Fifty Minute Classroom

Apr 26, 2017, 20:26
Fruit Goes Savory in the Classroom
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Fruit Goes Savory in the Classroom

30 March 2017

Taking students’ fruit tastes on a trip from sweet to spicy, cold to grilled, in dishes from sides to main courses. 

By Chef Adam Weiner, CFSE

"Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing to keep it out of a fruit salad.” (Texted to me by my daughter on Oct. 25, 2011)

I’ve been teaching cooking with fruit in a savory context for years. I do this for a myriad of reasons:

  • Seasonal fruit is relatively inexpensive and thus easy on my class budget
  • Fruit cooks quickly. I can braise a peach in minutes, unlike hours for a brisket
  • It forces students to think outside of the box. Take an ingredient they know, and prepare it in a way they have never seen it prepared.
  • Food safety issues with fruit are far less of a concern than proteins and even most vegetables.
  • Fruit is relatively healthy as carbs are concerned.
  • Most fruits can be cooked with the use of almost all cooking principles. Bananas, watermelon and pineapple are great on the grill. Peaches, pears and apples can be smoked, barbecued, sautéed, poached, simmered, steamed, etc. (See note below.)

The only drawback of cooking with fruit is when you first tell your students about fruit being a savory star. They always grimace, look perplexed, and/or shout out, “Fruit is for sweet things.” I handle this in several different ways:

  • I remind them of the marinara sauce they made the day before.
  • I ask, “Who likes guacamole?” Tomatoes, jalapenos, and avocados are all fruits.
  • I show them pizza menus showing green peppers and olives as toppings. Of course, I note that pizza sauce is made from tomatoes.
  • I remind them about all the talk on social media about whether pineapple belongs on pizza.
  • I inquire if anyone likes eggplant parmigiana?
  • I have them taste chutney.
  • I hold up bottles of Sriracha and Catsup.

{Note: After I wrote this article I was visiting Kauai Coffee on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai. My friend and general manager Fred Cowell mentioned that, of course, coffee beans are a fruit. Thus, every time your student has an espresso, cappuccino or latte, she or he is having a hot fruit beverage.}

I start them with something simple, using one fruit and sautéing or grilling it. Sautéing apples in a little butter, salt and pepper are a great way to begin. (It also gives your students a chance to practice their sautéing techniques.) Then I have them start adding other vegetables or proteins. For example, chicken sautéed in olive oil with mushrooms and sliced red grapes is wonderful.

I move on to the next level by having students tease their senses. Grilled pineapple with salt, lemon juice and a little bit of chili flakes is very big in Latin cultures. For many students, this is their first introduction to sweet, hot and spicy fruit. I take this up a notch and have them grill watermelon wedges in the same style. I then have them chill the watermelon and the next day we add it to salads. A Greek salad with spicy cold crunchy grilled watermelon (and maybe a chiffonade or two of mint) is guaranteed to please your students on a day where it’s hot inside your classroom.

The next step is using fruit to not only accent a dish but to become a substantial part of the dish. This is particularly good for teaching vegetarian dishes. For example, what about curried tofu with firm apples, raisins, and mangoes? Served with rice this is a good (as well as fast and cheap) way to expose your students to new cuisines and the fact that vegetarian dishes can have pizzazz.

Okay, so let’s say that your students’ palettes are mundane. How about deep fried avocados? Cut in half, remove the pit, make about three or four slices per half and then show your students the proper technique for preparing a tempura batter (using ice and water) and the proper steps for seasoning, dredging with flour, egg wash, and then the batter. You can take the finished product savory with a bit of salt and pepper and lemon juice.

What about fruit soups? Gazpacho is of course a traditional classic involving tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers yielding an uncooked fruit soup. With smoothies being a staple in almost every teenager’s diet, what about having them making a fruit soup with cantaloupes, berries, apples, etc.? If you think I am nuts do a few minutes of Google searching. Between Allrecipes.com and Foodnetwork.com there are literally hundreds of recipes (and videos) ranging from strawberries to passion fruit and everything in between.

If you have fruit leftover you can do a quick pickle (which is great for anything firm from watermelon rinds to mangos) or make a chutney. The pickled fruit will last in your refrigerator a long time so you can incorporate them into future lessons.

You and your students can (and should) use fruit in an astonishing number of ways besides baking and desserts. I mentioned cost effectiveness, speed of preparation, food safety, etc. But the bottom line is simple—your students will be surprised with how good savory fruit tastes. And, at the end of the day, taste is what counts.

{Note: Above I mention using fruit to teach your students basic professional level cooking principles. For more information on this please take a look at my articles on braising, sauté, steaming, and grilling. There is also a 50 minute video on the CAFÉ website from the Niagara Falls 2015 Leadership Conference which you may wish to review when you have the time. Scroll down this link until you come to the video on Teaching Basic Cooking Principles.}


Chef Adam Weiner, CFSE, teaches a 20-week Introduction to Cooking program for JobTrain on the San Francisco Peninsula, and is a frequent presenter at CAFÉ events throughout the nation. He is also a recipient of the prestigious Antonin Carême Medal.

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