Google+ Followers

Friday, January 31, 2014

Persimmons



Persimmons:

The persimmon is the edible fruit of a number of trees in the genus "diospyros".   There are many species of "diospyros" that bear fruit that is inedible to humans, but there are several that bear fruit that is edible to humans.   The most cultivated species of persimmon is the Asian persimmon, also known as the Japanese persimmon.  The color of the cultivated varieties ranges from yellow-orange to dark red-orange depending on the variety.   They vary in size from a half inch  to four inches in diameter and their shape is spherical, acorn, or pumpkin shaped.   The ripe fruit is high in glucose content and low in protein content.  Like the tomato the persimmon in terms of botanical morphology is a berry.  

There are two types of persimmon fruit: astringent and non-astringent.   The heart shaped "Hachiya" is the most common variety of astringent persimmon.  Astringent persimmons contain very high levels of soluble tannins and are unpalatably astringent (furry tasting) if eaten before completely softened.   The non-astringent persimmon is squat like a tomato and is most commonly called a "Fuyu" persimmon.  Non-astringent  persimmons are less astringent before ripening and loose more of their tannic quality sooner.  They can be consummed when still very firm and remain edible when very soft.  

China is the world's largest producer  of persimmons followed by Brazil, Japan, and Korea.  Italy, Israel, and the U.S. in that order grow considerable less.   The American persimmon is native to the eastern U.S. and is higher in nutrients like Vitamin C, calcium, iron, and potassium than the Japanese persimmon.  The American persimmon is traditionally eaten is a special steamed pudding in the Midwest, and sometimes the timber from its tree is used as a substitute for ebony.

Compared to apples persimmons have higher levels of dietarty fiber, sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron and manganese, but lower levels of copper and zinc.  They also conatain vitamin C and provitamin A beta-carotene.  The persimmon contains phytochemicals such as catechin and gallocatechin as well as compounds like betalinic acid which is under preliminary research for potential anti-cancer activity.

Persimmons are eaten fresh, dried, raw or cooked.  When eaten fresh, they are usually eaten like an apple or cut into quarters.  With some varieties it is best to peel the skin first.  One way of eating a  persimmon is to remove the top leaf with a paring knife and scoop out the flesh with a spoon.  Unripe persimmons contain the soluble tannin shiboul, which upon contact with a weak acid polymerizes in the stomach and forms a gluey coagulum, a food ball that can affix with other stomach matter and often needs to be removed surgically.  So, don't eat unripe persimmons!

Persimmons are available nearly year round.  California persimmons are available from Spetember  to November.  Fuyus from Japan and Israel are usually shipped between November and January.  Brazilian persimmons are on the market between February  and April.  New Zealand persimmons are available from March to May, and Chile persimmons are available after May.

Select persimmons without greenish or yellow skins.  Avoid those that show cracks or splits.  The four leaves should still be on the stem.  A Hachiya in good condition will often need to be ripened at home.  Leave it out at room temperaturae, or to ripen more quickly put in a paper bag with a banana or apple.   A fully ripe Hachiya will be slighatly wrinkled or have a few brown spots.  At this very soft stage, almost like a firm jelly, it is at the peak of perfection.   Refrigerate or eat Fuyus while they are still fairly firm, about like a ripe pear.  

Persimmons can be blanched to remove the skin easily.  Dip the persimmon in boiling water for a few seconds and then into cold water.  A ripe Hachiya can be halved or quartered  and the flesh scooped out with a spoon.    A Fuyu can be eaten out of hand like an apple.  There is no need to peel the skin.    A soft ripe persimmon can be wrapped in plastioc or foil and eaten partially frozen like a sorbet.   Persimmon pureed with a little lemon juice makes a good ice cream topping. 

So.........  Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.

Simple but good:

Broiled Persimmons

2 ripe persimmons, halved lengthwise and pitted
4 tablespoon of brown sugar
2 tablespoon of unsalted butter

Preheat the broiler.
Place the persimmons in a small greased baking pan.  Sprinkle each half with a tablespoon of brown sugar and dot with a half tablespoon of butter.  
Broil for 2 minutes or until brown sugar begins to bubble.
Serve hot

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Beets

Beets:

Beets are members of the "chenopod" family along with chard, spinach, and quinoa.  Beets are grown mainly for their edible taproots, but the green leafy tops are also edible.    Beets are both sweet and earthy tasting and pair well with other root vegetables as well as tangy sweet fruits like pineapple.

Growing up it occured to me that the word "beets" had pretty much the same sound as the Italian word "pizza".  So, for pizza Italians would put an "a" with the sound of "ah" in front of the word and you would say "a pizz'" leaving off the "a" sound at the end of the word.  Then for the root vegetable we would put a "u" with the sound of "oo" in front of the word beets  to kind of make it Italian .  So you had "a pizza" in the pizzeria and "u beets" at home.  It is kind of silly, but I still laugh about it.  Are we having "a pizz'" or "u beets"?

Beets are rich in fiber both soluble and insoluble. They are also rich in folic acid, calcium, and iron.   The nitrates in beets may help lower blood pressure and help fight heart disease.  Beetroot juice increases blood flow to the brain in older people which may be able to fight the progression of dimentia. Beet juice can help prevent plaque formation and reduces bad cholesterol.  Beets are packed with the mineral silica which helps the body use calcium, and helps control diabetes because it has a medium glycemic index which releases sugars very slowly into the blood thereby keeping sugar levels low while satiating sugar cravings.  As a rich source of nitrates, beets help release nitric oxide into the body widening blood vessels and increasing blood flow to the genitals the same as Viagra does.  Betroot is an excellent source of folate and a good source of manganese, and contains betaines.  Pilot studies on humans have shown betaine may protect against liver disease.   In preliminary research  beetroot juice lowered blood pressure. 

Usually deep red roots are either grilled, boiled, or roasted and served as a cooked vegetable or chilled after cooking and eaten as a salad with oil and vinegar.   The phytonutrient betalain found in beets undergoes very steady loss from food as length of cooking time increases.  Steam beets no more than 15 minutes or roast no more than an hour.   In 10 - 15 per cent of U.S. adults the consumption of beets causes pink urine.   The green leafy portion is most commonly served boiled or steamed in which case it has the taste and texture of spinach.

Beets are available year round fresh and canned.  Peak season for fresh beets is between April and August.   Select beets that are hard with fresh looking tails at the root end.  There should be no cuts in the flesh and the color should be a good deep red.   The tops should be crisp and fresh looking.  Always try to buy beets with the tops on.   Store in the refrigerator with the tops on for up to three weeks.   Beets can be dirty so wash thoroughly, but don't use a brush as their skin in thin.    Always cook beets whole.  Peel and slice only after cooking.  Once cooked run the beets under cold water and the skin will remove easily. 

 Raw beets can be enjoyed in salads or in sandwiches.   Cooked beets can be served with a little butter or lemon juice and pickled and served cold.    Hard boiled eggs can be refrigerated in the liquid left over from pickling beets and allowed to marinate until the eggs turn a deep pink-red color. 

So...........Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how. 



Friday, January 10, 2014

Mango


Mango:

The mango is a fleshy stone fruit that comes from an evergreen tree.  It is native to South Asia.   The mango is cultivated in most frost-free tropical and warmer subtropical climates.  Almost half of the world's mangos are cultivated in India with China as a distant second.   The mango is the national fruit of India and the Philippines and the national tree of Bangladesh.  

Mangos are generally sweet, although the taste and texture of the flesh differs by variety.  Some have a soft pulpy texture similar to an overripe plum while others are firmer like cantaloupe.  Some have a fibrous texture.   There are over 400 varieties of mango.  My first exposure to the mango was here in Florida.  I remember trying to figure out what it tasted "like".  I  thought maybe a cantaloupe, probably suggested by the color as much as taste.  Then I thought I tasted coconut. Well, my final conclusion was that it did not taste like anything else.  It tasted like a mango.

Mangos contain a variety of phytochemicals and nutrients.  There are 20 different vitamins and nutrients in a mango.   Mango peel and pulp contains compounds such as pigment carotonoids and polyphenols and omega-3 and -6 fatty acids.  A cup of mango chunks contains only 100 calories and a full day supply of vitamin C.  It also has a good supply of vitamin A as well as fiber.  Preliminary studies  indicate that certain compounds in the mango skin have potential to lower the risk for diseases such as diabetes, high cholesterol levels, and some forms of cancer.   Unfortunately contact with oils in mango leaves, stems, and sap can cause dermatitis and anaphylaxis in suseptible individuals.  Persons with a history of poison ivy and poison
oak may be at most risk.

Mangos in  U.S. markets are generally from Florida or imported from Mexico, Haiti, or other parts of the Caribbean.  Mexican mangos are basically kidney shaped and large with   greenish yellow skin and a red-orange blush in May.  Their season is late March through September.  Florida's season runs from May through September.  The most popular Florida mango is the "Tommy Atkins" variety.  It is sweet and juicy with orange to orange-red skin and runs about a pound in size. Other Florida varieties include "Haden", "Keith", "Kent", and "Palmer".  Haitian mangos are available January through September.  They are very flat and elogated with skin that starts out lime green and ripens to yellow.  The flesh is a little more fibrous than other varieties, but it has an intense tropical taste.

In choosing a ripe mango do not consider the color.  It is not an indication of ripeness.  Squeeze the mango.  A ripe mango will give slightly to pressure.  Ripe mangos will sometimes have a fruity aroma at the stem end.  Keep unripe mangos at room temperature.  To speed the ripening process place the mango in a paper bag.  Once ripe move the mango to the refrigerator for up to 5 days.  Ripe mangos may be peeled, cubed and placed in an airtight container and kept in the refrigerator for several days, or the freezer for up to 6 months.

To peel a mango make sure you wash the mango and have clean utensils and a clean cutting surface.  With a pairing knife make 2 cuts each about a half inch from an imaginary center line running from top to bottom of the mango.  You will then have 3 slices,  the center one being the pit. Take the 2 outside slices and score them with the knife in a crisscross fashion being careful not to cut through the skin. (Neither the mango's nor your own!)  Then take the scored slice by its ends and by pushing against the skin to  pop it inside out.  You can then remove the chunks with a spoon or knife.  Do not eat the skin it has a bitter taste.





Mangoes are delicious eaten by themselves or in relishes, salsas, fruit salads, and chutney.  Mango goes well with ice cream, and is also used in tropical drinks.

So......Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.

Simple but good:

Mango Salsa

1 fresh mango peeled and diced
1-2 jalapeno peppers seeded, ribs removed and diced
1 small clove of garlic crush finely and mixed with 1 tsp of sea salt
1/2 large red pepper seeded and diced
1/2 large red onion finely diced  (or1/4 cup sliced green onion)
juice of 1/2 fresh lime

Place all ingredients in a bowl and stir the mixture well.  Add the lime juice and stir it in.   Put mixture in the refrigerater for at least an hour.


Friday, January 3, 2014

Cardoon

Cardoon:

Cardoon is a Mediterranean vegetable closely related to the artichoke which is cultivated for its edible leafstalks and roots.  Cardoon is a naturally occuring  form of the same species as the globe artichoke.   The cardoon is also called artichoke thistle, cardone, cardoni, carduni, or cardi.  Cardoon is native to the western and central Mediterranean, where it was cultivated in ancient times.  

The cardoon was popular in Greek, Roman, and Persian cuisine and remained popular in medieval and early modern Europe.  It was common in the vegetable gardens of colonial America, but fell from fashion in the late nineteenth century.  Cardoons are a common vegetable in northern Africa amd often used in Algerian or Tunisian couscous. Today cardoon is considered a weed in Australia and California because of its invasive nature and adaptability to dry climates.  Although not very popular today cardoons can be found in some supermarkets and farmer's markets, usually during the winter months.  Cardoon is harvested in the winter and spring. 

My first exposure to cardoon was working in a supermarket in Florida.   The box was marked "Cardone" and all the people in the produce department thought it was such a hoot when someone would come in around the holidays and ask for "cardooni's".  The sound of it kind of reminded me of "Father Guido Sarducci" from Saturday Night Live.  Cardoon was one of those items that you were required to carry, but you would be lucky to sell half the box before you had to throw it away.

Cardoon has attracted attention recently as a possible source of biodiesel.  The oil extracted from the seeds of the cardoon is called artichoke oil and is similar to safflower and sunflower oil in composition and use.   Cardoons are used as a vegetarian source of enzymes for cheese production and are also grown as  ornamental plants for their imposing architectural appearance.   

Cardoons are only edible when cooked.  The taste has been discribed as a cross between artichoke and celery.  To cook, trim off any leaves or thorns and peel the stalks with a vegetable peeler to remove the indigestible outer fibers.  Cardoons discolor when cut so place cut pieces in cold water with lemon juice.  Cardoons can be braised, sauteed, boiled in soups and stews, or dipped in batter and deep fried.  One caveat though, depending on age they can take up to an hour to get soft and tender enough to eat.  

Choose firm and very crisp cardoons with a touch of dew on them.  Discoloration of the cut end is normal.  To store cut in half crosswise and wrapped in a wet paper towel and put in a paper or plastic bag.  Refrigerate in the crisper for one to two weeks, but no longer.  Use the top half first.  Dried out cardoon is inedible.  

So...... Eat up!    Enjoy!   I'll show you how. 

Simple but good:

1/2 bunch of cardoon trimmed of leaves, thorns, and outer fibers, cut to 3 inch pieces
lemon juice for simmering water
egg, beaten
seasoned bread crumbs
canola oil for frying

Add lemon juice to pot of boiling water.   Add cut cardoons and boil for 15 to 30 minutes.  They are done when you can easily push the ridge flat with a fork.  Allow to cool then dip the flattened cardoon in the egg and then the breadcrumbs.  Fry until golden brown.  Remove to a piece of paper towel to drain excess oil.   Enjoy while warm.