STRANGE FRUIT: Tropical wonders from the market
Our Mexican summer rainy season brings some of the most visually and gustatorily compelling tropical fruits to market. Most, such as the hot pink Frida-portraited pitahaya or the sugary chico zapote are good for gawking at and eating fresh, nothing more. Others, like the mealy but perfumy mamey or the gooey black zapote negro are better when prepared. Below are a few suggestions.
These beautiful rosa mexicana guayabas (guavas) are common around the State of Mexico. They were in great demand in the pre-conquest era. The Spaniards brought them back and made 'ate' or guava paste which is also available here in markets stalls where chiles and moles are sold. Easy to make is 'agua de guayaba': just throw a few whole guayabas into the blender with some water and a little sugar. Strain and serve.
The mamey, whose beautiful orange-red interior color I once tried to paint my kitchen with middling success, is native to Mexico but common all over Latin-America, especially the Carribean. Currently fashionable amongst creative chefs of so-called Nueva Cocina Mexicana as an ingredient for tarts and créme brulée, it's best consumed at home as a liquado or milkshake. Scoop out the pulp, blend with 2 cups of milk, a little sugar if desired and a few ice cubes.
These delightful fruits, in the city called zapote chico are also native to tropical Mexico - they are grown in low-lying areas near el D.F. as well. Their flesh, tasting like brown sugar, is sublime all by itself.
The zapote prieto or negro is related to the fruit above in name only. It is native to the central Mexican states. The jet black pulp of these odd, squishy anomalies are commonly scooped out of their skins, seeds and membranes discarded, mashed and augmented with orange juice and perhaps a shot of tequila, then eaten with a spoon as dessert. Their preparation makes a mess but will impress your guests.
Nopal cactus fruits are called 'tuna' in Spanish, confusing many visitors. They are full of seeds so make for annoying eating. But an agua preparada de tuna - fruit peeled, in the blender with water, then strained - nothing else - is more refreshing than Blanche Dubois' lemon-Coke. They vary in color from green to yellow to a deep royal crimson.
The agressive looking guanábana contains a docile white custard-like and headily perfumed flesh. It is usually made into a paste, ice cream or agua fresca, but can be consumed as is. But be sure to buy a nice ripe one.
The spectacular pitahaya has been justly celebrated in Mexican still-life painting since colonial times. A cactus fruit native to the Americas, it has become even more popular in Asia and is common in Thai and Malaysian markets. The inner flesh can be bluish-white or deep red. Its taste is unremarkable, somewhat like a kiwi but less acidic. It is simply admired and consumed as is.
Shopping in Mexico is a never-ending mind-blowing experience. Support your local tianguis and/or traditional market.
Text and photos © 2011 Nicholas Gilman - all rights reserved