Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Balqees Honey Pear Salad

This is a salad that marries the well-known combination of pear, nuts, and blue cheese with a hint of the Middle East, a touch of the Southern states, and a memory of liquid deliciousness: raw Yemeni saffron infused honey by Balqees (link).

When I moved from Dubai to Houston, one of my worries was that I would not be able to find the great flavors of the Middle East, from spices to condiments. And then I found Phoenicia. Founded by an Armenian couple in the 1970s, Phoenicia is as close to the Middle East as you can get in Houston. I happily started to browse through my Middle Eastern cookbooks again. One thing I haven't found is the prized raw Yemeni honey, which in Dubai you can find sold in big glass jars for you to taste, compare, and choose.

This salad vaguely evokes Arabic flavors in the rose water that lends an aromatic touch to the dish. The soft, mild blue cheese and the characteristic flavor of pecans bring it home to Texas (yep, still getting used to calling it "home"). You can make this salad with any honey, but it will never have that same depth of deliciousness or that velvety richness that comes with natural, raw honey. Saffron-infused at that. Below recipe is loosely based on Malouf's Honey-Roasted Pear And Walnut Salad (page 261 of his must-have cookbook New Middle Eastern Food).

Balqees Raw Honey Roasted Pears, Blue Cheese and Pecans

Recipe for 4
2 ripe pears
fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup roasted pecans
150gr crumbled soft, mild blue cheese (I used an artisanal Vermont blue cheese)
1 tbsp Balqees Raw Yemeni Honey (saffron-infused if you have: an unforgettable taste)
1 splash of rosewater
100gr (or 2 cups full) of young leaf salad
a handful of fresh, small herb leaves (mint, thyme, basil, for instance)

Cut each pear (skin on) into six wedges, cut out the cores, and sprinkle with fresh lemon juice to prevent discoloring. Heat the butter in a skillet until melted. Add the pears and toss regularly over high heat for 1-2 minutes (make sure each side "gets a turn"). Add the honey and toss well to coat (it caramelizes quickly). Add the rosewater (steam will rise), and toss some more, always over high heat. When the pears are nicely coated and caramelized, take them out and keep warm.

In the same pan, toss the pecans over high heat. The residue of honey-butter-rosewater left in the pan will cling to the nuts. Sprinkle some coarse salt on and let cool (make sure to separate the individual nut pieces: once they cool, the honey will stick them together like glue).

Carefully mix all ingredients together and serve. Keep aside some of the blue cheese, 2 slices of pear, and some pecans to garnish the top.

A huge miss: a Balqees shop around MY corner, where I can go, taste that gorgeous honey, and decide on which jar to take home. From the renowned Sidr honey and infusions from wildflower to saffron, Balqees is paradise for a honey lover! In this photo toasted raisin-walnut bread, an artisanal goats cheese from Burgundy, and raw Yemeni Wildflower honey. You don't need much else!

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