Alan Chun and Alice Woo of Belly uses Asians pears to create a crisp, light salad to balance the heartier California-Korean-style tacos, burritos, and burgers that highlight the offerings at their popular Uptown eatery.
Think about pears and many people envision the decadently soft, sweet, juicy fruit associated with European varietals like Bartletts, Boscs, or D’Anjous. Asian pears aren’t that. Ranging in color from bright green to pale yellow to deep brown, the flavor is more subtle and less overtly sweet with a mild acidity. The textural difference — Asian pears typically showing off a firm, apple-like crispness — is even more noticeable.
That means that these pears retain their crispiness in even the most acidic of vinaigrettes, making them a go-to add-in in salads. For Alan Chun and Alice Woo, the husband-wife owners of Belly, they were a natural fit when they were brainstorming a crisp, light salad to balance the heartier California-Korean-style tacos, burritos, and burgers that highlight the offerings at their popular Uptown eatery.
“Asian pears have this really unique sweetness, but they’re also refreshing and light-tasting in comparison to other types of pears,” says Woo. “They’re so good.”
Woo grew up in Southern California with an Asian pear tree in her backyard, a bounty that she didn’t appreciate when she was a child but now eagerly anticipates come late summer and fall when the fruit peaks locally. And the salad that they decided on — in which thinly sliced pear is fanned alongside a bed of arugula dressed with a lemon-pepper vinaigrette, spiked with candied almonds, and topped by crispy fried shallots — has become a year-round menu staple since Belly opened in 2014.
While Asian pears are difficult to find year-round, the couple manages through a variety of sources, preferring to buy from smaller growers that tend to offer a better-quality product. In particular, whenever available, they’re partial to Korean pears. Chun likens this traditional varietal to a combination of pear, apple, and melon, and says it makes an especially delicious addition to the salad (you can also substitute apples if you can’t find Asian pears).
At the market, picking out Asian pears is a little tricky given their naturally firmness, but Chun advices choosing ones with just a little bit of give to the touch. As for whether or not to peel them, that’s a personal preference.
“They’re more along the lines of an apple in that the skin is edible,” says Chun. “We like the flavor of it and the complexity the skin brings, but it really depends on what you like.”
Although they keep for longer than most fruits when stored in the refrigerator, Asian pears (unlike their European counterparts) are generally picked ripe and best enjoyed right away — they bruise easily so handle with care. And while they are quite commonly used in salads, they are great eaten on their own and pair nicely with chocolate and mild cheeses. At Belly, Chun and Woo also utilize them in their house-made marinades to tenderize chicken, pork, and beef, similar to how many chefs use pineapple or orange juice.
“It’s a little more costly,” says Chun. “But we think it’s worth it.”
Belly’s Arugula and Asian Pear Salad
6 cups of organic baby arugula
3 cups lemon pepper vinaigrette dressing
1 Asian or Korean pear, thinly sliced
1 cup candied almonds
1 fried shallot
Toss arugula with 3 tablespoons of lemon pepper vinaigrette dressing. Place sliced pears and halved almonds wherever you desire. Sprinkle fried shallots on top
½ teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ cup water
1 cup toasted whole almonds
Combine honey, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, cayenne, and water into a small saucepan. Simmer over low heat and stir until a thick glaze is formed. Place almonds into the glaze and coat evenly. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place almonds on a sheet tray in a single layer. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes or until golden brown and fragrant. Remove almonds from oven and cool. Cut almonds into halves.
Lemon Pepper Vinaigrette
2 lemons, juiced and zested
¼ cup ground black pepper
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2½ cups olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
Blend lemon zest, lemon juice, ground black pepper, garlic, and salt. Slowly drizzle olive oil in and emulsify. Dressing may be stored in refrigerator up to a week in refrigerator. Bring dressing to room temperature and combine before using.
¼ cup buttermilk
1 shallot, peeled and sliced into rings
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup of olive oil
Place buttermilk into a small bowl and soak shallots for 30 minutes in refrigerator. Remove from refrigerator and strain shallots onto a dry paper towel. Evenly coat shallots with all purpose flour. Heat olive oil in a small saucepan to 325 degrees. Slowly, add breaded shallots until golden and crispy. Remove from oil and placed onto dry paper towel to cool.