Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein, author of Daring Pairings and Perfect Pairings, offers up a wintry, persimmon-pomegranate salad and some expert wine pairing tips.

goldstein_by_caren_alpertHoliday cheer.

The holidays are a loaded time. For some it’s the best time of the year—merriment, family, friends, presents, and delicious edibles and..drinkables. For others, well, it’s the opposite—unpleasant forced get togethers, depression, and culinary traditions that aren’t tasty and won’t go away (hello fruitcake!). For me, fortunately it’s the former, and it’s around the holidays that many a great bottle find their corks (finally) pulled as we share with friends, loved ones, and serendipitous new acquaintances.

I am often asked what do I love on New Year’s Eve. Well, like of many of us content but boring lemmings I will eat most anything and everything that pairs with good bubbly- from sushi to tempura, from prosciutto wrapped breadsticks to deep fried croquettes filled with rice and melted cheese (suppli al telefono in Italy). Champagne, California sparkling wine, or fizz from Italy, Argentina, or New Zealand—as long as it is good, I am so there. But that’s boring (though tasty) and my new book, Daring Pairings, implies something from me that’s a little bit edgier and for the holidays, I am happy to oblige!

Two ingredients I love that seem to be in their element in the holiday months are persimmons and chestnuts. Not always great together, well, they so get me in the mood. In Portugal, where I was recently, having hot roasted chestnuts from street vendors, dusted with a little salt that gently infuses the warm chestnut when you shell it on the street. Ahh…now that’s heaven..especially when enjoyed with a chilled glass of the Portuguese white Encruzado from the Dão. Well, yum…but alas, you really need to be in Portugal to make that happen. A holiday pairing that you can do at home takes on the second ingredient, persimmon, and specifically the Fuyu type that you can simply peel, slice, and eat. I love them two ways—first with a little ricotta salata cheese, thinly sliced, and consumed with a small ripe wedge of this sweet/tannic fruit (by the way, a young fortified Muscat is a great pairing here) or dropped in small wedges into salad, along with some greens, hazelnuts, pomegranate seeds, fennel, and butter lettuces. The recipe for this tasty salad comes from my Momma (super chef Joyce Goldstein) can be found in her recent book, Mediterranean Fresh. The recipe follows:

Persimmons and Pomegranate Salad with Butter Lettuce
Serves 6

2 heads butter lettuce, leaves separated (Oak leaf or red leaf lettuce will work well here too along with some Belgian endive).
3 ripe fuyu persimmons, peeled, cut in half and then cut into wedges
2 bulbs fennel, thinly sliced
½ cup Pomegranate dressing made with hazelnut oil (follows)
¼ cup toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
optional pomegranate seeds (I strongly recommend this for the wine pairing aspect!!)
Combine the lettuce, persimmons, fennel and pomegranate seeds in a bowl and toss with the dressing. Place on salad plates and top with toasted nuts.

Pomegranate and Nut Dressing
Yield: half cup plus 2 tablespoons

4 tablespoons pomegranate molasses or 1/2 cup reduced juice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons hazelnut oil
2 tablespoons olive oil or mild oil like canola

So good. I love this salad as it’s both very winter and a nice easy not overly rich way to begin what will invariably be a very filling meal culminating in over consuming slabs of prime rib, slices of roast goose or other foods that make you groan in well earned pain as you take a breather before dessert. What I enjoy doing in matching with this salad is playing off the tannins (persimmon) and bright red fruit (pomegranate) and the nuts (call for soft oak) and have…sacre bleu, some bright red selections. Sure this salad is easily sublime with a crisp, earthy white wine but it pairs amazingly well with reds of the brighter, sharper genre—more austere Pinot Noir, less oaky Italian Barbera, and even Greek Xinomavro (as a red or rose). Bottom line is that it works, is holiday, and doesn’t need that boring bubbly stuff…though it would work too! Happy Holidays to you!