readiness for the now traditional alcohol-free January. The deep-fat fryer suffered rather when the deep-fried battered gruyère sticks exploded – it’s now drained, scrubbed and refilled with fresh oil ready for a cheeky steak, frites, salade or whatever. The matching pair of fondue sets are similarly decheesed and packed away. And I’m finally going to accept defeat and put our super-sized chocolate fountain on eBay. It’s five years old and we’ve used it…twice. It takes 2kg chocolate to fill most of which sets solid in the mechanism and takes and age to chip off and discard.

Right now, after all that cheese and chocolate, I find I’m craving clean sharp flavours and bright colours to beat the winter blues. The arrival of the first celebratory tender pink stems of forced rhubarb prompted me to try out an unusual pairing of ingredients – rhubarb and mango – in an oriental perfumed fruit salad that I’d read about in a Josceline Dimbleby cookbook. She in turn credits the inspiration for this dish to a sublime fruit soup tasted Vong, the French-Thai restaurant in London, now defunct.

With only two components to prepare, this is not a labour-intensive fruit salad to prepare. Just assembling the ingredients with the vibrant colours and perfumes lifts the spirit:

It doesn’t take long to slice up the rhubarb and ginger:

In fact the only faintly tricky part of the recipe is making sure the rhubarb is poached just so (rather than cooked to a pink pulp):

Once the rhubarb is poached, all that’s left to do is to slice the mango then assemble:

Recipe for rhubarb and mango fruit salad

Adapted from a Josceline Dimbleby’s recipe for Rhubarb and Mango à la Vong in her “Complete Cookbook”.

Serves 6

500g forced rhubarb (don’t substitute later field-grown rhubarb as the rhubarb needs to be tender and the colour needs to be the gorgeous bright pink to achieve the startling colour contrast with the golden-yellow mango).

1.5cm length chunk of fresh ginger root
3 star anise
150 ml water
75g golden caster sugar, maybe more to taste
two 4cm long pieces of peel from a lime, removed using a vegetable peeler
1 medium perfectly ripe mango
a little lime juice
a few fresh mint leaves

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C.

Wash the rhubarb, trim off and discard the ends and slice the stalks into pieces 4 to 5 cm long, cutting prettily at an angle to form little rhombus shapes if you feel so inclined.

Peel the piece of root ginger, cut into slices then into the finest matchstick slivers you can manage. Put the rhubarb and ginger into a shallow lidded casserole dish, tip in the sugar and water and finally add the star anise and pieces of lime peel to the pan.

Put the pan on to the hob and bring to the boil. Cover, remove from the heat and place in the preheated oven to bake very slowly until the rhubarb is tender but still holding its shape. Mine took just 30 minutes in the Aga lowere oven which is only 140-150 degrees C so I suggest checking after just 20 minutes in an ordinary fan oven.

Once the rhubarb is cooked, remove from the oven, remove the lid and leave to cool, then chill in the fridge until you are ready to complete the salad.

Meanwhile, slice your mango into pretty strips using your preferred mango prep method – having tried various ways I still think the hedgehog method works best for me, modifying the criss-cross knife cuts to produce strips rather than cubes. Put the mango pieces into a bowl and squeeze over a little lime juice, enough to toss and coat the mango pieces. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the fruit salad.

Once the fruit is chilled you can complete the salad. Spoon the rhubarb and its cooking syrup carefully into a pretty serving bowl – I think plain white or glass shows off the colours best. Dot in the mango pieces here and there, being careful not to break up the rhubarb. Make sure the star anise are artfully arranged on top, then finish by scattering over a few fresh mint leaves.

If I were pulling out all the stops, I might accompany the salad with a dainty plateful of green-tea flavoured langues de chat to keep the French-Thai vibe going.

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