Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.
Today: We're taking a tropical staycation in our kitchen and exploring exotic fruits. Next up, pitayas.
Good things come from prickly plants -- like tequila, nopales, and dragon fruit. (Dragon fruit's proper name is pitaya, but its mythical creature-inspired name is more popular.) The pitaya plant is a climbing cactus, and the plant’s flower is impressive -- not only visually, but also with the brief window it provides for pollination. The flower opens in the evening, ready for bats, moths, or hand-pollination, and by morning it wilts. (Some varieties are self-pollinating, but that’s much less exciting than a pollination race against time.)
More: Think that’s high-maintenance? Meet endive.
You’re most likely to come across dragon fruit with a pink peel (4), green scales (3), and white flesh (1) that’s studded with tiny edible black seeds (2), similar to kiwifruit. Other varieties have pink or deep magenta-colored flesh, or white flesh with a yellow peel. We wouldn’t say that the dragon fruit is just blowing smoke, but it does look far more dramatic than it tastes. Another one of one of pitaya’s monikers -- strawberry pear -- gives a hint to the fruit’s flavor: a delicate berry, watermelon, kiwi, and pear blend.
Peak dragon fruit season is in the summer and early fall, but thanks to different growing locations and off-season production techniques (like tricking the plant with supplemental lighting), it’s possible to find dragon fruit close to year-round. Visit a specialty grocery store, or your local farmers market if you have the good fortune of living where they're grown. The fruit will keep on the counter for a few days; if you want to keep it longer than that, store it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Dragon fruit is easy to prep -- just cut the fruit into quarters or slices, and peel off the skin. It's often used as a garnish, or in fruit salads, but it works in savory salads and pairs well with seafood too. Try using dragon fruit in a smoothie or a cocktail. Pitayas can be used to make jam, ice cream, and all manner of other desserts. We're partial to simply slicing it in half and scooping out the flesh (5) with a spoon (like slooping!) -- couch and cheesy romantic comedy optional, but highly encouraged.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy dragon fruit? Tell us in the comments!
Photos by James Ransom