Tropical Winter Wonder

Yeah, the calendar says it's January. But if you live in the northeastern part of the country, Saturday was like a day in early June. People were sunbathing poolside, for crying out loud.


Pineapple salad: Just what the meteorologist ordered. (Kim O'Donnel)


On this El Niño kind of day, my thoughts turned tropical when it was time for dinner. All I could think about was pineapple, its juicy bursts of brightness tickling my tongue. I could eat fresh pineapple every day and be the happiest girl in town.

When I was finishing up cooking school 10 years ago, the chef instructor, who had done cooking stints in Hawaii and in parts of southeast Asia, passed on a recipe for Thai pineapple salad. I remember the excitement of my first experience tasting sweet with salty, spicy and pungent all in one bite. This one salad set the course for my exploration into the cuisines of faraway places that I had only dreamed about.

It had been a while since the last batch of pineapple salad, which I love to serve with rice (catches all those juices) and something grilled. I found a ripe pineapple from Costa Rica, where, I later found out, it's peak pineapple season until February.

As an aside, can any East coast pineapple lovers let me know if they've come across a Hawaiian pineapple lately? A wee bit of digging indicates that much of the Hawaiian pineapple crop goes straight to the canneries, and the fresh stuff heads first to the west coast, rather than to this side of the country.

Now back to that salad. The ingredients listed below are meant to be a guideline; you want a balance of sweet, salty, hot and pungent. If you're vegetarian, fish sauce and dried shrimp are not part of the equation, so adjust accordingly. For those of you who are game, the fish sauce adds a level of complexity to the dish that you don't expect. You don't need much, just 1 or 2 teaspoons. And if you happen to live near a Thai grocery store, throw caution to the wind and pick up a bag of dried shrimp and finely dice a small handful. At first, I was skeptical too, but I'm telling you, it's a weird and wonderful addition.

Even though the summery weather was like a blip on the screen, I have a strange suspicion that it will be back before spring. (Does this mean the end of seasons as we know it? Oh brother.) So save this little ditty for the next time the climate decides to play mind games.

Did you know ... the pineapple (aka ananas comosus) is likely a native of Brazil or Paraguay, then was spread to the West Indies by Guarani Indians. When Christopher Columbus ate it for the first time in Guadalupe, he likened it to a pine cone and called it the "pine of the Indies".... As a member of the bromeliad family, the pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, which has many functions, including digesting protein (ergo, great for marinades), anti-inflammatory (great for post-workouts) and digestive aid (which makes it good when you're pregnant)... it's an old symbol of hospitality and replicas are still found on doorsteps of homes and hotels in the Caribbean as well as in the South....

Share your favorite ways to eat pineapple, please. Maybe you've eaten pineapple in other parts of the globe, or you just hate the stuff.

One last note: Sometime this week, a recipe index page will be up and running, with links to recipes that have run in the blog since last May. Stay tuned!


Thai-style Pineapple Salad

Ingredients
1 pineapple, peeled and cut into chunks
½ fresh chile of choice, seeded and diced
½ bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
¼ cup roasted peanuts, finely chopped
Zest of lime
Juice ½ lime
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon chopped dried shrimp (optional)

Method

Place pineapple chunks in a medium bowl, and add chile, cilantro, peanuts and lime zest.

In a small bowl, combine lime juice, brown sugar, soy sauce and fish sauce, and stir to combine, until sugar is nearly dissolved. Pour over pineapple and with a large spoon, stir to combine and coat fruit with dressing. Add dried shrimp, if using, and stir to combine.

Best served with rice. Great as a side to anything grilled - fish, chicken, beef, pork, roasted red peppers, tofu.

By Kim ODonnel |  January 8, 2007; 10:31 AM ET Seasonal Produce
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Comments

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I like it with a sprinkle of salt....now I want some!

Posted by: Roslyn | January 8, 2007 12:07 PM

Okay, now you've got me salivating here at my desk. But thanks for the recipe.

Posted by: Little Red | January 8, 2007 12:12 PM

Interesting note on the pregnancy side of things - for some reason in my first trimester pineapple, while normally one of my favorites, ones on of the things that made me immediately nauseated. Odd? Thanks for the fun recipe.

Posted by: alexandria | January 8, 2007 1:17 PM

A year ago I toured a pineapple plantation on Maui. Most of the pineapples do indeed get canned and the crop is shrinking because the land is just so valuable for other uses. On the tour the guide picked and cut one and it was the best pineapple I ever had! I also got to pick several of my own and I brought them all the way home with me. So sweet and delicious - even the core was like sugar!

Posted by: Herndon | January 8, 2007 2:10 PM

In Thailand, you can buy fresh pineapple from street vendors. I remember the first time I had it: so sweet, with very little of the tartness or acidity of the pineapple here. Sprinkle a little bit of spicy chili salt, and it's incredible. I ate it at least twice a day the whole time I was there!

Posted by: so good | January 8, 2007 3:33 PM

Made this for dinner last night. This is the best recipe you have ever posted!

Posted by: Alexandria, VA | January 9, 2007 9:27 AM

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