In January the focus is always on resolutions. Well, how about resolving to break out of tried and true and experiment with novel eats--like unusual fruit?
When I asked Nathan Bochler of Specialty Produce what I could experiment on, he came back at me with three fruits I had little to no experience with: Carambola--often called star-fruit--Dulcia Citron, and Chinnoto. All three of these are grown organically in Vista by 3 Nuts Farm.
Let's start with the star-fruit. It's new to us in the States, but long cherished in Asia. In fact, you may have seen them at local Asian markets imported from China. The fruit is a visual showstopper. Oblong with five distinct ribs, they range from light green to a deep yellow. The star component comes when you slice them horizontally, making them a perfect visual for all sorts of dishes--from your basic fruit salad to a shrimp saute.
I love the delicate flavor and texture of star-fruit. Biting into a raw slice is not unlike biting into a kiwi or even an Asian pear. It's got a gentle crispiness to it. The flavor is floral and grape-like. Some, usually the green ones, are on the tarter side. The more yellow ones can be sweet.
Eat them out of hand as a snack or add to a salad, but they work well in a smoothie, and can be jammed or made into chutney. Add to a stir fry. Garnish a cocktail. Puree and turn into a sorbet. Or slice thin and dry out into star-fruit chips.
Next up, Dulcia citron.
Citron is sort of the weird cousin of citrus. With citrus, the focus tends to be on the juicy pulp. Citron often has no pulp--think Buddha's Hand. With citron, you're making use of the skin, even if there is juice.
Dulcia citron is an aromatic squat oval, about the size of a smallish grapefruit. It's got a rough orange-yellow skin, white pith and a disconcertingly seedy pulp with some rather acidic juice.
I zested one of mine and infused it in white wine vinegar. Champagne vinegar would be just as good. Zest it more finely with a microplane and add to a vinagrette.
You can candy the zest, add it to a simple syrup, add zest to butter to saute seafood or make a compound butter, or just use it in any way you'd use lemon zest.
Finally, we have Chinnoto.
This little orange grows in clusters, hence the dark "thumbprint" you find on them once they've been separated. They're small, like a mandarin orange, but the juice is quite sour. Popular in Italy, you most often find them juiced for a simple syrup added to soda for a refreshing drink. In fact, there is actually a bottled carbonated Chinnoto beverage sold in Italy, often attributed in origin to San Pellegrino.
So, what to do with this at home? Use it to make a simple syrup, of course, that can be included in drinks and cocktails, as well as curd. Use the juice to create a sauce for poultry or seafood or vegetables.
You can find all of these--if you hurry--at Specialty Produce. They aren't grown in volume so they go quickly.