Sunday, October 14, 2007

Today I Was Seduced by a Guava

Yes, it’s true. Well, actually, I understate it. A pile of gorgeous green guavas, none much bigger than a kiwi, conspired to woo me from my pre-guayabas ignorance. It was the heady musky fragrance of the tropics that took me down this morning at Foodland when I wandered over to the display where my friends Angela and her mom, Bertha, were bagging some fruit. I remember that when the powerful scent hit me, my mouth dropped and my eyes widened trying to figure out what I had walked into. I think I even laughed in delight. Bertha pointed to the fruit and told me they were guavas, something I'd obviously heard of and probably even drank as juice, but had never actually seen.

They were irresistible, though, and I immediately bagged half a dozen, not even caring about whether I’d like the taste. I simply had to have them. So, that sweet aroma—part jasmine, part passion fruit and a huge dollop of pineapple—trailed me home and has now taken over my kitchen. In short, guavas are to fruit what gardenias are to flowers. Intoxicating. Sure, one bite of that creamy white, pear-like sweetness sealed it for me, but, to be honest, their flavor was almost irrelevant. I got, well, olfactorily sucker punched.

I honestly don’t know how I’ve gone all these years living in Southern California without ever having been exposed to the guava before. They grow in San Diego, but I haven’t seen them in any gardens I’ve been in—at least I wasn’t aware of them.

So, I’m a late bloomer, pardon the pun. But, oh, does it really matter when you discover something wondrous once it finally happens?

Guavas, I learned today following a little bit of research, are in the myrtle family, and are native to Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and northern South America. While the guavas I bought have white flesh under their thin green skin, other varieties range from pink to red on the outside and have orange-salmon flesh. All have lots of small, hard edible seeds. And, the best news is that they’re rich in vitamins A, B and C. In fact, they have more vitamin C than a typical citrus fruit, mostly found in the rind. And, guavas are rich in calcium. So, eat them whole—enjoy the flavor and improve your health. They’d also be great cut up in a fruit salad and I can imagine them poached like a pear, but are often used to make preserves and juices.

Okay, I’ve calmed down now. I didn’t just freefall for guavas at Foodland today. I actually returned there to check out more of their prepared foods. I wanted to try their nopales salad again, see how their ceviche compared with Northgate’s quality and selection and try more salsas. Of course, I had to pick up their freshly made chips and tortillas. And, couldn’t possibly walk out without their sweet bisquetes.

The result was that I effortlessly had the makings of a feast of a lunch for my friend Angela and me. All I needed to do was reheat a stack of gorditas—thick corn tortillas. I took out a couple of the $1.50 trays I bought at Daiso and placed on them containers of guacamole with jalapeños, salsa fresca, roasted tomato salsa, fish ceviche, ensalada de nopales and a small wedge of panela cheese.

No surprise that the chips—again light and crisp—and the warm gorditas didn’t disappoint. The guacamole was rich but had a residual kick that needed to be toned down with the panela. I discovered that while I liked the flavor of the roasted tomato salsa, the consistency—like a thick tomato sauce—just wasn’t what I wanted in a salsa. I prefer the chopped freshness of the salsa fresca. As for the fish ceviche, that little container didn’t stand a chance. I couldn’t identify what kind of fish was used, but its sweetness melded nicely with the tomatoes and onions, and the lime juice gave it just enough of a punch. Angela and I ate about half at lunch and I polished off the rest for dinner. Now, was it as good as Northgate? Not quite. I simply prefer Northgate, which has a wider variety of ceviches (loved the octopus) and I like their recipe better. The flavors are just that much perkier. On the other hand, Foodland has a much, much better nopales salad. The primary reason is the salty queso fresco they add that slips in another layer of flavor and texture.

On a whim, I also picked up a small container filled with chocolate flan—well, actually a layer of chocolate cake beneath a layer of flan.

That went down nicely. The sweet smooth flan was nicely complemented by the rich, chewy chocolate. Neither was too sugary and the textures came together nicely. Definitely something to return for.

Have some thoughts about Foodland Mercado or other Latin markets in San Diego? Have you met up with a guava yet? Do you have a favorite neighborhood market or shop that carries unique or unusual foodstuff? Let me know or add to the conversation by clicking on comments below:

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  1. Hi Caron

    What you bought are pineapple guava (Feijoa or Acca sellowiana as opposed to tropical guavas, Psidium guajava). I have a huge bowl of them sitting on my kitchen counter. They grow on lovely gray-green leaved shrubs and emerge from sweet-petaled pink flowers with bright red fringey stamens.

    When the fruits are ripe, they fall from the branches and we collect them from the ground.

    The best way to eat pineapple guava is to make two slices from tip to stern, cutting the into quarters, then biting the sweet flesh from the skin. Asher (my 16 year old) peels them and pops the egg-shaped fruits into his mouth, but I prefer to slice them and bite in - much like I like to eat juice oranges - standing over the sink!

    Enjoy! And when you finish the ones you bought at the store, you are welcome to come over and collect some of mine. I'll also share some of our zillion clusters of concord grapes that drape over our kitchen arbor! Yum!

  2. Thanks, Nan. How lucky you are to have them growing at home! I'm going to enjoy another couple of my pineapple guava at breakfast this morning.

    Nan is one of two old friends of mine who are the ultimate garden mavens -- the other being Debra Lee Baldwin. Both, as it happens, have just published books. Nan's is The California Gardener's Guide, Vol. II, published by Cool Springs Press. Debra's is Designing with Succulents, published by Timber Press. Both also write for lots of wonderful shelter magazines.


  3. Caron, re guavas: In Mexico they're called guayabas (why-ah-bahs), and Armando and I buy them mainly for the scrumptious smell, which disappears after a few days. The trick is to put half in the frig in a plastic bag and reintroduce them to room-temp air as the others stop smelling---usually second or third day. I also love eating them, but I find that the fresher they are, the better. Again, first or second day.

    Also, when in Mexico or Mexican markets in the U.S., look for slabs of ate (pronounced Ah-tay) de guayaba. It's a thick, solid, sliceable "jam" that Meixcans eat with manchego cheese---or alone as a dessert. Comes in many fruit flavors but ate de guayaba is my favorite---for the smell and the taste. Large Mexican supermarkets almost always carry ates of different flavors, pre-packaged or in huge slabs, usually near the cheeses and/or the candied fruit/candied pumpkin section.

    Paula McDonald