Fruit of the Month: Papaya
Forget the scrawny, overpriced papaya imported in the States (usually from Hawaii); Costa Rica's tropical soil yields some of the largest, most sumptuous papaya this side of the Rio Grande. Native to southern Mexico and Central America, this exotic fruit not only tastes delicious, its health benefits are numerous and surprising to many.
In Costa Rica, papaya are available year-round, and the spherical or pear-shaped fruit can be picked up for about 50 cents a pound! A typical papaya at my local farmers' market tips the scales at two to four pounds, and lasts for several days. For those who've never sampled this luscious treat, the fruit is typically eaten when ripe - though many cultures prefer green papaya - and used in anything from summer salads to creamy smoothies. Simply peel off the skin and you're left with a vibrant orange fruit with a buttery, avocado-like consistency.
The fruit contains clusters of black, round seeds that are edible, although their peppery flavor is quite bitter. Squeeze a little lime juice on the papaya and you have an explosion of sweet, rich flavor unlike any melon or cold-weather fruit. Papaya is a rich source of vitamins C and E as well as beta-carotene: three very powerful antioxidants. Papaya also improves food digestion and its natural enzymes have a gentle laxative effect. Consider the healing properties of this tropical fruit:
- high in fiber, which lowers cholesterol levels
- packed with antioxidants that help prevent all kinds of cancers
- very useful in the prevention of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease
- full of the enzyme papain that breaks down proteins in food, promoting better digestion
I discovered one of my favorite papaya dishes in Thailand of all places. It's a spicy salad made from green papaya known as Som Tam. With Costa Rica's abundance of the fruit (we have two papaya trees in our yard), we make Som Tam at least once every two weeks. In Thailand, green papaya salad is usually made using a mortar and pestle.
Thai Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam) Recipe:
1-1-2 cloves of garlic
2 Thai chilies – or as many as you prefer
¼ cup roasted peanuts
½ cup chopped tomatoes
½ cup sliced green beans
2 tablespoons lime or tamarind juice
2 tablespoons palm sugar
2 tablespoons of fish sauce (optional)
2 cups of shredded green papaya
1. Peel the papaya and rinse off; remove the seeds and shred the green papaya with a grater. Set the fruit aside.
2. Place the garlic cloves and chilies in a mortar and crush with a pestle into small chunks. Place the shredded papaya and the remaining ingredients in the mortar and combine all ingredients by mixing with the pestle and a spoon. Sprinkle extra crushed peanuts on top. Serve cold and enjoy!