By Dana Zia, The Golightly Gourmet
“Eat a peach and live forever.” Chinese proverb
I have a confession to make….peaches are my very favorite fruit. The very scent of them sends me into a happy place. Then there is the sweet juiciness that hijacks your senses as you bite into one, they demand your full attention. I love a food that asserts itself. But I feel a bit like I am betraying my locavore status here as there is as much a chance at getting a good coast grown peach as there is of getting a good papaya. But this year with the lovely “almost” organic peaches that have been at the farmer’s market, I consider them “almost” local.
It seems I am not alone in this passion as the Chinese begun cultivating peaches from a native tree as early as 2000 BC. They have been writing poems and manuscripts about this fair fruit as far back as 1100 BC. In China, the peach tree is still honored as the “tree of life”. That would make it at least 4000 years that people have been enchanted by the peach.
The passionate Persians happened across the lovely peach around 300 BC due to the Silk Road and were instantly smitten as well. They were so effective at spreading this delicious jewel throughout the world that the Greek philosopher Theophrastus named it the “Persian apple” and consequently its Latin name is, Prunus persic. Then somehow, through many mispronunciations this name evolved into simply “peach”.
Peaches took root in North America very slowly. It started with the Native Americans who spread this delightful fruit by using the seeds as a lucrative trade item and planting them as they roved. Thomas Jefferson had his treasured peach trees at Monticello as well but full on production didn’t start until the 19th century. Fast forward to now and the United States leads the world in peach production with it being one of our largest commercial fruit crop, second only to apples.
Peaches are as nutritious as they are delicious being loaded with vitamin C, A, beta carotene and antioxidants. Since they are such a fragile fruit, try to buy peaches from as close to source as possible. Oregon and Washington both grow peaches in their warmer regions like the Willamette Valley and southern Oregon. When buying them, look for peaches with rich color that still have a slight whitish “bloom,” indicating that they have not been overly handled. Avoid ones that are excessively soft or with cuts and bruises or a shriveled appearance.
Make sure and give them the sniff test, if they don’t have a sweet aroma, they will surely disappoint. Do not buy refrigerated peaches, they have been robbed of their natural ripening process and will also disappoint. Buy your peaches slightly unripe and let them ripen at room temperature. If you’re in an all fire hurry, you can place them in a paper bag with an apple and it will expedite the ripening.
This is the perfect time of year to devour peaches. Both the Manzainta and Tillamook markets have peach farmers blessing us with their wares. This salad recipe I am sharing with you is an unusual but brilliant way to serve peaches as it isn’t a dessert. You will wonder why you have never done this before. Don’t let the long ingredient list on this recipe daunt you. It is actually very easy to make. Remember the very best way to eat a peach is raw and dripping down your chin. Enjoy the peach season! It is so fleeting and so enchanting!
Serves four. Add grilled chicken breasts to make it a main dish.
For the grilled peaches;
2 large ripe peaches, cut in half, pits removed
1/2 large red onion, sliced into 1/4 inch rings (don’t separate the rings)
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
Fresh cracked pepper
Frist off make sure your grill is relatively clean, then lightly oil the grill before you turn it on. (Important safety tip there) Heat up your grill to a high heat. (Pre-heating the grill is important to get the grill marks on the peaches) Brush both sides of the peaches and the onion rings with olive oil, then lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place peaches cut side down on the grill for 3-5 minutes depending on the ripeness. You want some nice char marks on those jewels. Flip and grill for an additional 3-5 minutes then take off grill and let cool. At the same time, if you are good at multitasking, grill the onions the same way. Cut the peach halves into halves and the onions in half.
Set aside for the grand finale.
For the salad dressing;
1 large juicy peach, cut up
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of honey
Zest from one lime
2 Tablespoons of fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon of cumin
1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon
Pinch of smoked paprika or ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon of fresh cracked pepper
Place everything into the blender or food processor and give it a whirl till well blended. Taste and adjust your seasonings. You can make this a day ahead and chill till you need it.
For the Salad
8 cups of mixed greens
1/4 cup of chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup of chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup of some nuts, pecans or almonds work best
1/3 cup of crumbled feta or goat cheese
The grand finale;
Toss the greens with the mint and cilantro and divide among 4 plates. Top each salad with 2 peach slices, some grilled onions, nuts and cheese. Serve with the dressing on the side so each person can make it as happy as they want it to. Make sure and say “Ta daaa!” when serving.