Fruits and veggies from around the world deserve just as much love as we give those that come from the U.S. Expand your flavor horizons by grabbing for – and cooking with – a plant you haven’t tried before. Here’s a round-up of fruits and veggies from various cultures plus how you can cook with them.
Horned melon aka kiwano from Africa
- This spiky, yellowish-orange fruit has been lovingly called a “cuke-a-saurus” by school nutrition professionals when introducing it to children. And it does resemble a cucumber that grew horns, a blowfish, or something from Star Trek or Star Wars (it had had appearances in both). The kiwano melons goes by many names – jelly melon, African horned cucumber, hedged gourd and melano to name a few.
- The exact flavor of the bright green flesh and edible clear seeds is as hard to pin down as an exact name. I have seen it described as a “reminiscent of a cucumber, with notes of melon and lime” and as “a cross between cucumber, zucchini, and kiwifruit (though as it ripens, it tastes more like a banana).” It is perfect for a refreshing snack as well as a fun addition to salads, smoothies, and salsas.
- Horned melons are now grown in California as well as Africa and New Zealand. Ripe fruit have a bright golden-orange skin and should not be refrigerated. Check horned melons for soft spots, bruising or splits in the skin before purchase.
Kiwi berries from Korea, China and Siberia
- These berries, which grow on vines in colder climates, are about the size of a large grape but look just like a kiwi fruit when you bite them in half. They have been grown in the US for more than 150 years but have only become popular in the past couple of decades with the focus on “baby produce.” Children love the bright color and sweet taste of these mini kiwis.
- Kiwi berries look like a mashup of kiwi, grapes and kumquats. Flavor-wise, they taste pretty much like their full-size relatives. The smooth green skin is completely edible; once ripe they can be washed and eaten as is. They are juicy and can be eaten whole as snack, added to a fruit salad, used a garnish in cocktails or featured on cheeseboards.
- Unfortunately, kiwi berries have a very short season and may only be available in the US for a couple of fall months. Look for fruit that are soft to the touch but not squishy. Kiwi berries can be enjoyed at room temperature – and kept the refrigerator for up to week. They freeze well and can be added to smoothies straight from the freezer.
Nopales aka cactus paddles from Mexico
- Walk around any produce market in the Southwest US, Mexico and Central America, and you are bound to see piles of prickly pear cactus leaves, often several different varieties. With its thorny surface, this staple of Mexican cuisine may seem a little intimidating – but it is easy to master the removal of the thorns and the cooking of the leaves. Some nopales sold commercially have the largest thorns removed and with a knife, a kitchen towel, and a You-Tube video you can easily do the rest.
- In traditional Mexican cooking nopales are served morning, noon and night – in everything from egg dishes to tacos and soups to side dishes. Almost any nopales recipe will start with removing spines, rinsing, dicing, simmering in boiling water with a little salt for 10 minutes, and rinsing again. The flavor of cooked nopales has been compared to lemony green beans (or asparagus) crossed with okra.
- When choosing nopales, go for the brightest green colored leaves. The skin should be firm to the touch and not wrinkled. The individual leaves should be flexible but not limp or floppy.
Rambutan, lychee and longans from Southeast Asia
- I first met a rambutan in the floating produce market of Bangkok, Thailand, and was immediately attracted to their deep red color and long hairy spines. I really fell in love when I learned how to open them and eat the juicy white fruit, which tastes somewhat like a cross between strawberries and grapes.
- Like their soapberry cousins – logans and lychee fruit – rambutan are delicious fresh as a snack or added to fruit or veggie salads. They can be purchased canned (often in heavy syrup), frozen or dried in specialty markets. Fresh, frozen or canned, they make an exotic addition to smoothies and cocktails.
- When buying rambutan, look for reddish skin that is unbroken and without obvious blemishes. The fruit should be firm, but not hard, and the spines should be flexible and soft. While the fruit can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week, they are best eaten when as fresh as possible.
Salad turnips aka Hakurei or Tokyo turnips from Japan
- If you thought you didn’t like turnips, think again! These golf-ball sized tubers are more like a white radish, and they are deliciously crunchy when eater raw. I first saw salad turnips in a Montana farmers’ market – and now I grow them in my own Montana garden. Like other members of the brassica (or broccoli) family, these versatile veggies grow well in cooler climates with shorter seasons.
- Hakurei turnips are excellent for salads and much more! They can be sliced and eaten raw or mixed into any vegetable salad or slaw. They also make a crunchy addition to stir-fried dishes or quick pickles. Pan roasting adds to their natural sweetness and makes them perfect to combine with other vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots.
- Choose firm, round turnips – and be sure to save the greens! Store the unwashed tubers and greens in separate bags. These tasty turnips also freeze well as raw cubes or fully cooked and mashed for later use.