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 bit warm here in Cali. We 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 if you want to follow the tradition of eating stuffed foods. I am pretty well ready for Sukkot as, luckily, or oddly, I have built-in Sukkah on my deck due to the fact that my European chain-smoking next door neighbors, have put up a bamboo mats to help protect me from the second-hand smoke. I suppose in order to be in keeping with the requirement that it be a temporary structure I could ask them to rotate the mats.
Trying new or interesting fruit actually something that Dafna, (a co-heathen) and I used to do occasionally when we worked together. I used to bring in interesting fruits and we would sit at my desk and decide whether to add them to our regular fruit repertoire. Baby kiwi and honey crisp apples were two of our favs. I headed over to 99 Ranch and Berkeley Bowl to see what I could find. Upon entering 99 Ranch the first thing I came upon was a durian. Now Dafna will get a bit of a chuckle out of that as we once won the Bay Cities trivia contest by correctly answering durian. Lucky for me I remember that the hint was that tribal people used to rub it 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)
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 and 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. It is 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 at the Bowl and (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. Much like apples of different colors the differences were subtle but distinct. The golden kiwis flesh was smoother and softer than a green kiwi and was significantly sweeter. I really enjoyed it. Following tasting this I though I might give the starfruit one more try in case I was too hard on it because it was first. I wasn’t. I still didn’t like it.
Passion fruit: Now I love passion fruit juice and 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 it open, the hard casing holds black seed individually surrounded by bright yellow flesh and juice. You can either strain out the seed 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 and something I can only describe as a bright tropical flavor. 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.