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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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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Patel Brothers

Patel Brothers supermarket in Jackson Heights, Queens is one of the things I miss most about NYC. I jump up and down a little bit when I go in. Or sometimes a lot.

It’s a massive Indian supermarket, and it has basically everything. Any kind of spice you could want. Whole dried coconuts that look like brown monkey heads. Five-pound bags of whole garam masala or ground cumin. Giant bags of all kinds of lentils, beans, and rice. Canned pulp of Alphonso mangoes, the best kind of mangoes whose season is the occasion for a mango craze in India, which you can rarely if ever find fresh in the US,

a giant section of many chopped and frozen exotic vegetables including frozen cut lotus root,

and most exciting, an awesome fresh produce section full of all kinds of things that are totally unfamiliar to me:

Patra leaves are leaves of the genus Colocasia (one species, Colocasia esculenta, is called Elephant Ear, and the root is also eaten as the vegetable taro). The leaves are rolled up with chickpea flour (gram flour) to make a really really delicious Gujarati dish that is sold at Rajbhog Sweets around the corner from Patel Brothers.

So when we stopped by Patel Brothers recently, we stocked up on some fresh curry leaves and fresh turmeric (my picture of turmeric was blurry, so check out this one). Fresh turmeric! I always thought turmeric was just a powder, or I guess I might’ve thought it came from a seed, like powdered cumin does, but no! It looks like mini fresh ginger, but bright orange inside.

And finally, I was standing there admiring these tiny striped cucumbers, and a woman began filling a bag with them, so I asked her what to do with them. So I got some, and I cooked them, roughly according to her instructions, and I’ll tell you about it in the next post.

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These round green fruits were hanging out outside a bodega on 37th Ave. between 73rd and 74th Streets in Jackson Heights, Queens. Just about here. Woohoo! A fruit I’d never eaten before! I’d never seen anything like them and I had no idea what they were.

They’re about the size of a golf ball. This is what one looks like inside.

It tasted good: like an underripe peach, with a little bit of quince. The texture was crisp, and a little gritty like a pear. What was it, though? I asked the cashier and he said, “voroi.” At least I thought he did. Ian thought he’d said “boroi,” and Ian turned out to be right. They are…

Jujube (also called boroi or kul), scientific name Ziziphus mauritiana.

They’re mainly eaten raw, and grown in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Africa. According to the Wikipedia article, “In Ethiopia, the fruits are used to stupefy fish.” How, I couldn’t say.

Lots of exciting jujube pictures here (fresh! dried! green! yellow! red!)