New Fruit for Sukkot

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September 27, 2010

I was going to do a “what to do with your leftover etrog” post for Sukkot but discovered from the folks over at the Jew and the Carrot, that actually eating the etrog may be a bad idea. It turns out that most of the etrogim produced for the United States are blasted with pesticides to make them look pretty but probably pretty toxic to ingest. So, at the suggestions of Jo Ellen, the editor of Zeek, I have decided to embark on a taste test of fruits I have never tried. Given Sukkot’s tradition of eating fruits, nuts and grains, this sounded like a good way to start the holiday, especially because it comes so early in the year and it is still a warm here in California.

For those of you in colder climes who have been looking forward to the tradition of eating stuffed foods at Sukkot, we heathens do have a couple of other traditional recipes posted from last year, so I urge you to check out our Holishkes (Sweet and Sour Stuffed Cabbage) and Ma’amoul date cookies

Starting on my quest for new fruit, I headed over to a branch of 99 Ranch, the Asian grocery supermarket chain, to see what I could find. Upon entering 99 Ranch the first thing I came upon was a durian. Lucky for me I remembered an odd bit of trivia–that tribal people used to rub durian near their sleeping places because the disgusting smell would keep away predators–so I kept on walking. What I eventually settled on were starfruit, dragon fruit, fresh dates, golden kiwi, and passion fruit. (I threw a pomegranate in there for a little holiday festiveness)

Clockwise: Pomegranate, starfruit, dragonfruit, dates, passionfruit (in the middle) and kiwi

Dragon Fruit: Dragon fruit is native to central and south America but is now cultivated in Asia, California, Hawaii and Israel. The dragon fruit is amazingly beautiful to look at, with bright red skin and a true white flesh dotted with tiny black seed, but it is totally bland to eat. It has a crisp-smooth texture (a bit more firm than a kiwi) and a little crunch from the black seeds in the flesh. It had almost no discernible flavor and I actually ended up using it as a highly effective palate cleanser between the other fruits.

Star Fruit: The star fruit was probably my least favorite. It is native to the Philippines, and you are supposed to slice it whole and eat it skin and all. It has a slightly firmer texture than a pear but a bit more giving than an apple. The slices do look like stars, which is nice. It is also pretty juicy and upon first taste it is light and crisp, but it has a bit of a funky after-taste that I believe comes from the skin.

Fresh Dates: I had never seen fresh dates and was pretty excited to stumble up them since (as if we haven’t beaten this fact to death) they are one of the seven species of the land of Israel. These day they are a ton of date farms in the Palm Desert/Indio area of Southern California, so the ones I got were almost local. When I first got them home they were firm and yellow and I immediately ate one. It tasted like wood with a faint date flavor. It turns out you are supposed to wait for them to get a little brown and shriveled. After a couple of days I had some that were ready to eat, and they were delicious: much like a dried date but with a lighter sweetness and less intense flavor.

Golden Kiwi: I am a sucker for new breeds of familiar fruit and I do love kiwi. The golden kiwi looks exactly like a green kiwi on the outside but has a soft yellow flesh inside. Like apples of different colors, the differences between the green and gold kiwi were subtle but distinct. The golden kiwi’s flesh was smoother and softer than a green kiwi and was significantly sweeter. I really enjoyed it. Following tasting this, I thought I might give the starfruit one more try in case I was too hard on it because it was first. It wasn’t. I still didn’t like it.

Passion fruit: I love passion fruit juice. Every time I go to Hawaii for vacation I stock up on it to make rum-passion fruit drinks, which are the perfect pool-side cocktail, but I had never seen it in fruit form. They are just hard little black balls, a bit larger than a golf ball, that are ripe when they begin to wrinkle. Upon slicing one open, I found that the hard casing holds black seeds individually surrounded by bright yellow flesh and juice. You can either strain out the seeds by forcing the flesh though a fine sieve or just eat the seeds. Being that I was now on my last fruit, I was feeling a bit lazy and decide to just eat it with a spoon, seeds and all. It was amazing! It was lightly sweet, a tiny bit tart, but not at all sour. The flavor was something I can only describe as bright and tropical. It was by far my favorite and I was very happy to have saved it for last.

I hope this has inspired you to branch out from your standby fruits and check out something new. While for everyday eating I always urge people to eat locally, a Holiday like Sukkot is the perfect occasion to branch out a bit and try something special, new and out of the ordinary.

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