Lots of alien but fascinating fruits have been turning up in Western produce aisles lately. Colorful and peculiar, they have unfamiliar shapes, extraneous features like thorns or fuzzy hair and exotic tastes like cucumber melon and lemon peach. Many of their unusual combinations of flavors are nearly unrecognizable to American palates.
Of course these exotic fruits are nothing new to their countries of origin, where they’ve been savored for centuries. In Vietnam (where I am for the month), they are as common as apple pie. But for Westerners, it can be hard to figure out how to open them, let alone what to do with them. Below is a rundown of six of them and some suggestions for how to incorporate them into your menu.
DRAGON FRUIT is a sweetly flavored fruit with bright white or shocking pink flesh and black seeds. Ripe fruit can be eaten right out of the skin. Our guide in Vietnam likes to joke that before eating it you should remove all of the tiny seeds (an impossible and unnecessary task given that they are edible.) Although the shocked expressions on foreigners’ faces are priceless.
For an interesting twist, try dragon fruit in smoothies or thread it onto skewers, grill over medium-high heat and dust with sugar for a delicious treat. For the more ambitious, there’s a great recipe for scallops and dragon fruit salsa on food network.
Cherimoya, sometimes called custard apple, is a green, grapefruit-sized fruit with a reptilian-looking exterior. Its sweet flesh tastes like a blend of pineapple, banana and strawberry. You can cut it in half and eat it on its own with a spoon (avoid the black seeds, though) or blend it with lime for a great cherimoya-lime sorbet. Or try this unusual twist on a traditional favorite; cherimoya avocado chicken salad.
RAMBUTAN, related to the lychee, has a red hairy outgrowth on the shell and sweet white tropical fruit inside. For obvious reasons, it’s also sometimes referred to as the ‘hairy fruit.’ It looks impossible to open. But, our guide showed us how if you turn it upside down and pull it apart at the long line that looks like a scar, the bright white fruit shaped is revealed.
High in antioxidants, it is already being hailed by some as the Superfruit of the future. Cut it open and eat the delicious flesh all on its own, or try rambutan jam over ribs or cherry, litchi and rambutan cheesecake. You can also combine it with dragon fruit to make a delicious mojito.
African Horned Cucumber, also known as horned melon or kiwano, is a cross between a melon and a cucumber. Its bright green flesh with soft edible seeds tastes like a blend of banana, kiwi and cucumber. Check out food network’s recipe for grilled beef with horned melon sauce. You can also slice it into cubes or rounds for salads or use it as a substitute for vinegar in salad dressing, whisking the flesh into a little olive oil.
Mangosteen, considered the “queen of all tropical fruits,” is a small-sized, purple skinned fruit that tastes like a blend of citrus and peach. It has a delicious floral taste and is usually best served simply. To release the fruit, cut a circle around the stalk (like a pumpkin) and scoop out the flesh. To spice things up a bit, drizzle mangosteen with lemongrass syrup, chamomile or lemon juice for an added punch of flavor.
Star Fruit, also called carambola, takes its name from the five-pointed star shape it assumes once it’s sliced. Paper-thin greenish-yellow skin encloses crisp, tart flesh with a unusual blend of plum, pineapple and lemon flavors. Look for fruit with the least amount of green on the edges for optimal ripeness. Star fruit is best appreciated as a fun-shaped garnish (click here to learn the best way to slice), which adds a tangy note to salads. It also makes a great snack when sprinkled with a little cinnamon.