- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2005

Those who enjoy pears are probably familiar with the basic varieties sold in the United States, including Anjou, Bartlett, Bosc and Comice. They may even have tried Asian pears, which have made inroads into supermarket produce sections and offer a luscious and interesting new flavor.

These pears are round like an apple, with thin brown skin and a crisp and juicy texture that’s almost like watermelon.

Pear connoisseurs, however, should try Korean pears, says Robert Schueller, director of public relations for Melissa’s, a specialty produce company in Los Angeles. “When you bite into a Korean pear, the juice drips out,” Mr. Schueller says. “It’s the cream of the crop.”

You can tell the Korean pear, which is in the same family as the Asian pear, by its larger size, softer skin and small core, which means less waste. Beauty is also a key.

The pear is one of the most pampered fruits in Korean agriculture, grown with a bag covering it to protect the thin skin from sun damage. The labor-intensive production is reflected in the cost, which can be twice what domestic pears sell for.

This luxury pear demands a luxurious recipe. Korean pears shouldn’t be cooked, because heat ruins the delicate flavor and texture. Instead, use the pears in a fruit or vegetable salad. Korean pears are excellent matched with greens and a buttery blue cheese. Keep the dressing on the sweet side to complement the pears.

The following pear and spinach salad makes an excellent light entree, but for a filling dinner, start with rich curried yam and pancetta soup.

Curried yam and pancetta soup

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 small red or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced

2 slices pancetta, cut into bite-size pieces

1 large yam, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice

½ teaspoon red curry powder

2 cups chicken broth

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Salt and pepper

Heat vegetable oil in medium pot. Add ginger root, shallot and bell pepper. Saute 3 to 5 minutes. Add pancetta and cook 1 minute. Add yam, curry powder and chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer 40 minutes or until yam is tender.

Either coarsely puree with immersion blender or remove about 1 cup of the yam along with some of the broth and puree in a blender, then return to the pot. Stir in cream, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer 1 minute to heat through. Do not boil. Makes 2 servings.

Pear and spinach salad

3 packed cups (about 3 ounces) baby spinach leaves

1 medium Korean pear, cored and very thinly sliced

1 tablespoon minced fresh chives

2 ounces Stilton cheese, at room temperature, crumbled

2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

4 teaspoons fig tangerine balsamic vinegar (see note)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Arrange half the spinach on each of 2 large salad plates. Top with pear slices, chives, cheese and walnuts. Combine balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste in a cup. Pour half over each salad or pass on the side. Makes 2 servings.

Note: You’ll find fig tangerine balsamic vinegar in specialty food stores. If not available, substitute 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar mixed with 1 teaspoon orange or tangerine juice and a pinch of sugar.

Bev Bennett is the author of “30 Minute Meals for Dummies” (John Wiley & Sons Inc.).

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