The first time I ever made and tried poached pears was last year at culinary school here in Sydney. On the menu, we had to cook a simple rice pudding recipe and top it with a spiced red wine poached pear.
Because I don’t use alcohol in my cooking, I made mine minus the red wine. It was delicious, but I couldn’t help being jealous of the gorgeously deep ruby colour of the ones cooked in wine by my classmates. The contrast between the intense red of the outer flesh of the pears against the lighter inner flesh that is exposed when sliced was just STUNNING. And the drizzle of the reduced poached liquid onto the creamy white rice pudding? Forget about it. I was smitten.
I began contemplating ways to achieve the same dramatic colour without wine, and it didn’t take long before I thought of hibiscus.
Hibiscus is a beautiful crimson flower with a strong tart flavour, and in Egypt it is used to make one of our most popular traditional local drinks called Karkadeh. I spoke about it before when I made my Hibiscus and Rose Iced Tea. It has a dangerously red colour, so much so that it is used frequently in dyes…which means you can pretty much say goodbye to anything it gets spilled on. Nothing – I repeat, NOTHING stains as badly as this stuff, so wear your absolute worst clothes whenever you use it, especially if you are as un-graceful as yours truly…you have been warned.
So anyway, naturally, it made absolute sense to use it to dye my pears the most seriously, ridiculously intense red hue possible. Vastly redder than wine (take that, alcohol!).
I kept the idea noted in the back of my mind and planned to make it when winter arrived here in Australia.
Last December/January, when my husband and I visited Cairo for a month-long vacation, my best friend gave me The Cairo Kitchen cookbook by Suzanne Zeidy as a welcome home gift. Can I just take a moment to thank my lucky stars for having a best friend who knows that cookbooks are the guaranteed way to my heart? Gosh I adore that girl. Also, quite fittingly, she has a not-so-mild obsession with Karkadeh, so I hereby officially dedicate this recipe to her (high five Nadoodi!).
The moment I cracked it open, I instantly fell in love with that book and its incredibly familiar yet simplified and updated flavours. As I flipped through the final few pages of the dessert section, I let out a squeal. There it was! A hibiscus poached pear recipe! Although, in all honesty, I was slightly crushed at the realisation that I wasn’t the first person to come up with this genius idea (sob), seeing it in print and in such a brilliant cookbook gave me more assurance that this idea will work and yield delicious results.
In my version, I use honey instead of sugar for the poaching liquid, as well as adding quite a few whole spices, which I think work beautifully with pears and hibiscus. I also used a much smaller amount of dried hibiscus flowers, as I find them to be incredibly strong.
Aren’t they just the prettiest pears you’ve ever laid eyes on? I just cannot get over that colour!!
Speaking of pretty pears…I am growing increasingly fond of this wonderful fruit ever since I moved to Australia. I feel like I’ve been severely under-appreciating them my whole life, and so I’m working on fixing that immediately. I mean, how good are they baked into this olive oil cake? Or added to this rocket salad with Halloumi cheese and pomegranate? YUM.
I loved serving these exquisitely blushing pears with plain yoghurt, although I wouldn’t say no to the idea of milky rice pudding either. I wanted to share this recipe during Ramadan, because Karkadeh is just SO very Ramadan-y, but it was such a crazy busy month that I ran out of time before I got around to it. Regardless what time you choose to make it though, this one is definitely a keeper.
- • 25g (1 cup) dried hibiscus flowers*
- • 2 whole star anise
- • 5 cardamom pods
- • 1 cinnamon stick
- • 80ml (1/3 cup) honey
- • 1 litre water
- • 4 firm pears, peeled and cored, leaving stems on**
- In a large pot, place the hibiscus flowers, spices, honey and water. Bring to a boil on medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes, so that all the flavours infuse into the water.
- Add the prepared pears and poach at a very low simmer for 20-25 minutes, turning the pears frequently for an even colour, until tender but not too soft (a well poached pear should be easily sliced & eaten with just a spoon. The poaching time will vary depending on the ripeness of the pears).
- Take the pot off the heat and leave the pears to cool in the poaching liquid, turning them occasionally.
- Remove the pears from the liquid onto a plate, strain the liquid (don’t throw it away!) & discard the hibiscus flowers and spices. Serve the pears at room temperature or warm with plain yoghurt and some extra poaching liquid spooned on top. If you prefer a thicker syrup to drizzle over the pears, return the poaching liquid to the pot after straining it and simmer until reduced to desired consistency. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. They are great for breakfast!
**To core the pears while keeping them intact, I like to use a melon baller to scoop out just the part of the core that has the seeds in it (like in the photos above). You can use a small knife or sharp-edged spoon as well. If you are too worried about ruining the pears, you can skip this step and poach them whole with the core and just remove it as you eat. Another option is to halve the pears lengthways and scoop out the core from each half, then poach the halves (you will need to reduce the cooking time by 10-12 minutes as they will poach a lot faster this way).