Jazz up Your Menus with Exotic Fruits

Fresh fruits are a delight in any menu and an important contribution to a nutritionally balanced diet. Do you ever wish that you could add some new or unusual fruits to your diet? Fresh fruits from New Zealand, such as passion fruit, feijoa, tamarillo and Kiwano melons may be just what you need. Recipes using these fruits will jazz up your meals and expand your culinary repertoire.

New Zealand's rich volcanic soil and temperate climate are ideal for growing exotic fruits. In the past, the only way to sample them was to travel to New Zealand, but, thanks to overnight international shipping, luscious exotic fruits from all over the world are more easily accessible. Today, many grocery stores and ethnic markets provide a wide array of unusual fruits, especially in larger cities that have large ethnic populations.

The egg-shaped green Feijoa (fay-ZHWAH-uh) (also known as pineapple guava) resembles a fuzzless kiwi fruit. Native to South America, the feijoa belongs to the same family as guava, cloves and eucalyptus. Its cream-colored flesh is sweet and fragrant with a texture like that of a pear. To prepare feijoa, cut it in half and remove the flesh with a spoon. Depending on the fruit's maturity, the skin may be bitter; it is easily removed with a knife or vegetable peeler. 

Originally from the Andean region of South America, the Tamarillo (also known as the "tree tomato") looks like an elongated plum. It comes in two varieties: red (purplish-red or crimson skin with orange-colored flesh) or gold (golden-orange with yellowish flesh). Although the skin is inedible, the firm flesh has a sweet-tart flavor that makes it suitable to eat as a fruit or vegetable.

New Zealanders prepare tamarillos by cutting off the top, then simply squeezing out the flesh. You may also peel the skin with a knife. Rich in vitamins A and C, you can eat fresh tamarillos out of hand or substitute them for tomatoes in salads or salsas. Pureed, sweetened tamarillos are also delightful on ice cream, sorbet or yogurt.

You may already be familiar with Kiwano horned melons. Their unusual spiked shell has made them commonplace on some sci-fi television series. Related to melons and squash, Kiwanos (also called African horned melons) originated in Southwest Africa. Golden bright orange when ripe, Kiwanos have white seeds encased in juicy green pulp. Its shape is oblong and reaches 4 to 6 inches in length. The fruit is slightly tart with a subtle taste similar to cucumber or honeydew melon. Kiwanos have a long shelf life (around two weeks) and are best if stored at room temperature.

The outer spiky skin of Kiwanos can serve as a decorative serving bowl and the pulp makes a colorful dressing for fruit, seafood, poultry or vegetable salads. For an exotic drink, you can blend the pulp, strain it to remove the seeds, add a squeeze of citrus juice, then mix it with orange- or melon-flavored liqueur. Kiwanos are very low in calories and sodium. They are also a good source of vitamin C and iron and provide twice as much potassium as bananas.

Passion fruit is probably the best known of the exotic fruits and is especially popular on restaurant dessert menus. It's a round, small fruit that is approximately the size of a large egg and has a purple-brown wrinkled skin. The edible seeds and jelly-like, yellowish-green flesh have a rich, unforgettable fragrance and tart flavor that infuses beverages, salads, sorbets and chutneys with a tropical flair. Passion fruit is actually ripe when the skin is wrinkled and looks old. To prepare it, simply cut in half and scoop out the flesh with a spoon.

To make passion fruit juice, simply blend the pulp and seeds, strain the mixture through a fine strainer, discard the seeds and chill. Add this juice to orange juice, punch, tropical smoothies, sauces, pastry fillings, cake frosting, baked goods, fruit salads, sorbets or ice creams. Passion fruit is very low in calories, and it contains vitamins A and C and potassium.

The next time you're shopping in your local market, take a look at these exotic fruits first hand. You'll discover the fun of trying a new food and be able to take your family on a New Zealand culinary adventure without ever leaving home.

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