Apricots and their hybrid cousins brighten early summer dishes.
Spice up an early summer larb salad with apricots like Millennium does.
Sweet, petite, and the color of a sunrise, apricots are among the first stone fruits to arrive at local markets in early summer.
From the same genus as peaches, cherries, and almonds, apricots are ancient, possibly first cultivated in China more than 4,000 years ago, though conflicting reports trace the lineage to Armenia.
Thinking it was a type of peach, Pliny the Elder is credited for giving the apricot one of its earliest names—precocia, in Latin meaning “precocious” or “ripe before its time.”
Dense, refreshing, mildly sweet, and not-too juicy, the soft fruit is especially rich in vitamin A, as well as vitamin C, fiber, and potassium.
“Apricots are unique; they have this sweet-sour, middle-of-the-palate flavor,” said Eric Tucker, chef and co-owner of Oakland’s vegan Millennium restaurant. “Seeing them means we’ve gotten to spring and are heading towards summer.”
Ninety percent of America’s apricot crop is grown in California—a true labor of love. If apricots seem delicate, with their baby-soft fuzz and tender flesh, it’s because they are. The velvety fruit must be handled and cultivated carefully, as apricot trees are sensitive to soil and temperature changes, and their dainty white flowers are easily overwhelmed by wind and rain. Once the tree goes to fruit, the season is short—a matter of weeks. In a perfect world, apricots are eaten the day they are picked.
In a quest for a hardier fruit, horticulturist Luther Burbank developed “plumcots” in the late 19th century—50-50 plum-apricot hybrids that today still have a brief local, summer season. Newer, more complex combinations since the 1980s and ’90s include pluots, more plum than apricot, a now-widespread fruit with many colorful varieties. Apriums are more apricot than plum, with a juicier texture than apricots, and are “the first out of the gate,” says Tucker, with a season a bit earlier than apricots.
Tucker suggests choosing blemish-free apricots and apriums that are plump and uniform in feel and color. Ripeness is a personal choice—buy a little firm for use in cooking, or to let ripen on the counter; buy softer fruit for desserts, sauces, or eating out of hand.
Here, Tucker combines the sweetness of apricots with Thai-style aromatics and an apricot-ginger dressing for a refreshing early summer salad.
Surprisingly, apricot pits (or kernels) conceal a dangerous secret—trace amounts of cyanide, meant to ward off predators. But don’t worry: The fruit is perfectly safe. Once shelled and roasted to purify, apricot kernels are even used to safely infuse liqueurs, jams, and even ice creams with a potent, almond-like flavor.
Millennium Restaurant, 5912 College Ave., Oakland, 510-735-9459, MillenniumRestaurant.com.
Chef Eric Tucker’s Thai Larb Salad with Apricots
This salad is a riff on Thai/Lao larb or laap. For this version, cubed firm apricots are mixed with spring vegetables, dressed with a simple ginger- and turmeric-spiked dressing of puréed very ripe apricots and lime juice. Add as much fresh chile as you like, and the more Asian aromatics the better. Mix up the vegetables to your liking, add a protein like soy-glazed tofu or tempeh to turn it into an entrée salad. Serve it with large lettuce leaves to wrap the salad in.
4 ripe but firm apricots, medium dice
2-4 radishes, shaved thin
6-8 snap peas, sliced thin on the bias
2-4 baby carrots, shaved thin
½ cup coarse chopped toasted peanuts
2-4 scallions, sliced thin on the bias
1 stalk of lemongrass, tough outer stalk removed, sliced paper-thin
1-2 Serrano or Thai chiles sliced paper-thin
½ bunch mint leaves
½ bunch cilantro leaves
½ bunch Thai basil leaves
Apricot-Ginger dressing as needed (see recipe below)
Salt to taste
Toasted sesame oil as needed
1 medium shallot, sliced thin and sautéed until golden
Rice powder to taste (see recipe below)
2 heads large red leaf lettuce
Mix apricots, vegetables, peanuts, scallion, lemongrass, chile to taste, aromatics, and one-third of the dressing together. Adjust the salt. Divide between six plates, drizzle more of the apricot-ginger dressing around the plate. Drizzle a small amount of toasted sesame oil around the salad. Sprinkle toasted shallots and rice powder over the salad. Serve with four leaves of lettuce and a lime wedge on each plate.
4 very ripe apricots, stones removed
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small finger fresh turmeric, peeled (or ½ teaspoon dry)
½ cup agave nectar
¼ cup water
¼ cup lime juice
Salt to taste
Simmer the apricots, ginger, turmeric, agave, and water, over medium–low heat until the apricots soften, 5 to 7 minutes. Cool to room temperature, then purée in a blender with the lime juice until smooth. Adjust salt, lime, and sweetener to taste (should be sweet and tart).
Toasted Rice Powder
½ cup Jasmine Rice
Place the rice in a wok or sauté pan and place over a medium low flame. Stir the rice almost constantly for 10 to 12 minutes until the rice is golden brown; it should smell like popcorn. Cool to room temperature. Grind in a spice grinder or blender to a medium powder (not too fine). Store covered in a cool dry place.
Published online on May 25, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.