Mainland embracing exotic fruits, with their interesting tastes and healthful attributes

Just as exotic chili peppers have made their way onto our tables tropical fruits are slowly doing t

Just as exotic chili peppers have made their way onto our tables — let’s face it, we’re far past the jalapeño — tropical fruits are slowly doing the same.

The fastest to integrate themselves into our national palate were bananas and pineapples, which began showing up regularly on our menus in the 1950s, long before some of their counterparts.

Bananas are the top seller at Ryan’s Farmers Market in Albany, according to the company’s president, Mike Ryan, and pineapples come next. Fresh pineapple always trumps canned, but getting past the rough skin can be a bit daunting. (Maui Gold, the only Hawaiian grower of pineapples remaining, gives instructions, complete with diagram, on how to cut a pineapple on its website,

The trick with fresh pineapples is to get a ripe one, as once the fruit is harvested, it no longer continues to ripen. Ripe pineapples will have a strong, sweet fragrance and be a nice yellow color. Once you get them home, eat them as quickly as possible, either by themselves, grilled, or mixed into fruit salads.

Kiwis, pomegranates and mangoes have been in stores for the past couple of decades, but there are dozens more tropical fruits, the likes of which most of us have never heard — the sapodilla, pummelo, durian and ciruela — to name a few.

“The normal public is still veering away from buying these foods, because, for one, they’re so expensive,” said chef A.J. Jayapal, food and beverage director for the Mallozzi Group. “A lot of them are curious about it, but I don’t think their normal palate is ready for it,” he said.

But that is slowly changing, with increased availability and simply a desire to experiment with the new and unusual.

One fruit that has become pretty popular is the mango, of which there are more than 500 varieties with different shapes, sizes and flavors. You want to eat them when they are a bit soft. If you purchase one that hasn’t ripened yet, place it in a bag with an apple to make it ripen faster, suggests Ryan.

They make popular fare for chutneys, salsas, salads, desserts and smoothies. Like the pineapple, the mango, which is at its peak in the summer and fall, can be a bit difficult to cut. It has a large oval pit in the middle that requires you to cut around to release the soft, golden-orange flesh. The good part about the pit is that you can plant it after you’ve eaten the fruit to get a very attractive house plant. Clean off the pit as much as possible and then pry open the hard exterior. Inside there will be a seed that looks like a large lima bean that can be planted.

Papayas, which Columbus dubbed “fruit of the angels,” are also becoming more popular in the United States. Domestically, farmers in Hawaii and Florida grow this fruit, which lends itself well to salads and smoothies. When purchasing papayas, they should be at least partly yellow; if they’re all green and hard, they will not ripen properly. Nutritionally, papayas are a powerhouse, with 2.5 grams of fiber, a day-and-a-half worth of vitamin C, 28 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A and only 60 calories per cup. A bonus of the papaya is the papain in its flesh, a natural enzyme that tenderizes. Ryan’s chef friends will place papaya onto steaks to tenderize them before grilling them. “It gives it a nice, beautiful flavor that not too many people know about,” Ryan said.

Pear varieties

Prickly pears, which are grown in Mexico, Central America and the southwestern U.S., are slowly making their way onto the produce scene. This fruit of the desert cactus has an oblong shape and a spiny skin. Peeled, they’re used in salads, sauces, desserts, jams and jellies. The juice makes a great lemonade, too, Jayapal said. What has slowed their popularity here is the way it feels in your mouth — it’s mushy. Their price is also a factor.

A better match is the Asian pear, a round, apple-sized fruit that is crunchy like an apple and sweet like a pear. “When you bite into it, it’s still a really nice mouth feel,” Jayapal said. Asian pears can be substituted in recipes that call for pears or apples. Lately, this fruit, which is imported from Chile, is becoming pretty popular at Ryan’s Farmers Market.

You can find star fruit in the grocery store. Sliced crosswise, this oblong fruit makes the shape of a star, making it a favorite for garnishes. Jayapal says that this fruit is great in drinks and with ice cream. He also puts grilled star fruit on top of a jumbo scallop, a combination that is attractive as well as tasty.

Guavas are grown domestically in California, Hawaii and Florida. This fruit, high in vitamin C, has an edible skin, and different varieties have different flavors such as strawberry, lemon and pineapple. We’re probably most familiar with this fruit in the form of juice, but it lends itself well to jams and jellies because of its high pectin content.

There are a couple of tropical fruits that are lesser known for the culinarily adventurous to try. According to Jayapal, the rambutan is starting to be popular. This fruit has a red shell with soft spines in pink, red or yellow, which gives it the nickname “hair of the head.” (Rambutan is the Malay translation of this phrase.) “They’re really, really delicious — very, very sweet,” he said.

Another is the horned melon, which has a golden-orange skin with spikes and emerald green, jellylike flesh.

The downside of tropical fruits is that they must be imported from outside of the area and have to journey a fair distance before they make their way to your table.

Chef AJ’s Pickled Mangoes

Recipe by A.J. Jayapal, food and beverage director for the Mallozzi Group.

2 1⁄2 pounds medium diced mangoes

1⁄2 cup white vinegar

1⁄2 cup water

3 cups granulated sugar

1 tablespoon pickling spice

Wash mangoes, dice and set aside. Mix vinegar, water and sugar in a pot. Tie spices in a cheese cloth and add to liquid mixture. Bring to a boil for 5 minutes or to a temperature of 200 degrees. Place mangoes in sterile glass jars (about two 16-ounce jars) and pour pickling mixture over them. Seal and invert jars. (Place jar upside down for about an hour so that the heat seals the cap.)

Yields about 2 pints.

Chef AJ’s Tropical Fusion and English Tea Gelatin Salad

Recipe by A.J. Jayapal, food and beverage director for the Mallozzi Group.

For gelatin:

2 English Breakfast tea bags

2 cups hot water

1 packet (3 ounces) of tropical fusion gelatin

For salad:

1⁄4 cup granulated sugar

12 blackened scallops (cooked in blackening spices)

2 star fruit, sliced and grilled

1⁄4 cup of crumbled feta

2 cups of lambs lettuce or mache

1 small red onion, finely diced

1⁄4 cup aged balsamic vinegar

Make the tea by soaking in hot water for 2 to 3 minutes. In a bowl, combine gelatin and scalding tea. Steep for 2 to 3 minutes. Ladle into shallow bowls, about 1⁄2 inch in depth. Chill in the refrigerator until set.

Take bowls from the refrigerator and sprinkle sugar evenly over the top of the gelatin. Place 3 blackened scallops, spaced out evenly, on the gelatin for each bowl. Place 1 slice of grilled star fruit on each scallop for each bowl. In a separate bowl, toss the feta, lambs lettuce and onion in aged balsamic vinegar and place on top of the scallops.

Yields about 4 salads depending on the bowl size.

Papaya Mango Soup

Recipe by Jo Anne Cloughly, associate professor of Culinary Arts, Hospitality and Tourism at SUNY Cobleskill.

2 cups diced peeled papaya

1 cubed peeled ripe mango

1 cup fresh orange juice

1⁄2 cup water

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 tablespoons honey

Chopped fresh mint or lime zest

Place first papaya, mango and half of orange juice and blend until smooth. Add remaining juice, water, lime juice and honey and pulse to blend. Chill. Pour into bowls and garnish with chopped mint or lime zest.

Mango Cake

Recipe by Jo Anne Cloughly, associate professor of Culinary Arts, Hospitality and Tourism at SUNY Cobleskill.

1⁄2 cup granulated sugar

1⁄3 cup canola oil

1 egg

1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour

3⁄4 teaspoon baking powder

1⁄4 teaspoon salt

1⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon

1⁄8 teaspoon nutmeg

3⁄4 cup peeled and chopped ripe mango

1⁄4 cup pecan pieces

Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Grease a 6-inch round cake pan. In a small bowl, beat sugar, oil and egg until well blended. In another bowl, combine flour, powder, salt and spices. Beat this into sugar mixture. Fold in mango and nuts. Pour into pan.

Bake until center bounces back when lightly touched or cake tests clean with a toothpick. Cool 10 minutes and then remove from pan to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar to serve. Serves 4 to 6.

Categories: Life and Arts

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