Saturday, July 28, 2012
In my last post I wrote about being easily distracted when I shop for food, especially so at the huge Asian market nearby stocked with things you can't get elsewhere. When I was there last, I was looking around, and somewhere past the frozen durian my eyes were drawn to the bright pink of fresh dragon fruit. Without so much as blinking an eye (or giving a thought as to what I would do with it), I quickly selected a few photogenic specimens and went on my way.
A dragon fruit or pitaya is actually the fruit of a cactus plant, which is native to many Southeast Asian as well as Central and South American countries. It ranges from a baseball to a softball in size, but more oval in shape. Its skin is vivid hot pink, or mauve, accentuated by greenish stalks. Once you cut into it, the flesh is white or sometimes purple or red, with a generous sprinkle of tiny black seeds of a size similar to a kiwi's. The taste of a ripe dragon fruit is most similar to a kiwi but milder; it is not as tart and only faintly sweet. The texture is a little firmer than a kiwi's and more similar to that of a peach.
You can eat the flesh by itself or make a juice drink or dessert. Be sure to pick a nice, ripe fruit. The color should be bright without any spots, the skin should be somewhat springy to the touch, not too soft or rock hard. To serve it raw, slice the fruit lengthwise in half (the somewhat thick outer skin should give in fairly easily). If you've ever scooped out an avocado, you can scoop out the flesh in a similar way. Use a spoon to separate the flesh from the skin (with ripe fruit this will be very easy to do), by going all the way around the sides of the fruit. Then lift the white flesh onto a cutting board, flat side down and dice into 1/2 inch cubes by slicing it lengthwise and then crosswise. Spoon back into the rind and serve.
Or, as I did, you can make a granita.
A granita is an Italian dessert, which is similar to a sorbet. Both sorbet and granita can be made using the same ingredients (juiced or puréed fruit, a sweetener, and a bit of tang from either lemon or lime juice). But while a sorbet usually requires an ice cream maker to get the desired texture, a granita is easily made by hand. All that's required is a freezer and a spoon to scrape it. The texture is also slightly different: a granita has a grainy texture made up of coarse ice crystals (which is achieved by repeated scraping with a spoon or a fork as it freezes) whereas a sorbet has a smoother texture.
Why did I settle on granita? Because it's hot, it's summer, and I don't have an ice cream maker. One of my projects this summer was to make a frozen dessert by hand, and a granita seemed very manageable. With just three ingredients, it is extremely easy to put together. The only caveat is the time it takes to make it. It will take several hours for it to fully freeze, and it will require your time in between to scrape it to prevent the granita from freezing solid. If you're planning to serve it at a dinner party, I suggest making it a day ahead of time to have one less thing to worry about.
Dragon fruit granita
(Makes about 2 cups)
You will need:
3 medium dragon fruits (about 2 lb/900 g)
1 tbsp lime juice
1/4 cup (60 ml) agave syrup, or to taste
sprigs of mint, for garnish
1. To prepare the dragon fruit, slice the fruit in half, lengthwise, revealing white (sometimes mauve) flesh dotted with small black seeds. Carefully insert a large spoon between the outer skin and the flesh, and go all the way around to separate the the two. Carefully scoop out the white flesh and place it flat side down on a cutting board, and slice into cubes. Repeat with the remaining fruit. Discard the skin or place it in a freezer to use as serving cups for the granita.
2. Place the cubed dragon fruit flesh in a food processor or blender. Add lime juice and agave syrup and process until puréed. Pour into a ceramic baking dish large enough so that the mixture is about 1 inch thick and place in the freezer.
3. After 30 minutes, mix the mixture with a spoon by scooping around the edges and into the center. Put back in the freezer and repeat every 30 to 45 minutes; the mixture will progressively become thicker and will begin to crystallize. Be sure to break apart any large icy chunks that form. Continue the process for a total time of at least four to five hours or freeze overnight. Before serving, scrape with a fork so that the granita has a coarse, grainy texture. Serve in a dessert glass garnished with a mint leaf, or inside frozen dragon fruit rinds.