Get to Know a Rambutan from a Mangosteen, with Asian Fruit Salad
Are you bored with berries? Maybe apples make you yawn, and a slice of watermelon fills you with overwhelming ennui? You need to step out on your usual fruit loves and try something new. Might I suggest a trip to your local Asian market to seek out some exotic Asian fruit?
Experiment with Asian Fruit
I’m lucky, here in Minneapolis, to have United Noodles as a resource. If you live in the area, you need to know that they plan to showcase at least a dozen new and exciting fruits all summer long. Wherever you live, you should be able to find a store carrying one of these delightful delicacies.
Dragonfruit is having a moment, thanks to it’s instagrammable beauty. With a pink and green exterior that might bring a dragon to mind, it holds a firm, melon-like flesh dotted with tiny black seeds. The flavor is not as sweet as some fruit, slightly reminiscent of kiwi, but when perfectly ripe, it’s sweet enough to please. To use it, simply halve the fruit lengthwise, then you can either scoop it out as a solid piece and slice it, or use a melon baller, as I did.
Korean Melons have perfumey white flesh, a little crisper than a cantaloupe, and taste like a honeydew and a cucumber had a baby. They are small enough to serve one or two, making them perfect for solo dining. They also make a great serving bowl for this fruit salad. Handle them like any small melon, scooping out the seeds and using the rest.
Lychee has been on the menu at Chinese restaurants for as long as I can remember, served as a dessert. That was canned lychee, and now that fresh ones are more available, it’s worth another try. Peel off the craggy skin and a pale white fruit shaped like an opalescent grape pops out, with a fragrance reminiscent of roses. The flavor is very sweet, with hints of cherries and bananas. Lychee is having a moment in the cocktail world, often speared as a gorgeous garnish for Asian fruit flavored drinks. To use it, slice through the thin shell and pop out the fruit, then remove the inedible seed in the middle.
The most startling of all the Asian fruit, the Mangosteen has a ruddy skin that hides a pithy layer, kind of like an orange, which pulls away easily from the pale white segmented fruit. The flavor has hints of peach, vanilla ice cream, and pineapple, with plenty of sweetness and acid for a truly delicious mouthful. To use, slice into the skin to reach the fruit, then peel like an orange, divide the segments, and trim out the seeds if they are large.
One of the most exotic looking of the Asian fruits, rambutan is the one that looks like a red ball that grew thick strands of tangled hair. (My cat decided that they looked just like his favorite toy and insisted on stealing them during the photo shoot.) The greyish fruit inside has a pineapple and cherry flavor with good acid and sweet balance. The texture is like that of a grape, with an inedible seed in the center. To use, simply slice through the skin, peel it back, and pop out the fruit.
The longan is called “dragon’s eye” in China, because once you pop the orb from the thin brown skin, it looks like an eyeball. Don’t be put off, longan is reminiscent of a sweeter lychee, with duskier, floral aromas to make you swoon. The pale, translucent flesh holds a black seed in the center, which you can either trim or simply eat around. To use, score the skin around the shoulder, peel it back and pop out the fruit.
A Simple Dish to Showcase Asian Fruit
To showcase the unique flavors and textures of all these fruits, I decided to simply bathe them in a simple lime-infused syrup and add some fresh spearmint. When you try them for the first time, plan to eat plenty of them out of hand, just to get acquainted. Then you can play with them in all your favorite fruity applications. Sorbets and mixed drinks are a perfect use, although they take away the textural elements. Adding a few peeled and seeded lychee or longan to a noodle of vegetable salad is a fun surprise.
Try some Asian fruit today, and let your imagination run wild. Your usual berries and watermelon don’t need to know that you have been seeing other fruits.
Asian Fruits in Lime Syrup with Mint
Exotic, perfumey fruits need only a simple syrup with a little lime to shine. If you can't find all the fruits, get what you can and enjoy!
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 large lime zest pared off in a strip
- 1 medium dragonfruit
- 1 medium Korean Melon
- 8 large rambutan
- 10 large lychee
- 10 large longan
- 8 large mangosteen
- several stems fresh spearmint torn
- spearmint for garnish
In a small pot, combine the sugar, water, and lime zest strips. Bring to a boil, stirring, and reduce to a simmer for about 5 minutes. Take off the heat and let cool with the lime zest in the mix.
Halve the dragonfruit and use a melon baller to scoop out the flesh into a large bowl, reserving the shell to use as a bowl. Halve and seed the melon, and use the melon baller to scoop the flesh, reserving the shell.
Use a sharp paring knife to score the skin of each fruit and slip out the soft fruits. The skin of the mangosteen is thicker, and the white segments will slip apart easily once it is peeled.
Add the mint to the fruit in the bowl. Drizzle the cold syrup over the fruit and toss gently, then portion into the reserved shells. Serve immediately.