Pear and black-eyed pea salad recalls chef’s roots

Gretchen McKay
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“This salad is, for me, about flavor, texture and childhood memories,” chef Alexander Smalls says in his cookbook, “Meals, Music, and Muses: Recipes From My African American Kitchen.” The cookbook is a tribute to his South Carolina heritage and the music that inspired the former professional opera singer.

A childhood favorite, it was on the menu when he opened The Cecil, New York City’s first Afro-Asian-American restaurant, in 2013. It honors his father and grandfather and the pears they grew in their backyard in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

The beans add protein and the pears a touch of elegance. A lemony vinaigrette ties it all together.

It’s a versatile recipe that can be made ahead to be dressed later, and it easily goes from an appetizer to a full meal depending on the size. I halved the ingredients for smaller portions.

This salad from Alexander Smalls is built around childhood flavors of pears, field greens and black-eyed peas.

Field Greens, Poached Pear and Black-eyed Peas Salad

For salad

  • 4 ripe but firm Bosc pears, halved and cored
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 11/2 cups halved grape tomatoes
  • 1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 cups thinly sliced seedless cucumbers
  • 2 pounds mixed salad greens
  • 21/2 cups cooked black-eye peas

For vinaigrette

  • 1/2 cup Champagne vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon each fresh lemon, lime and orange juice
  • 11/2 teaspoons minced shallot
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 11/2 teaspoons honey
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Combine pears, wine, sugar, cinnamon sticks, star anise and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan.

Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low and poach until pears are tender but not mushy, about 35 minutes. Let pears cool to room temperature, then cover and chill for at least several hours or up to overnight.

Prepare vinaigrette: In a food processor, combine vinegar, citrus juices, shallot, mustard, mayo, honey and a pinch of salt and pepper. Pulse until smooth, about 30 seconds.

With the machine running, add oil in a thin stream and process until emulsified. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days.

Remove pears from poaching liquid and cut lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Reserve poaching liquid for another use.

In a large bowl, toss grape tomatoes, onion, cucumbers and greens to combine. Add black-eyed peas and vinaigrette (a little at a time, until greens are lightly coated), and toss.

Divide among 8 chilled plates. Garnish with poached pears and serve immediately.

Serves 8.

— “Meals, Music, and Muses: Recipes From My African American Kitchen” by Alexander Smalls (Flatiron, $35)