Stone fruits like nectarines and apricots, which are from the same family, make a tasty addition to a bowl of fresh salad leaves at this time of the year. Just ripe so still a little firm but oozing juice makes a perfect complement, especially as they look pretty too. They bring colour to the greenery and add the extra depth of caramelisation making this salad sumptuous. The honey glaze draws the sweetness from the fruit making a beautiful spectrum of taste and texture to your salad bowl.
Apricots are a versatile fruit, yellowish-orange and fleshy with tiny hairs on the outer skin giving a soft furry texture that can be eaten without having to be peeled. It’s also one of the healthiest fruits in the world, with loads of benefits. 100 grams of fresh apricots give you 12% of vitamin C, 12% of vitamin A, and 6% of potassium required by the body, and all this for less than 50 calories.
There are disputes as to the apricot’s origins. It was growing in India way back in 3000BC and was cultivated in China, till the Persians discovered it. Some argue the apricot originates in Armenia as the fruit has been cultivated there since ancient times. It is, however, in the Mediterranean that the apricot became most popular and Spanish explorers introduced the fruit to the Americas. It thrives in countries like Turkey, Italy, Russia, Spain, Greece, and France all leading producers of apricots.
Nectarines belong to the Rosaceae family, like plums and peaches. Nectarines grown in warmer, temperate regions and are also referred to as stone fruits or drupes as they enclose a hard seed inside their outer, juicy flesh. The botanical name is 'Prunus persica var. nectarina' and depending on the cultivars, the delicate flesh of the nectarine fruit may have the shades of deep yellow or creamy white with the outer skin having colours like pink, red, white or yellow. They are low in calories, and are a great source of fibre, containing about 10% of your daily needs in one medium-sized fruit. Fibre can help to keep you full, lower cholesterol, help your digestive system and keep your blood sugar stable, so eating more of it is recommended. Nectarines are a good source of vitamin C containing about 13% in one medium piece of fruit. They also contain beta-carotene which is the precursor to vitamin A, an antioxidant that aids in maintaining healthy skin and eye health.
Tips on selecting and preparing nectarines
When shopping, make sure to smell your nectarines and choose those that have a good aroma. The skin should be free of blemishes and bruises, soft spots, and wrinkles. Note, red patches do not indicate ripeness as many people believe and they will soften over time, but once they are picked they will not become sweeter. Nectarines will continue to ripen at room temperature and this process can be sped up by putting them in a paper bag. You can store nectarines in the refrigerator to keep them from getting overly ripe, but they're tastiest and juiciest eaten at room temperature. If you aren't going to be able to eat your nectarines before they over-ripen, wash them, remove the pit, cut them into slices, and freeze in a freezer bag.
Nectarines have a large pit in the centre so to remove the pit, wash the nectarine first and dry it off with a paper towel. Place the nectarine on a cutting board. Make a deep cut through to the pit along the centre seam using a sharp paring knife. Next, twist the cut nectarine in opposite directions so that you have two halves. The pit should be easily removed with your fingers or a spoon.
The walnut is the nut from any tree in the genus Juglans, but the walnut that we refer to most often is that of the Persian or English walnut. Technically a walnut is the seed of a drupe or drupaceous nut, and so not a true botanical nut. It is native to the region stretching from the Balkans eastward to the Himalayas and southwest China and they are one of the oldest tree food known to man, dating back to 7000 B.C. The Romans called walnuts Juglans regia, 'Jupiter’s royal acorn'. Early history indicates that English walnuts came from ancient Persia, where they were reserved for royalty and so, the walnut is often known as the 'Persian Walnut'. They were traded along the Silk Road route between Asia and the Middle East and eventually through sea trade, spreading the popularity of the walnut around the world. English merchant marines transported the product for trade to ports and they became known as ‘English Walnuts’. England, in fact, never grew walnuts commercially. The word ‘walnut’ derives from Old English 'wealhhnutu', literally 'foreign nut', with 'wealh' meaning 'foreign'. The walnut acquired its name as it was introduced from Gaul and Italy. The previous Latin name for the walnut was nux Gallica, ‘Gallic nut’.
Walnuts provide fibre, vitamins and minerals, and like all nuts, they contain good fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), but they are also a good source of the essential fatty acid omega-3. They also contain iron, selenium, calcium, zinc, vitamin E and some B vitamins. With high amounts of phytochemicals walnuts offer potential benefits for both brain health and brain function. Omega-3 plays a part in helping to reduce oxidative stress in the brain and can enhance mood. As well as the good fats, other important nutrients such as vitamin E, folate and ellagic acid all found in walnuts contribute to neuroprotection and memory function.
Caramelised apricot salad with walnuts and raw honey
This salad makes a great lunch on its own. Add some grains (cooked quinoa for instance) for a more substantial or dinner time salad. Soft goats cheese, labneh or ricotta also pairs beautifully with the stone fruits, nuts and raw honey.
- 200g mixed salad leaves (about 2 handfuls per person), such as baby rocket, baby spinach, little gem and pea shoots
- 8 – 12 firm apricots or 8 nectarines (or peaches)
- 2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
- 2 tablespoons raw honey
- sea salt
- 70g walnuts
- Wash and dry the mixed salad leaves and put them in a bowl.
- Wash and dry the apricots, peaches or nectarines thoroughly. Cut them in half and remove the stones (as above).
- Mix the rapeseed oil (or another lightly flavoured oil) with 1 tablespoon of the raw honey. Drizzle or paint over the cut surfaces of the fruit. Season very lightly with sea salt (optional).
- Place the cut surfaces of the fruit onto a hot griddle pan or barbecue grill. Leave for 3-4 minutes or until there are charred marks from the grill on the apricots (or other fruit). Give each piece of fruit a half turn, you may need to gently loosen from the bars with a spatula. Remove when charred to give a pretty criss-cross pattern, after approximately 2-4 minutes.
- Pour some salad dressing on the leaves and toss gently to combine (leave the dressing and assembly until just before serving). Serve any spare dressing on the side.
- Place the fruit halves, grilled side up, onto top of the salad leaves. Drizzle each one with a little raw honey while they are still warm. Scatter with the walnuts and serve immediately.