2010-11-30

LATIN AMERICAN INGREDIENTS: OTHER POPULAR FRUITS

One of my pleasures when I travel throughout Latin America is to visit produce markets or roadside fruit stands to see and taste the local fruits. Often in cities you will see women or kids selling fruits and whenever I find some fruit I have never tasted I always go for it and besides eating it I try to find out as much possible of the fruit, where does it come from? what it is called? what can you prepare with it? does it have any medicinal value? later I go to the internet and research it, what is the scientific name? what is the nutritional value? recipes for the fruit, I always meditate on the fruit, can it be used for dessert? with what other ingredients could it be combined? can it be used for seasoning or flavoring? can it be a side to a protein dish? can it be used in salads? these are fun questions that I take time to answer and eventually I cook with the fruit in various recipes, my own creation or someone else's , but I record the experience and if it is positive it becomes part of what I call my Market Cuisine archive.


In this blog I have written extensively on some fruits that are particularly ubiquitous, this time I will refer to fruits that are well known but are not so common because they are associated with a particular region of Latin America or season of the year. Fruits in tropical Latin America are most abundant during the rainy season that is when you see fruit stands well stocked. I am sure that my readers in Latin America have seen some of the fruits I describe below, perhaps some have tasted them, if not I hope this blog will encourage them to try these fruits, I am certain you will enjoy the experience, remember what your mother and doctors always say: fruits are good for you.

CAS: Anyone who has traveled in Costa Rica must have seen this fruit. It is a relative of the Guava and sometimes it is referred to as CAS GUAVA. Its flesh is white and sour with some seeds. The simplest recipe is to liquefy the flesh with some water, strain the liquid, add sugar and ice to prepare a very refreshing drink with lots of vitamins. If you heat the liquid to reduce it a little you will have a syrup which you can use to make a glaze for white meats, if you heat some more to reduce a lot you will get a pleasant marmalade to spread on a toast with some cream cheese. You can also use Cas marmalade over a New York style cheese cake, you will find it a very interesting variation of a classical dessert.

GUANABANA: This fruit called in English Soursop is considered the queen of fruits in Latin America, Mango being the King everywhere. It is a very productive fruit since you can use 90% of it is flesh. Its flavor is described as a combination of strawberry and pineapple with sour citrus flavor notes contrasting with an underlying creamy flavor reminiscent of coconut or banana. The basic processing is to liquefy the flesh with some water, strain it, add sugar and ice and have a refreshing drink; if you heat the liquid to make a syrup you can mix it with a little white rum for an interesting variation of a rum cake; if you make a marmalade you can use it to spread inside a sponge cake and to flavor the icing, you will have a ""Torta de Guanabana"" (Guanabana Cake) which is a Classic in Latin America. Certain chemicals in this fruit have been shown to kill cancer cells in laboratory trials.

GUAYABA: Called in English Guava, it is a very important fruit since it is cultivated in large scale and it is made into several industrial products, candies, jams, jellies, concentrates and canned fruit in syrup. You can scoop out the pulp, liquefy it with a little water, strain it into a pot, add sugar and heat it to reduce it and make syrup or marmalade. Guava marmalade over a toast with some cream cheese is delicious. After scooping out the pulp you can peel the empty shells and cook then in syrup made with 2 cups of sugar for every Kg (2 Lb) of fruit; place the shells in a pot, add the sugar cover with water and boil over medium heat until shells are tender and liquid has become a red syrup; let cool completely and serve with a slice of cream cheese and 2 soda crackers, you will have a delicious dessert called ""Cascos de Guayaba"" (Guava Shells) very popular in south America. Guava is rich in iron and the fresh juice is often ordered by doctors for people with iron deficiency. Birds love this fruit and spread its seeds, which grow easily.

JABUTICABA: This is a fruit typical from Brazil where it is grown commercially. During harvest time, usually October and November you will find them everywhere in Brazil, from roadside fruit stands to supermarkets. The fruit is eaten fresh and its flavor resemble that of Concord grapes, but Jabuticaba are much bigger and juicier. In Brazil they make jellies, marmalades, wines and vinegar from this fruit.




LUCUMA: The lúcuma (Pouteria lucuma) is a subtropical Peruvian fruit native to the Andean region. Lucuma is a very ancient fruit and it has been found on ceramics at burial sites of the indigenous people of coastal Peru. It is also called ""eggfruit"" in English, the name refers to the fruit's dry flesh, which is similar in texture to a hard-boiled egg yolk. The lucuma has particularly dry flesh which possesses a unique flavor of maple and sweet potato. It is a very nutritious fruit, having high levels of carotene, vitamin B3, and other B vitamins. It has recently become popular as a dried powder flavoring, and production of fruits dried for export is increasing on a large scale. Lúcuma is a popular flavoring for ice cream in its native Peru.

NARANJILLA: Very popular in Colombia where it is called Lulo. The fruit has a citrus flavor, sometimes described as a combination of rhubarb and lime. It is usually consumed as a drink by liquefying and filtering the pulp then adding sugar to taste and ice. I make a very simple and delicious layered cake by dipping Graham Crackers in a mixture of equal parts filtered Naranjilla pulp, plain yogurt and sweetened condensed milk, arrange dipped crackers in a square mold to a height of 3, cover top with any leftover mixture, spray with lime zest and refrigerate overnight before serving. This stuff will impress your taste buds.


MAMON CHINO: this fruit originated in Malaysia where it is called Rambutan. In Central America it is extensively cultivated, harvest time is July and August when you will see it offered in produce markets and roadside fruit stands. I am a big fan of this fruit and always look forward to harvest time to buy bunches and eat at home.





MANGOSTEEN: This is another transplant from Asia where it is considered the queen of fruits. It has the look of a purple tomato and inside there are some fleshy wedges of a white pulp with a taste that can be described as sweet and tangy, citrusy with peach flavor and texture. Wherever I see mangosteen for sale I always buy, I just can't resist the urge to eat.







PIXBAE: Known in English as Peach Palm is called many names in Latin America: Pifa, Pejibaye, Chontaduro, Pijiguao, Pupunha (Brazil). This fruit has been used for centuries as food. The fruit is frequently stewed in salted water. However, it may be eaten raw, peeled and dressed with salt and honey, used to make compotes and jellies, or also used to make flour. Economically is a very important fruit since the palm that bears it is extensively cultivated to produce the delicacy Hearts of Palm (Palmito). One interesting recipe from Panama is the Pixbae Ceviche, buy 8 fruits preferably already cooked, if not boil them in salt water until they are tender, peel them, deseed them, cube them and marinate in 1/2 cup each of fresh orange and lime juice, 1 small red onion finely chopped, 6 sweet chilies deseeded and finely chopped, 1 clove of garlic finely chopped, 1 tablespoon of finely chopped cilantro, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, hot sauce, salt and pepper to taste, refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving over lettuce, plantain chips or soda crackers. My vegetarian friends freak out over this ceviche.

TREE TOMATO: Is not really a tomato but resembles one and it grows in shrub, hence the name. Commercial growers are trying to impose the name Tamarillo but it has not caught on. It is the fruit with highest concentration of antioxidants thus regular consumption may slow aging. The fruit is eaten by scooping the flesh from a halved fruit. When lightly sugared and cooled, the flesh makes a refreshing breakfast dish.
They give a unique flavor when made into a compote, or added to stews (e.g. Boeuf Bourguignon), hollandaise, chutneys, and curries. They are also tasty and decorative in, for example in salads. Appetizing desserts using this fruit include bavarois and combined with apples in a strudel. To use you scoop out the pulp and discard the crust which is bitter, liquefy with water and strain to eliminate the seeds. To 2 cups of seedless pulp add 1/4 cup of sugar and boil 10 to 20 minutes to make syrup, which can substitute cranberry sauce for a Turkey or cranberry juice in a Cosmopolitan.


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