Friday, July 1, 2011

Asian Fruits

A friend told me last week about an "Asian market" in Colorado Springs, which I hadn't known about before. I live only about thirty miles from there, so this was exciting news. I imagined a little mom & pop store like so many I frequented in the Los Angeles area when I lived there. The kind with a bell on the door to alert the shopkeepers when a customer wanders in. I've missed those shops. Every time I'm in Vancouver, I make daily pilgrimages to the Granville Island Market to shop and gawk at all the fabulous produce from the Pacific Rim. I often see a few items that I know would travel fairly well, but I can't bring any back to the U.S., so I've found myself wishing there were such a market in my area.

Well, I guess the kitchen gods have been pleased with me lately. At first, I thought maybe my friend had given me inaccurate directions, because the section of street she mentioned was about a mile and a half of industrial office parks and warehouses. I drove up and down, looking right and left for that little market, but it was nowhere in sight. And then, there it was, and I realized why I hadn't seen it. It was a gigantic warehouse with a very small sign and a shopping mall-size parking lot, set back from the street. And they have everything!

I was like a kid in a candy store. I bought a lot of vegetables (and I'll get to them in the next posts), but I'll start with the fruit. I realized that I could now shop here anytime I liked, so I exercised some restraint. I'm heading out to Pennsylvania next Tuesday to speak at Summerfest, so I bought only what I figured I could use before I leave.

I saw a number of items that were new to me, like a Korean melon, which looks a bit like a delicata squash--light yellow, slightly oval, with pale indented stripes running end to end. I picked one of these, plus a dragon fruit, a bag of perfect lychees, and a banana flower, which is actually used in salads, like a vegetable. My son and I ate the melon right away, hence no picture.

To be honest, the dragon fruit was a little lacking in flavor, but the lychees are sublime. I've used canned lychees many times in desserts, but the flavor and fragrance of a freshly peeled lychee is a world apart. Here's a recipe for one of my best lychee desserts, from Speed Vegan:

Mangoes and Lychees with Mint
Makes 4 servings
I first devised this dish as an accompaniment to a coconut Bavarian cream I was serving after an Asian meal—later realizing it was sublime on its own, as a kind of exotic fruit compote. Then, after recreating it for this book, I decided to combine it with my brand new Coconut-Banana Sorbet, coming full circle (sort of). Again, it stands assertively on its own, but exceeds triumphantly when served with the sorbet (especially the version bespeckled with bits of Minted Chocolate Dream).

2 ripe mangoes
1 can lychees (see note)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger root
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
24 mint leaves
4 scoops Coconut-Banana Sorbet (page 167) (optional)

Peel the mangoes, cut into cubes about 3/4-inch thick, and place in a bowl. Squeeze any pulp remaining on the pit into a separate small bowl and reserve. Drain the lychees, reserving 1 tablespoon of the syrup.
            Place the brown sugar and the 1 tablespoon of lychee syrup in a heavy saucepan over high heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves and the mixture caramelizes. Add the mango pieces and stir gently a few seconds, then add the lychees, the grated ginger and lime juice. Shake the pan as the mixture bubbles for about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Gather the mint leaves into 2 or 3 stacks and slice crosswise into 1/8-inch shreds. Fluff slightly to separate them.
            Divide the mixture among 4 bowls, and scatter a quarter of the shredded the mint leaves on top of each serving. Serve at once, with a ball of Coconut-Banana Sorbet on top, if using.

Note: Because lychees all come from Asia, the cans are often odd sizes. My favorite brand, for example, comes from Thailand and lists the net weight as 565 grams, with a drained weight as 230 grams. (Don’t ask me how they can be that precise on the drained weight of fruit.) My suggestion is, just wing it with whatever canned lychees you can find. The recipe will be virtually unaffected if you use slightly fewer lychees, or a few more.


  1. bookmarking this recipe -- i have a large asian supermarket in my neighborhood and i've seen lychees, but had no idea what to do with them. this sounds delicious!

  2. Thanks for your share experience with us, I like this post, not only it has taught me a lot, but also let me continuous learning everyday. I will visit your new blog post every day.

  3. What is the fruit on the right, please?

  4. answer: banana flower!

  5. That's right! Banana flower. This has the dubious distinction of being the only fruit (or vegetable, for that matter) I've had that really didn't work for me. I didn't mind the intense bitterness, or the astringent bite, but the flavor was awful. I'm going to do some research and try it one more time, but I'm not harboring high hopes. If I can manage to make it taste good, I'll post the results...