It’s the month to explore the unknown, food wise. as February is National Exotic Vegetable and Starfruit Month.
The term “exotic vegetable” covers a lot of territory but starfruit is a specific fruit, also called the carambola. Starfruit is popular in many parts of Asia and, when sliced, is shaped like a star.
Although not common, they can be found in grocery stores in our area.
About.com’s section on Thai food gives advice about starfruit:
How to Choose a Ripe (or ripening) Starfruit: When ripe, starfruit are mainly bright yellow with tinges of light green. They may have some dark brown along the five ridges — this is normal. The flesh should still be quite firm to the touch.
You can also buy star fruit when it's green and wait for it to ripen — just leave it on your counter (in its plastic wrapping) for a few days. When over-ripe, star fruit turns entirely yellow and starts to have brown spots all over.
Starfruit facts: Star Fruit are a good choice during the winter months, when they're readily available. And because they're a good source of Vitamin C, star fruit can help ward off winter colds and flus. With only 30 calories per fruit plus lots of fiber, star fruit is a great choice for anyone trying to lose weight. They're also very healthy — full of antioxidants and flavonoids.
TROPICAL THAI FRUIT SALAD
By Darlene Schmidt, About.com Guide
1 fresh, ripe pineapple
Assortment of fruit, such as pineapple, papaya, lychee, star fruit, watermelon, dragon fruit, mango
1/4 cup coconut milk
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
optional: a few leaves of fresh basil as a garnish
To make the fruit salad, peel and cut up the fruit you have chosen into bite-size pieces. (If you have carved a pineapple, add chunks of the carved out fruit to the mix.) Place fruit together in a mixing bowl.
In a cup, mix together the coconut milk, sugar, and lime juice. Stir well to dissolve the sugar.
Pour this mixture over the fruit and gently mix the salad. Do a taste-test, adding a little more sugar if not sweet enough for your taste. Tip: the brown sugar may be a little granular at first, but the natural acids of the fruit will soon break it down.
If serving in a carved-out pineapple, spoon or scoop the fruit into the pineapple (reserve as much of the liquid as possible, since the extra may leak through the bottom of the pineapple. When serving the fruit salad, you can spoon the reserved liquid over each portion). Garnish with a few leaves of fresh basil, if desired. Tip: be sure to place a plate or bowl under the carved-out pineapple, as it may leak.
Serve this fruit salad on its own, or with yogurt, ice cream or whipped cream.
On the other hand, I’d never heard of calabaza squash, but according to the web site fruitsandvegetablesmatter.gov, it’s one of three members of the squash family that’s becoming more mainstream, alongside the chayaote squash and the bitter melon.
It’s still unlikely you’ll find a calabaza at your local grocery store, so here are some facts from the web site:
‰Calabaza is a type of pumpkin-like squash that is round in shape and varies in size. It can be as large as a watermelon or as small as a cantaloupe. The color of calabaza can also vary and may include greens, tans, reds and oranges. Some squash are all one color while other calabaza are multi-colored and may include all of colors listed above.
‰Whole calabaza may be difficult to slice. Slicing through the tough rind often calls for a heavy cleaver or a very sharp knife. If the squash resists slicing, remove the stem and place the knife or cleaver blade along the squash’s length. Gently tap the blade with a hammer until the squash falls open. Scoop out the seeds, peel and prepare.
‰Whole calabaza may be stored in a cool, dry space for up to six weeks. Cut calabaza should be wrapped tightly or placed in a covered container in the refrigerated for no more than one week.
‰Calabaza has a sweet flavor and its texture is firm. This is similar to the taste and texture of more familiar varieties of squash, such as butternut or acorn. Calabaza may be substituted in recipes calling for those more common types of squash.
‰Calabaza is most commonly baked, either cut in sections or in cubes. Its seeds may also be roasted in a similar way as pumpkin seeds. Simply place on a baking sheet coated in cooking spray until brown and crisp.
1½ pound Calabaza squash, diced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 garlic clove
4 scallions, minced
1 Tablespoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon fenugreek
1 large ripe tomato, chopped
¼ cup coconut milk
¾ cup low-fat milk (1%)
Simmer all the ingredients except the milks in 5 cups of water for 1 hour. Strain the liquid into a bowl and allow the solids to cool. Puree the cooled solids.
Return the puree to the soup pot along with the stained liquid and add the milks. Simmer, uncovered, until the mixture is thickened to your desired consistency.
Not that there aren’t some delicious fruits that are common to us.
This month also is aimed at highlighting Florida strawberries, grapefruit and cherries, three of my favorite fruits.
The web site has a great idea of using strawberries in a smoothie that’s a little different.
2 large, ripe bananas
2 cups strawberries
1 ripe mango, cubed
2 cups cranberry juice
12 ice cubes
Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor container. Cover; blend until thick and smooth.
While I don’t claim to be an expert cook, I do like to cook and love to eat. Readers are encouraged to send questions about food and cooking; I’ll try to find the answers. Also, if you’re looking for a specific recipe, send your request, or if you can offer a recipe to someone looking for something specific, please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.