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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Papaya




Papaya:


The papaya or "paw paw" is the fruit of the plant "Carica papaya".  It is native to the tropics of the Americas perhaps from southern Mexico and neighboring Central America. The papaya is said to have been called "fruit of the angels" by Christopher Columbus.  

The papaya is a large tree-like plant with a single stem.  Two kinds of papayas are commonly grown.  One has sweet red and orange flesh and the other has yellow flesh.   The large-fruited red-fleshed Maradol, Sunrise, and Caribbean papayas often sold in the U.S. are commonly grown in Mexico and Belize. 

Papayas are spherical or pear-shaped fruits that can be as long as 20 inches.  The ones found in the market, however,  usually average around 7 inches.   Papayas can be used as a food, a cooking aid, and in traditional medicine.   Green papaya fruit is rich in papain, a protease used for tenderizing meat and other proteins.   Papaya has a soft butter-like consistency and a sweet musky taste.

Papaya is a source of provitamin A, carotenoids, vitamins C and E, folate, potassium,  and dietary fiber.   The fruit is ripe when it feels soft and its skin has attained an amber to orange hue.   The ripe papaya is usually eaten raw without the skin or seeds.  The unripe green fruit can be eaten cooked, usually in curries, salds, and stews.   Papayas have a relatively high amount of pectin, which can be used to make jellies.  The black seeds are edible and have a sharp spicy taste.  They are sometimes ground and used as a substitute for black pepper. Papayas are available year round with peak season in early summer and fall.   

Papaya is a good immune system booster due to its antioxidant vitamins C, A, and E.  These antioxidants along with flavanoids and carotenes help protect against cancers.  Papaya's high enzyme content aids in digestion and also with its content of papain and chymopapain and antioxidanat vitamins reduce inflammation.  Due to high water content and high amounts of soluble fiber papaya promotes normal bowel movement and helps lower cholesterol.  

Choose papayas that have a reddish-orange skin and are slightly soft to the touch.    Avoid those that are totally green or overly hard unless you plan on cooking them.    Papayas that are partially yellow should be left at room temperature, where they will ripen in a few days.   If you want to speed up the ripening, you can place the papaya in a paper bag with a banana.   A ripe papaya can be stored in the refrigerator for one or two days.  

To prepare papaya rinse off the papaya with cold water.  Cut lengthwise.  Scoop out the seeds with a spoon.   You can scoop out the papaya flesh, or turn over the papaya and slice off the skin with a knife. It can then be sliced into wedges or cut to smaller pieces.  

Here are some quick serving ideas: 
1. Sprinkle  a small papaya with fresh lime juice  and enjoy as is.
2. Slice a small papay lengthwise, remove seeds and fill with fruit salad.
3. In a blender combine papaya, strawberriesand yogurt for a cold soup.
4. Mix diced papaya, cilantro, jalapeno pepper, and ginger for a salsa.  It goes great with shrimp, scallops, of hallibut. 

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

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Rapini (Broccoli rabe)


Rapini:

Rapini, also called "Broccoli Rabe" pronounced "broccoli rob", is a green cruciferous vegetable and member of the turnip family. Contrary to its name, it is not a member of  the broccoli family.  The leaves, buds, and stems are all edible.  The buds resemble broccoli, but do not form into a head.  Rapini is known for its slightly bitter taste and is associated with Italian, Galician, and Portugese cuisines.  Rapini's flavor is described as nutty, bitter, and pungent.  

Rapini is grown throughout the world, and is available all year long, but its peak season in the Northern Hemisphere is fall to spring.  Rapini is always sold fresh.  I have never seen it canned or frozen.  Rapini is known by many names throughout the world. The stangest name though is "taitcat".  I've never heard that name before and do not know anything about its origin. 

Growing up I had heard of "Broccoli rabe".  I never heard the name "Rapini" until later in the supermarket.  Broccoli rabe was not something was my mother cooked.  I guess my parents weren't fond of its bitterness.  When thinking about Broccoli rabe, I always think of my cousin, Bobby.  Actually, he was a butcher by trade,  but after many years with a butcher shop he expanded into produce as well.   He would prepare Broccoli rabe.  It was great. 

Broccoli rabe is nutrient dense and has many health benefits.  Here are some of the claims made for Broccoli rabe:  It slows aging, strengthens bones, decreases risk of hypertension, lessens inflammation, prevents cancer, Alzheimers, strokes, and birth defects. Rapini has cancer preventing properties due to bioactive compounds called sulforaphanes.  These phytonutrients may protect agains cancers of the stomach, lung, esophagus, colon, and breast.  It also contains lutein, a phytonutrient that protects the retina of the eye from oxidative damage and may slow the progression of macular degeneration and cataracts.

Choose rapini with large dark green leaves that are crisp, upright, and not wilted.  Avoid ones with leaves that are wilted  yellowing, or have dark green patches of slime.  Refrigerate rapini  unwashed, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag for up to 3 days. 

The tough stem bottoms of rapini are easily removed before cooking.  Blanching for one minute will reduce bitterness.  Rapini can be steamed, saute'ed, stir fried, or braised.  It combines well with pasta and rice.  To prepare remove the tough bottoms of the stem, about a half inch, and rinse.  Cut crosswise into two inch pieces.  Drop into salted boiling water for one to two minutes.  Remove from water with a slotted spoon.  Saute the blanched rapini in olive oil and garlic for 3 to 5 minutes until tender.   It can be mixed with any number of things ( onions, tomatoes, sausage, etc)  and used as a side dish or as a topping for pasta.

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