Archive for the 'Vegetation Profile' Category

Vegetation Profile: Tomatillo

The tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica) is a plant of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family, related to tomatoes, bearing small, spherical and green or green-purple fruit of the same name. Tomatillos, referred to as green tomato (Spanish: tomate verde) in Mexico, are a staple in Mexican cuisine. Tomatillos are grown throughout the Western Hemisphere.

The tomatillo fruit is surrounded by a paper-like husk formed from the calyx. As the fruit matures, it fills the husk and can split it open by harvest. The husk turns brown, and the fruit can be any of a number of colors when ripe, including yellow, red, green, or even purple. Tomatillos are the key ingredient in fresh and cooked Latin American green sauces. The freshness and greenness of the husk are quality criteria. Fruit should be firm and bright green, as the green colour and tart flavour are the main culinary contributions of the fruit.

Fresh ripe tomatillos will keep in the refrigerator for about two weeks. They will keep even longer if the husks are removed and the fruits are placed in sealed plastic bags stored in the refrigerator. They may also be frozen whole or sliced.

Vegetation Profile: Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit

The fruit of prickly pears, commonly called cactus figs, Indian fig or tuna, is edible, although it has to be peeled carefully to remove the small spines on the outer skin before consumption. If the outer layer is not properly removed, glochids can be ingested causing discomfort of the throat, lips, and tongue as the small spines are easily lodged in the skin.

Prickly Pear Cactus have been a staple food of Native Americans for many centuries. Some species of prickly pear cactus were introduced into North America from tropical America a number of centuries ago. The fruit of these cultivated prickly pear cactus is a common delicacy in Mexico and is sold in markets as “tuna.”

The prickly pear fruit normally ripens and is ready for harvest during the late summer and early fall months. Prickly pear fruit  are often used to make candies, jellies, drinks and pie fillings.

During my year in Asia, it seemed like I was sampling a new fruit every other week. Everything was exotic and new, and I wanted to taste it all. Now that I’m back at home and frequenting supermarkets rather than wet markets, I strive to be just as adventurous. During a quick trip to a grocery store in Alhambra with Wandering Chopsticks, she recommended that I purchase some prickly pear cactus fruit to try. Even though they looked dull and unappealing, my curiosity got the best of me and I bought three.

I decided to eat the prickly pear cactus fruit in the same fashion as I do dragon fruit—sliced in half and scooped out with a spoon. The fruit’s flesh was a brilliant magenta, while the texture was coarse and full of round, edible seeds. Although its appearance was intriguing, the fruit’s actual taste was a disappointment—one-dimensionally sweet without a trace of tang.

It makes perfect sense that these fruits are generally transformed into candies, jellies, drinks and pie fillings rather than eaten raw. Without any added oomph, prickly pear cactus fruits are a bore.

Vegetation Profile: Royal Riviera Pears

The Comice pear has long been enjoyed by European nobility for its smooth, creamy texture and exquisite flavor. Grown in only a few places in the world, the pear has found the perfect home in Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley, where in 1934 brothers Harry and David Holmes launched their famous gourmet gift business with the premium fruit.

Since the start of Harry and David nearly 70 years ago, millions of Americans have continued to send and receive Harry and David’s pears, called Royal Riviera Pears by the brothers, as holiday gifts. Their rich, creamy texture, succulent juiciness (so juicy you can eat them with a spoon) and large, pound-apiece size make Royal Riviera Pears the ultimate holiday gift.

The Astronomer’s family has been eating Royal Riviera Pears from Harry and David ever since he can remember. Back when we first started dating, he mailed me a box of pears as a gift. I was initially appalled that he shelled out thirty bucks for eight measly pears, but after one bite, it was clear that these pears were really something special. Pears at the grocery store never dribble sweet juices down one’s chin.

The Astronomer’s parents recently mailed us a box of Royal Rivera pears for the holidays, and boy am I glad they did. Consuming five-a-day has been so difficult after the bounty of Vietnam, but these pears make it a little bit easier. And stickier.

Vegetation Profile: Butternut Squash

Butternut, like the other winter squashes, has a lot more to offer nutritionally speaking than summer squashes and zucchini. Butternut’s deep-orange flesh is richer in complex carbohydrates and, as you might guess by its color, in beta-carotene. Butternut squash is also a very good source of dietary fiber, and supplies vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, and a good amount of potassium.

Butternut squashes range from about two to four pounds in weight. The squash rind should be uniformly tan, with no tinge of green. The rind should be smooth and dry, free of cracks or soft spots. Also, the rind should be dull; a shiny rind indicates that the squash was picked too early, and will not have the full sweetness of a mature specimen.

I went to the grocery store the other day with an itemized list of things to buy. Even though butternut squash wasn’t on my list, I left the store with two in hand. Culinary curiosity often supersedes culinary practicality. I’m normally not much of an impulse shopper, but the temperature in Pasadena dipped into the frigid fifties this past week, and I had to mark the rare occasion with some genuine autumnal produce. In Southern California, cooks must act fast when preparing seasonal dishes because eighty degrees seems to always be lurking around the corner.

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