Walk through the produce section in any commercial grocery store and it is likely you will see many strange fruits and vegetables. Many exotic fruits and vegetables are available year round and there is a great variety to choose from. Tropical fruits and vegetables are being imported from places like South America, China, Japan, and California to commercial grocery stores daily. It may be tempting to try these exotic foods but many of us do not know how to prepare them. Here are some tips on properly choosing exotic fruits and vegetables and some suggestions on preparation.
Tropical foods can be a much welcomed addition to any standard diet. Unfortunately, if you don’t know how to prepare the food it can be a bad experience for your taste-buds. Each exotic fruit and vegetable has a flavor, distinguishable from all others that can be used to enhance salads, baked goods, soups and stews, or may be eaten fresh without cooking. Exotic fruits and vegetables are generally available year round, depending on your location and the type of fruit or vegetable. Organic markets may have a better selection of exotic fruits and vegetables than a commercial grocery. When looking for exotic produce check health food stores, farmers markets, and commercial groceries.
Tropical vegetables like Jicama, Fennel, and Kohlrabi can be found just about anywhere. Most varieties of exotic vegetables are available during the summer and early fall, but may also be available at other times. Many rare fruits and vegetables are now grown in California making it easier for Americans to buy year round.
Jicama – This vegetable is native to South America and is used in many traditional dishes. Jicama is kind of like a cross between a potato and an apple, but it is not particularly sweet. Jicama is firm and with a tough brownish-gray skin and kind of looks like a large brown radish. Sometimes Jicama is called a Mexican potato or yam. Jicama is generally served raw, but can be blanched, fried, or baked. When choosing a Jicama look for a medium size that is not cracked or shriveled, and is free of blemishes. Jicama should be hard like a raw potato and can be stored at room temperature for 2-3 weeks. Use a paring knife or peeler to remove the skin and cut into sticks, cubes, or slices. Jicama is crunchy and juicy like an apple with white flesh, and kind of bland like a potato. Jicama can be a great addition to salads and coleslaw or may be eaten alone.
Kohlrabi – Kohlrabi grows just about anywhere, under any conditions and is harvested almost year round. Kohlrabi is a cabbage that kind of looks like brussel sprouts but tends to have a more oval shape. Kohlrabi is available in either green or purple and tastes like a cross between a cucumber and a radish. Green Kohlrabi can be semi sweet and the purple varieties tend to be a little bit spicy. When buying Kohlrabi look for bulbs that are firm without blemishes or rot with leaves that are fresh and colorful. Kohlrabi can be stored uncut for about 5 days at room temperature but will last 7 days or more if refrigerated. Although traditionally the bulb is the only part consumed, Kohlrabi leaves can be prepared in the same manner as collard greens or added to fresh salad dishes. Cut the Kohlrabi bulb into slices or chunks and add to cabbage or stir fry dishes for an interesting new flavor.
Fennel – This leafy, bulb vegetable is native to Mediterranean areas like Morocco and Portugal. Fennel is available fresh during the summer and early fall in most parts of the US. Fennel has a white-green bulb with green stalks, and feathery leaves. Often in commercial groceries Fennel is confused with Anise because of its flavor which can be reminiscent of licorice. When choosing Fennel smell it to make sure it is fragrant and fresh. The bulb should be blemish free and the stalks should be firm and brightly colored. Fennel can be stored at room temperature for 1-2 days but will last up to 5 days in the refrigerator. Unlike the similar Kohlrabi, only the bulb of Fennel should be consumed. Cut off the stalks and cut the bulb into slices, chunks, or cubes. Fennel can be added to stir fry or salad, and can be eaten raw or cooked. If using Fennel in a salad or eating raw, slice into small pieces because the flavor can be intense in large bites.
There are many more exotic fruits available than exotic vegetables in the US. Tropical fruits can be eaten both raw and cooked, can be substituted in place of traditional fruits, and many varieties are available year round.
Mango – This tropical fruit is generally available year round and can be found just about anywhere. In fact, mango has become quite a popular fruit in the US and is included in a variety of topical fruit salads and juices. Once a Mango is ripened it can be stored at room temperature for a couple of days, or may be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. When buying Mango choose one that is bright reddish in color with minimal green patches on the skin. A ripe Mango is similar in touch to a ripe pear and should yield slightly to pressure. Because the skin is so thick on a Mango it is easiest to cut it first and then peel it. Once you have peeled the Mango cut it into chunks or cubes. Mango is generally eaten raw, but can be combined with cooked dishes like chicken, beef, or stir fry and may be added to salads or salsa. Mango is also a great for smoothies and homemade sorbet.
Plantains – This banana like food can be considered a fruit or vegetable depending on how it is prepared. Plantains are a staple of Dominican, Mexican, and other traditional South American dishes. The riper the Plantain, the sweeter it will be. Plantains are generally sold while they are green or yellow but will turn black as they ripen like a banana. Choose Plantains that are firm with smooth, unmarred skin. When Plantains are green they should be fried or baked like a potato. When they turn yellow Plantains will be sweeter but still firm and can be cooked by boiling, frying, or baking. When preparing fully ripened Plantains the flesh will be soft, sweet, and sticky. Ripe Plantains can be used for baked goods like pudding or bread. Plantains can be stored at room temperature for up to two weeks and should not be refrigerated because it promotes browning.
Yuzu – Yuzu is a Japanese fruit and similar to citrus fruits like oranges and lemons. Yuzu is available during late spring to summer, but may not be that easy to find. Yuzu rind is traditionally used in Japanese dishes to add flavor to noodles, fish, rice, and vegetables and the fruit is often made into juice. Yuzu kind of tastes like a cross between a tangerine and a lemon, with a taste similar to grapefruit. When buying Yuzu make sure the rind is firm and free of blemishes. The rind of the Yuzu fruit should be a bright yellowish orange without any green spots. Yuzu can be used in a variety of ways and may be eaten fresh or cooked. Yuzu will keep at room temperature for 3-5 days and may last up to a week in the refrigerator. The rind can be ground and used as a spice for flavoring a multitude of dishes and some desserts.
Loquat – Loquat is native to Asia but has been cultivated in Hawaii for the past century. Loquat is like a cross between a pear and a nectar and is relatively sweet with a flavor all its own. Loquat looks similar to an orange but it does not have a rind and the meat is similar to a pear or apple. Loquat has a thin skin that can be eaten or peeled. Loquat is generally available during the spring and early summer and should be prepared without cooking. When buying Loquat look for fruits with firm skin and a bright yellow to orange color, free of blemishes and rot. Loquat can be stored on the counter for about a week and should not be refrigerated because it causes the skin to turn an unappetizing brown. To prepare Loquat cut in half and remove the seed pod in the middle. Loquat is generally eaten raw but can be cooked to make jelly.
Tamarillo – This tomato like fruit is native to South America and is available almost year round. Although Tamarillo is a fruit, it is often used like a tomato would be used, and looks similar to a tomato. Tamarillo can be eaten fresh or cooked and will store in the refrigerator for about a week. Tamarillo comes in a variety or reds, oranges, and yellows. Choose a Tamarillos that have bright shiny skins and yield slightly to gentle pressure. Often the skin of the Tamarillo is not consumed and is eaten by cutting the fruit in half and scooping out the meat. The seeds of the Tamarillo are edible. The Tamarillo has a unique taste all its own that is kind of sweet and sour. To make peeling easier, blanch the Tamarillo in boiling water and the skin will come right off. Tamarillo can be eaten alone or used in soups, sauces, salads, or sandwiches.
Lychee – Lychees are native to China and in America may be referred to as the Lychee Nut. Lychee is a small round fruit with a prickly reddish colored rind. The inside of the fruit is white colored with similar texture of a grape. The Lychee is juicy and sweet. Lychee should be eaten fresh, the skin should not be eaten, and the seed should be removed. When buying Lychees look for those bright in color without any green spots. Once removed from the tree, Lychee will not ripen. Lychee are available during the spring and early summer in most parts of the US. Because Lychees are so small you can eat 5 or 6 of them at a time and they make a great snack.