16 March - Exotic Fruits and Vegetables

I nurture a love/hate relationship. I lean on her several times a day, actually. Sometimes, I get so frustrated and want to wring her neck, then miraculously she redeems herself and becomes my lifesaver. You might have met her. She goes by the name "Technology." All this week, my personal computer had been extremely moody and would shut down when she randomly chose. Not a good thing when putting together a movie of photos to music for a surprise party and am already days behind schedule. So I looked for a task that might refresh my bloodboiling spirit, as the countdown of my deadline quickly approached.

How about going away to some tropical place via sense of taste? I recalled a photo I took a few years back of a roadside fruitstand outside Manila, Philippines. The nostalgia in tasting some of these fresh produce teased me, as I thought I could so easily find them here in the States. Stands like these lined the poverty-stricken streets, hoping for a few pesos' sale. (And for some, these stands unfortunately also doubled as homes.) Had not given enough forethought, however, on whether exotic foods are even in season because I found truly unique fruits were a bit difficult to locate. Are not tropical exotic fruits and vegetables always in season? I have enjoyed lychee, mango, guava and papaya before (as one of my favorite 9-yr-olds commented on its seeds, "is that salmon roe?"). So I went to 3 different places and found the following:

- Ugli Fruit. Poor thing will have some deep-seeded issues as she ripens. Unfortunately, the shoe fits. This comes from Jamaica and is apparently a cross between a Seville orange, grapefruit and tangelo. The size is larger and thicker-skinned than a grapefruit, making it easier to peel. The taste is more tart than a regular orange but certainly not bitter like a grapefruit. Sweet, juicy and tasty.

- Pepino Melon. This yellow heartshaped, almost plum-skinned fruit comes from Ecuador and Peru. The size is similar to that of a tennis ball and is exquisitely fragrant when cut open. It smells like a muted perfume of a true ripe cantaloupe more than a honeydew. The taste is more mild than one would assume, given its fantastic aroma.

- Manila Mango. This little guy comes from Mexico. Its title was a bit confusing as I noticed at different stores, it was labeled as a honey mango, Champagne mango and ataulfo mango. The small mango fit in my hand and its top half tapers and curves, giving it a “s” shape. Its taste is just as delicious and sweet as a regular ripe mango, but the meat lacks the stringiness, which makes it easier to enjoy.

- Bitter Melon. This green gourd grows in South and Southeast Asia. The oblong shape is covered by its broccoli/moss-like skin. When cut lengthwise, the inside reminds me of a zucchini. When picking through these vegetables, an Indian man next to me explained I should be sure to scrape out the seeds and sauté it with Indian spices, as the bitterness is found in the seeds. It is sometimes served with yogurt or mixed with coconut to offset its bitterness. In talking to Mom, she said she used to prepare this “ampalaya” with meat and scrambled eggs when I was younger. Can’t say I recall it. My husband and I made that tart lemon face, trying to pinpoint the closest resemblance to this fresh bitter melon: a rubber band.

- Eddo. These hairy root plants look like a mix between a coconut and large ginger. It can be found in West Africa, Asia, Central America, South America and the Caribbean and Polynesian Islands. I did not quite know if I should peel it as we do when using our microplane, or slice it like ginger for tea. This variety of taro root (poi) can be eaten and used like potatoes or yams. When baked, the taste can take on a sweeter and or nuttier taste than a regular potato. When sliced, one notices the tubular purple speckles inside.

- Squash Chayote. This interesting light green vegetable can be found in Mexico. I was actually impressed with the funny look on its face juxtaposed with its surprising crunchy texture and mild taste. Hubbo pegged its texture being reminiscent to jicama. One can use these raw on salads or prepare it baked, boiled, mashed, or stuffed. Interestingly enough, its leaves can be used as tea which is strong enough to dissolve kidney stones. All this from a simple squash. Who knew?

- Cactus Leaf. Yes, I was surprised when I actually pricked myself when handling it. Twice. As was the clerk, AFTER she held it and asked, "is this really a cactus leaf?" The size is larger than the span of my 7"-long hand. The inside is what one might imagine...a bit slimy and stringy like aloe and okra. The taste is like green beans and can be used in salads.

So after my tastebud adventure, I noticed my pc had still been moody and down for days. Though it took the DVD two hours to burn, I was able to make it to a wonderful surprise 40th birthday party in time. I still appreciate my dear friend Technology. She has again redeemed herself, particularly through helping me post this entry via yet another one of her children she lovingly named the iPhone.