Thursday, January 12, 2012

A "Passion" For Balinese Fruit

Passion Fruit 

It is fruit season in Indonesia.  Or at least that is what the hotel employees tell us as we bat flies away left and right while trying to have a quiet lunch outdoors.  The flies may bother me, but it is a small price to pay for eating Bali’s wealth of tropical fruits in their peak season.

I have always gorged on papaya when traveling in South East Asia but this trip I have been drawn to even more exotic fruit.  Spikey, gooey, pulpy, I can’t get enough of the abundance of weird tropical fruits in this part of the world.

Driving through central Bali, it is hard not to notice the abundance of the region.  Lining the roads through the vibrant green terraced rice paddies, fruit trees hang heavy with durian the size of dinosaur eggs while bamboo big enough to be a giant’s straw stands at attention.

In a place this enchanting, it is no wonder some of my favorite fruits are the strangest looking.  The custardy filling of a durian with the stink of gorgonzola is not one of my favorites.  But for every durian that are even more baby bananas, mangosteen, passion fruit, and rambutan.

Rambutan when removed of its husk is often mistaken for the more common lychee. Both have milky sweet fruit flesh surrounding a hard brown pit.  But it is the skin of the rambutan that makes it special.  Brilliant red and covered in soft, hairy spikes, it looks not of this world.

Passion fruit, my latest obsession, is quite the opposite of rambutan in looks.  From the outside, it appears not so much different than a smooth, unripe orange.  The skin, though hard, is quite thin.  Once pierced with a butter knife, or thumbnail, the shell easily gives way.  But I tear gently in two so as not to disturb the prize inside.

Beneath the shell is a treasure of gooey pale yellow translucent fruit bundled together against the foam interior walls.  Inside each pea sized pod is suspended a miniature brown seed, crunchy and edible.  These little blobs then attach to each other, a mass of alien eyes. 

I spoon out the pulp or, if I’m feeling particularly greedy, I gently prod the seeds to release them from the skin, tilt my head back, and let the fruit slide right into my watering mouth.  Sweet, tart, crunchy, silky- passion fruit seeds are a taste experience quite unlike any other.

Passion fruit are becoming easier to find in the US at stores that stock a special section for exotic produce.  When I’m not in a tropical climate, it is nice to give the fruit a little more attention worthy of its overseas journey than a simple “cut and slurp”. 

At a hotel I was recently given a dish of sorbet, topped with passion fruit seeds and ginger beer served in a martini glass.  At home this would be a simple, unusual dessert for a dinner party- store bought sorbet in lemon or orange, half a passion fruit per person, and some good ginger beer.  A cannot imagine a more elegant presentation to show off those delectable little seeds. Then again, classy or not, eating them straight from the shell is pretty delicious too.

Passion Fruit Ginger Beer “Martini”
Serves: 6

1 pint lemon sorbet
3 passion fruit
1 ½ cup ginger beer
Mint leaves for garnish

Place a scoop of sorbet in each of six chilled martini glasses.  Remove the seeds from the passion fruit.  Divide up among glasses on top of the sorbet.  Top each glass with a couple of ounces of ginger beer each.  Garnish with mint leaves.  Serve immediately. 

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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