There are as many different types of pear salad as there are cooks to make them. Pear salads typically feature canned or fresh pears, and most also contain some kind of cheese, but beyond that, variations abound. A really good one uses a balance of quality ingredients that layer flavor and texture; no one element should dominate. It’s especially important not to overdress the salad, whether it contains mayonnaise, vinegar, or oil.
If time is at a premium, the simplest pear salad of all can still enhance a meal. Canned pears nestled into Boston bibb lettuce leaves and topped with a small spoonful of mayonnaise combine sweet flavor with creamy texture and crunch. To make this salad sing, a little curry powder and ginger can be stirred into the mayonnaise with a spoonful of chopped walnuts sprinkled on top. Pears packed in their own juice are a better choice for this pear salad; those packed in thick, sugary syrup tend to overwhelm the other flavors.
Fresh pear salads require a little more effort, but the results are well worth it. Begin with quality ingredients — select pears without bruises or soft spots; a good, imported Roquefort cheese; and first-press, virgin olive oil. Some cooks thinly slice the pears and spiral them around the plate; others prefer to chop them into large, diced cubes. At this point, a fresh pear salad can go in a number of directions.
A good fall pear salad might feature pecans, walnuts, or other nuts with a glaze of sugar. Some cooks add a little dried fruit, such as dried cranberries or cherries, or even golden raisins; for those who can’t eat nuts, the dried fruit can be a substitute. Fresh pear salad marries especially well with an olive oil dressing sharpened with fig or balsamic vinegar and a little minced garlic. Whether the pears and other ingredients are laid out artistically on a canvas of lettuce leaves or rough chopped and tossed with lettuce is up to the cook.
The sweet crunch of pear can be enhanced by the addition of creamy avocado in the salad or blended into oil and vinegar dressing. Instead of Roquefort, feta or even sharp cheddar cheese can be used. A bed of fresh baby spinach gives the salad a unique flavor, as does a small handful of jewel-like pomegranate seeds that offer a tart complement.
Remember that the best pear salad offers fresh, unblemished ingredients. It's best to focus on what’s in season and locally available. Some cooks write down their most successful pear salad inventions, while others snap a photo of the presentation as a reminder.