Kitchen Shrink: A jackfruit of all trades

KITCHEN SHRINK:

I'm really not much of an intrepid chef, and can even be a little pedestrian in my tastes and stubborn cooking habits. For the New Year, I'm committed to becoming more adventurous in the kitchen, and gradually moving out of my culinary comfort zone.

Coincidentally, as I was strolling through the produce aisle of the supermarket the other day, a fellow shopper pointed to a behemoth fruit that must've been 60 pounds (or larger), covered with a thorny jade green and brown mottled hide resembling a prehistoric watermelon on steroids that had been attacked by a porcupine. He asked me if I'd like to share the gargantuan fruit with him, and if so he'd ask the produce guy to cut it in half — with a machete, no less. I declined his gracious offer, and decided to do more research on the exotic, freaky fruit so I could do it justice in recipes of all manners, and get the best and most out of its tropical pulp.

The jackfruit or jak, the largest tree-borne fruit ion the planet, an elliptical heavyweight that can swell to 100 pounds, 3 feet in length, and 29 inches in diameter is a native of the rainforests of the western Ghats in India, cultivated over 3,000 years ago. A real globetrotter, jackfruit has migrated to the East Indies, Southeast Asia, parts of eastern and central Africa and Brazil, and has even been adopted as the national fruit of Bangladesh.

A breadfruit relative, jak can be eaten raw or roasted, ripe or unripe, and found fresh, frozen or canned. When buying a fresh jak be warned though that when it's ripe it emits a funky aroma much like rotting onions. But the plump bulbs of yellow flesh encapsulating dozens of large oval, cream-colored seeds are super sweet reminiscent of a cross between a banana, pineapple and mango. The ripe fruit is best eaten raw, or incorporated into sweet indulgences, while the unripened fruit (including the inner core) is best roasted, grilled, boiled, braised or barbecued, and enjoyed as a vegetable or meat substitute resembling pulled pork or chicken in its stringy texture and chew.

Its delicate and fairly neutral flavor profile give the fruit a tremendous versatility adapting to a variety of seasonings from smoky, spicy and savory to sweet and sour. For invigorating breakfasts whip up a jackfruit smoothie, muffins, quick breads, scones, or syrup for pancakes, French toast, Greek yoghurt or oatmeal. For light lunches try a roasted jackfruit taco (recipe below) with mango salsa, "pulled pork" slider, cutlet, sandwich or wrap, "crab" cake, or spicy "chicken" curry. For substantial dinners enjoy a jackfruit risotto or lasagna, braised stew, chili, or vegan "Bolognese" sauce over pappardelle noodles. For sweet endings a jackfruit shaved ice, mousse, crème brulee or tropical fruit salad go down smoothly.

This low-glycemic, low cal treat (under 100 calories for 4 ounces of pulp) is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant powerhouse scavenging dangerous free radicals to prevent cancers and other diseases, put the skids on aging and repair damaged cells. There's more. Jackfruit has a mother lode of phytonutrients, including immune boosting Vitamin C to knock colds and flu's under the bus, Vitamin A and luteins for youthful skin, healthy hair and vision, B-complex vitamins for nerve function, dietary fiber to keep the constitution humming, along with a slew of minerals from fluid-balancing potassium to blood- and bone-enhancing iron and calcium. At last, jackfruit has a rich store of lignans and saponins to bolster heart health, and ward off estrogen-related cancers.

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Recipe: Sassy Jackfruit Tacos

Ingredients: 2 cans of jackfruit (drained, chopped) or 4 cups of fresh, thinly sliced jackfruit (including core); 1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced; 3 garlic cloves, minced; 1 1/2 tablespoons of coconut oil; 1 tablespoon of orange blossom honey; 1/2 cup of vegetable stock or broth; 1 teaspoon each of cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika (adjust to taste); 1/2 teaspoon of oregano; juice from one lime; salt and cayenne pepper to taste; 8 soft corn tortillas

For Toppings: 1/2 cup of cilantro mayo; fresh chopped cilantro; shredded cabbage; sliced avocado; lime wedges

Method: In a large skillet, heat oil on medium and sauté onion and garlic until soft. Add jackfruit and remaining ingredients. Simmer for several minutes until mixture is soft and moist. Mash to desired texture. Warm tortillas and spoon a generous portion of jackfruit mixture on each. Top with garnishes of choice.

Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: kitchenshrink@san.rr.com and see more recipes at freerangeclub.com

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