Colombian fruit, of the dragon and passion varieties

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What is this scaly-looking yellow thing? It’s a fruit of the dragon variety!

Today: dragon fruit and passion fruit, or Part II of Eating My Way Through the Tropical Fruits of Colombia. During lunch on Wednesday, I looked up to find snow/freezing slush pelting against the window, so it seems a good time to remind myself that I was recently someplace very warm, and it will soon be very warm again. Although even then, Ithaca will not be growing any of these:

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This wrinkled little beauty is a maracuya, the second kind of passion fruit I tried in Colombia. While the granadilla I mentioned in my recent post is sweet, the maracuya is sour and makes a REALLY excellent juice. The seeds were also excellent stirred into  lightly sweetened plain yogurt for breakfast (the yogurt came in small plastic milk-jug-shaped bottles, white with blue writing, although I don’t remember anything so useful as a brand name). My friend, our host, said she finds them too sour for eating out of hand, although if you like sour things it would probably be right up your alley. The goo around the seeds (mmm, appetizing, no?) is orange:

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When selecting a passion fruit, you don’t need to hold out for a nice smooth, unwrinkled one. Actually, wrinkles are good: they mean it’s ripe. Which brings me to the third kind of passion fruit I tried:

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So, I was warned. My friend said these weren’t ripe, and I went ahead and bought one anyway, because I wanted to try as many kinds of fruit as I could! And it was fuzzy! And about the size, shape, and color of a pickling cucumber! So appealing.

Anyway, this is a curuba, or banana passion fruit. They are supposed to be yellow when ripe (and yes, slightly fuzzy, that’s normal). If you try to eat them when they’re green, like I did, they’ll be inedibly sour. But pretty! Presumably they are tasty when actually ripe.

And finally, getting back to the odd yellow football at the top of the post:

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This one is not a kind of passion fruit, it’s a pitahaya, or dragon fruit. They grow on cacti in the genus Hylocereus and I really just did not understand their appeal until I ate one in Colombia. US grocery stores sometimes sell a hot pink variety, and Trader Joe’s even sells dried dragon fruit slices; the fresh ones I’ve had were watery and tasteless, and the dried ones were crunchy and tasteless. Someone brought the dried ones on a hike, and we all agreed that it was like chewing on cardboard.

But! This one in Colombia was good. I cut it in half and we scooped out the flesh with a spoon (don’t eat the yellow skin). The seeds were crunchy and a little bit nutty, and the fruit tasted almost exactly like a peeled red seedless grape: sweet, juicy, and crisp. Not the most remarkable taste, but good, and its unusual appearance made it pretty fun to eat.

How about you? Have you ever tried dragon fruit? Anyone want to contradict my harsh judgement of US dragon fruits as completely tasteless?

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Railway potatoes: easy Indian food

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Indian food doesn’t have to be hard.

It doesn’t have to involve a ton of spices. Like these Railway Potatoes (via Straight from the Farm), which I found because I needed something to take to a potluck later today. The author’s mother used to make them for train journeys, so I thought they’d stand up well to being transported to a potluck and served at non-piping-hot temperatures. Three spices is enough to make them delicious.

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OK, so that was four. But the ground coriander isn’t even in the recipe, so it’s completely optional. I…I just couldn’t resist. I am in love with ground coriander, I want to put it in everything, and I think it goes especially well with potatoes.

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But hey, what if you don’t have even these four spices yet? Well, you can get cayenne and turmeric in most grocery stores. Coriander and black mustard seeds are less widely available, but the Ithaca Wegmans carries both of them (in the International section) and I’ve found them at other local grocery stores too. If you can’t find coriander, that’s fine, it was optional anyway! For black mustard seeds, you can substitute regular yellow mustard seeds. Yellow mustard seeds will be milder, but they have the same basic mustard-y flavor.

This recipe will also introduce you to a technique I use a lot for Indian food: measuring out the spices into small bowls (as described in the recipe) before you even turn the stove on. I hate fiddly steps in recipes (and washing extra dishes) and hardly ever use mise en place in most of my cooking, but I find it’s really important for Indian food, or anything where you’re cooking spices for very short times at very high heat. You add them so quickly that it’s easier if you can just pick them up and dump them in instead of having to fiddle with the measuring spoon.

Consider this your gateway recipe to cooking Indian food!

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Railway Potatoes

Adapted from 5 Spices, 50 Dishes (by Ruta Kahate) via Straight From the Farm

Serves 4 as a side

1.5 lbs small non-russet potatoes (anywhere from one to three inches in diameter)
1 onion
3 Tbs. peanut oil
1/2 tsp. black mustard seeds (or substitute yellow mustard seeds)
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
(optional: 1/2 tsp. ground coriander)
1/2 tsp. cayenne (adjust depending on your spiciness tolerance and the strength of your cayenne; I put in only a dash because it’s for a potluck)
1.5 tsp. salt

Scrub the potatoes and cut off any blemishes. Cut the larger potatoes in half, and then cut all of them into slices 1/8 inch thick.  Halve the onion and thinly slice. Measure the mustard seeds into a small bowl. Measure the turmeric (and coriander, if using) into another small bowl.

In a wok or a large heavy skillet, heat the oil at maximum heat.

When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds, being careful to avoid getting spattered by oil.  After 30 seconds (by now the seeds should have started popping), add the turmeric (and coriander, if using) and give one quick stir. Immediately add the onions, stir, and cook for 1 minute. Add the potatoes, stir, and then add the cayenne. Turn the heat down to medium. Add a small splash of water (it will hiss), cover, and cook for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are done, stirring about every 2 minutes. Add the salt and taste to make sure the potatoes are done. Serve hot or warm or cold.

What to eat for breakfast in Colombia

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You don’t really need to read this post, just, if you find yourself in Colombia for breakfast, eat these. Eat as many of them as you can.

OK, let’s back up. I just spent 10 days in and around Medellín, Colombia. I ate as many varieties of tropical fruit as I could get my hands on, naturally, as a public service to you so I could tell you all about them.

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This is a granadilla. It’s a sweet variety of passionfruit with a hard, orange-spotted shell. They look like… space maracas? Dinosaur eggs? Very cool, is what I’m saying. And they taste amazing too.

Most passionfruits (more on them later) are a little sweet and a lot sour. Granadillas are not sour at all. Apparently in Colombia they’re a popular fruit for kids’ lunch boxes, because they’re sweet, easy to like, and easy to crack open with your fingers (no utensils needed) and eat with minimal mess.

The edible part of the granadilla includes the black seeds, which are crunchy, and the clear juicy pulp surrounding the seeds. A granadilla tastes like a passionfruit with most of the sourness removed. The outer orange shell and the foamy white layer lining the shell are not edible (that I know of).

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It has cool little white tubules connecting each individual seed to the inside wall of the fruit!

And the breakfast part was a bit misleading. They are also good for lunch, dinner, elevensies, tea, the meal indicating recovery from paragliding-induced motion sickness, and any time at all, really.

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