Saturday, June 07, 2008

Cooking with Tropical Fruit

Star Fruit

How many times have I intended to write a post about tropical fruit? I think I've procrastinated in part because I have yet to get enough really good fruit photos to illustrate. Well, that may never happen, due to the tendency for fruit to get eaten before it is photographed. So you'll have to make do with the photos that I do have.

Dragon Fruit growing on its cactus plant

Some of the fruits are more luscious looking than they taste (e.g. dragon fruit) and some taste best when they look really really bad (e.g. sapote and papaya). Some fruits are freaky looking but kind of bland (e.g. rambutan), and some are pretty ordinary looking and taste sublime (e.g. mangosteen). And here in the tropics where the fruit can be picked ripe and eaten fresh, familiar fruits such as pineapple, lychee and mango taste completely different, and infinitely better, than the (in retrospect) awful imported versions I knew in New Zealand.

Unripe mangosteens

At Rainforest Hideaway B&B, my wwoofing duties are not onerous and my favourite jobs are preparing breakfast for the guests in the morning and dinner for Rob and myself in the evening. Breakfast here includes a platter of tropical fruit chunks which this week has included mame sapote (aka pumpkin pie fruit) and black sapote (aka chocolate pudding fruit).

Tropical Fruits Breakfast Platter
(top row: honeydew melon, mame sapote; middle: pinapple; bottom row: dragon fruit, rollinia, s
tar fruit; sub-bottom row: banana)

Like many of the tropical fruits, sapotes seem to be extremely variable in flavour depending on the specimen. When you strike a good one, there is nothing better, but an average sapote is, well, pretty average. In texture they are creamy, and in taste they are not particularly sweet, but rather subtly flavoured. Mame sapote when ripe looks like a moldy grapefruit from the outside but the flesh looks like a reddish cooked pumpkin. It has a slightly sweet pumpkin-ish flavour too.
The black sapoteis not as bad looking on the outside (like a granny smith apple) and looks like the darkest chocolate pudding on the inside yet does not actually satisfy the needs of a chocoholic. Every day there's been leftover mame and black sapotes after breakfast to experiment with and see if I could make something really delicious.
Here's what I have discovered. The two sapotes, mashed smooth and mixed together with a tangy plain or vanilla yoghurt, with a sprinkling of cinnamon and a grating of chocolate taste like heaven in a bowl. Alison informs me that mame sapote smoothies are all the rage in Cuba, and that a squeeze of fresh orange juice and a teaspoon of cocoa makes chocolate pudding sapote really live up to its name, but I haven't gotten to try that version due to the lack of both those ingredients in our kitchen.

What the Hideaway kitchen is fully and completely stocked with is pretty much every ingredient known to Thai cookery. I think I'd eaten Thai food maybe twice in my life before this month. My old adverse reaction to the heat of chillies always put me off as I used to get a sore spot between my shoulder blades whenever I ate hot foods but since I stopped with the flour and dairy, I can eat heat- go figure!. In contrast, Rob loves Thai kai so much he attended two Thai cooking schools while vacationing there during the Wet Season this year. He's bought all the makings and has the little cookbooks the school's provided. So, without having any real familiarity with Thai flavours or textures I've started teaching myself to cook Thai, and braving the heat, and enjoying myself.
As well as curries, fish cakes and pad thai I've made the Green Papaya Salad a few times, because green papaya is something that is very readily available in this part of the world. You might have to wait days or weeks for a ripe papaya, but there'll always be a green one somewhere!
Ripe papaya is luscious and sweet and red and squishy (and looks almost rotten from the outside). Green papaya flesh is white and firm and juicy and bland. It grates as easily as carrot and the salad is made by pounding all the raw ingredients in a mortar and pestle and letting the juices seep together... tomato, green beans, fresh chilli, garlic, lime juice, fish sauce, roasted peanuts, and sugar (everything Thai has sugar in it). When I hear the words green and salad, I tend to think of cool and soothing mild flavours. Well, green papaya salad is like juicy fire!

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