A ripe peach — tender to the touch, floral and honeyed in the nose, slurpy on first bite — is a sensory experience like few others. And that river of nectar flooding the tongue? For a few minutes, I am a hummingbird in flight, buzzing with unbridled joy.
If you can relate, then you know that the way to eat a peach in unadulterated bliss is over the sink —just you and the peach having a moment with the juices running down your arms and the faucet at the ready for clean-up duty.
For many a peach lover, baking cobbler, churning ice cream and putting up jam are summertime traditions. Personally, I find the peach so teeth-tingling sweet in its natural state that I crave little adornment. Unless, of course, we’re going savory.
In fact, that inherent sweetness plays well with big and bold flavors typically reserved for the savory world including fresh basil and mint, chile peppers, onions and ginger root. Peaches like the smoke of charcoal and enjoy being grilled themselves or paired with grilled chicken, pork or shrimp.
Just days ago, I got to see for myself just how far savory I could take the sweet peach. Inspiration came while leafing through my dog-eared copy of “Ripe,” an ode to fruit by British food writer Nigel Slater.
In his essay on peaches, Slater shares, in his signature notebook style, a recipe for a peach-forward salad amped up with bold and beautiful basil and mint, sweet peppers and a kicky Viet-style dressing of fish sauce, limes and chile peppers.
Slater calls for shredded chicken, which is delightful, but if chicken is neither interesting nor available, the salad will still be a riot of color and flavor. It’s that good.
As I built the salad, I added cucumber, a few cherry tomatoes and raw peanuts, along with some backyard romaine to line our plates. My husband envisions a side of rice or rice noodles for the next time. And as long as peaches are gracing farmstand shelves, there will definitely be a next time.
A salad of peaches and herbs (and maybe chicken) with a Viet-style dressing
Adapted from “Ripe” by Nigel Slater.
Makes 4 servings.
- 1 to 1 1/2 pounds chicken thighs, skin removed
- 3/4 to 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon neutral oil
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce (Non-fish option: vegetarian fish sauce is available in stores)
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 chile pepper of choice, very finely chopped
- 2 to 3 scallions, roots removed, finely chopped
- 3 medium ripe peaches
- 1 sweet bell pepper, any color but green, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch strips
- 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, torn or cut into chiffonade strips
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, torn or cut into chiffonade strips
- Optional add-ons: 1/2 medium cucumber, seeded; 6 cherry tomatoes; 1/2 cup chopped green beans
- Optional finishing touches: 1/4 cup unsalted peanuts; romaine lettuce for lining a platter or bowl
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
In a small bowl, stir together the spices and oil, and rub all over the chicken. Place on a sheet pan or in a baking dish and roast until golden and cooked through, about 30 minutes. (This step can also be done on the grill and can be done in advance.) Remove the oven and let cool while you prep the rest of the salad.
Make the dressing: In a small bowl, stir together the fish sauce, lime and sugar with a fork until the sugar is dissolved. Add the chile pepper and scallions, stir and set aside under ready to serve. The flavors deepen as the dressing sits.
Slice the peaches in half, remove the pits and cut into 1/2-inch slices. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the pepper strips and the herbs. Resist the urge to stir.
Shred or thinly slice the chicken off the bone and add to the peach mixture. Add any of the optional add-ons and gently stir until evenly distributed.
When ready to serve, gradually add half of the dressing, stirring until well coated.
If using the lettuce, lay on a platter or on the bottom of a bowl, then place salad on top. Sprinkle with peanuts, if using, and bring the remaining dressing to the table.