Feb 17, 2012

Papaya, "The Tree of Life"

Hawaiian Sunrise/Strawberry Papaya
Papaya, native to Central America, have been long revered by the Latin American Indians. Spanish and Portuguese explorers brought papaya to many other subtropical lands including India, the Philippines, and parts of Africa. In the 20th century, papaya were brought to the United States and have been cultivated in Hawaii, the major U.S. producer since the 1920s. Today, the largest commercial producers of papaya include the United States, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

I am very familiar with papaya here on Moloka'i, because of Moloka'i's Kumu Farms. They grow organic SunRise papaya and ship 14 thousand pounds of papaya every week to other islands and the Mainland. The Hawaii papaya industry offers a wide variety of papaya to its consumers. Some of the varieties are: Kapoho Solo, Rainbow, Sunrise/Strawberry, and Kamiya/Laie Gold, however 75 percent of papayas grown in Hawai'i are the genetically modified Rainbow variety, designed by the University of Hawai'i to be resistant to ring spot virus. This variety is exported to Canada and to a lesser extent Mainland China and Hong Kong. On December 1, 2011, the Japanese government agreed to import Rainbow papayas, which is significant because it is the first horticultural biotech product and the first direct-to consumer food product to gain regulatory approval in Japan.

Deliciously sweet with musky undertones and a soft, butter-like consistency. Once considered quite exotic, they can now be found in markets throughout the year. Papaya come in various shapes and sizes: the Hawaiian variety are smaller and are pear-shaped, while Carribean and Asian papaya are long and large, both are delicious. Most common commercial varieties, such as the Hawaiian SunRise (my favorite), are on the small side. Papaya with reddish flesh have a taste that differs from that of the orange-fleshed types, which are sweeter. When shopping for a ripe papaya, look for skin that is turning from green to yellow. Parts of the papaya may look bruised - this is normal. You should be able to press your thumb into the flesh. If it's too soft or mushy, or if it has a sweet smell to it, the papaya is overripe. If you buy a firmer, green-skined papaya, it will ripen within approximately 1 to 3 days on your counter.

Papaya offer not only the luscious taste and sunlit color of the tropics, but it is one of natures wonders. In the ancient Mayan civilization, the people honored the papaya tree as their sacred "Tree of Life." Papaya can improve digestion and prevents heart disease, arthritis, lung disease, and eye disorders. And with it's antioxidants, flavoniods, plus loads of vitamins and minerals, papaya will help you fight off cold and flu viruses and help keep you healthy through the winter. Papaya is high in: vitamins C, A, K, E, plus magnesium, folate, beta carotene, and lutein, and more.

Papaya can be eaten many different ways as you can see in the recipes below. They can be added to a fruit salad or to a host of different recipes. One of the easiest ways to eat papaya is to eat it just like a melon. After washing the fruit, cut it lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and then eat it with a spoon. To cut papaya into smaller pieces for fruit salad or recipes, first peel it with a paring knife and then cut into desire size and shape. You can also use a melon baller to scoop out the fruit of a halved papaya. Note: If you are adding it to a fruit salad, you should do so just before serving as it tends to cause the other fruits to become very soft. While most people discard the big black seeds, they are actually edible and have a delightful peppery bite that is more subtle than black peppercorns. Like papaya, the seeds contain an enzyme that tenderizes meat, so meats marinated in papaya seeds or cooked with them will be very tender. They can be roasted and ground or blended into a creamy salad dressing, giving it a peppery flavor.

Papaya on the half shell
1 ripe papaya (seeded and halved, slice a thin piece off the back of each papaya half so it sits flat.)
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 cup low fat natural yogurt
powdered sugar for garnish

Combine the lime juice and honey. Pour in the yogurt and stir in slowly until it has a thick and creamy consistency. Now, place your papaya halves on a plate and pour the liquid in. Serve with a dusting of powdered sugar. Makes 2 servings.

Papaya-Tomato Salsa
2 cups diced fresh papaya
1/3 cup red onion, diced
4 plum tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
zest of one lime
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon fresh jalapeno chile pepper, minced

Gently combine all ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with grilled chicken or fish, like tuna or mahi mahi. Makes 4 servings.

Papaya Seed Salad Dressing
You can buy papaya seed salad dressing in a bottle from your grocery store, but homemade is better.

1 papaya, halved, reserving 1 tablespoon of the seeds
1/4 cup fresh papaya
1/4 cup maui or red onion, minced
1/4 cup cilantro
1 clove garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled
2 tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
pinch of chili pepper flakes
1/4 cup olive oil

Add papaya seeds, papaya flesh, and onion to a food processor or blender, and pulse a few times to chop (the papaya seeds should be the consistency of ground pepper after blending). Add the rest of the ingredients, except the olive oil, and pulse 3 or 4 times. Gradually add the olive oil in a thin stream, while the processor is running, to thicken the dressing. Taste and adjust the taste to your liking. Makes about 1 cup of dressing.

Note: This dressing makes a great marinade for grilled chicken or pork, use the papaya fruit in a salsa to serve with the chicken. Store dressing in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Hawaiian Papaya Smoothie
1 cup chopped fresh pineapple
1/2 cup papaya peeled and chopped
1/4 cup guava nectar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon grenadine
1/2 cup ice

Place ingredients in the order listed in a blender. Pulse three times to chop the fruit, then blend until smooth. Serve immediately. Makes 2 servings.

Baked Stuffed Papaya
1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (16 ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 (12 ounce) papayas
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Cook and stir beef, onion and garlic in 10-inch skillet over medium heat until beef is light brown; drain. Stir in tomatoes, jalapeno pepper, salt and pepper; break up tomatoes with fork. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer uncovered or without a lid until most of the liquid is evaporated, about 10 minutes. Cut papayas lengthwise into halves; remove seeds. Slice a thin piece off the back of each papaya half so it sits flat. Place about 1/3 cup of the beef mixture in each papaya half; sprinkle each with cheese. Arrange in shallow roasting pan. Pour very hot water into pan to within 1 in. of tops of papaya halves. Bake uncovered or without a lid at 350˚F until papayas are very tender and hot, about 1/2 an hour. Makes 8 servings.

Moloka'i Sunrise/Strawberry Papaya 
Poached in Cinnamon-Lime Syrup
2 cups water
2/3 cup sugar
3 1-pound papayas, halved, seeded, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
6 lime peel strips
1 cinnamon stick
plain yogurt
lime zest for garnish

Bring 2 cups water and sugar to boil in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil until syrup thickens slightly, about 6 minutes. Add papaya wedges, fresh lime juice, lime peel strips and cinnamon stick. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until papayas are just tender, about 4 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer papaya to bowl. Boil syrup until reduced to 1 cup, about 6 minutes. Pour syrup over papayas and chill at least 2 hours and up to 1 day. Spoon papayas and syrup into 6 dessert dishes. Drizzle with plain yogurt and garnish with lime zest. Makes 6 servings.

Papaya Pudding
2 cups firm papaya, peeled, seeded and mashed
2/3 cup fresh coconut, grated
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3-4 tablespoons sugar, depending on the sweetness of the papaya
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup heavy cream

Combine papaya, coconut, lemon juice, sugar, eggs and cream in a mixing bowl. Whisk briskly to blend well. Add salt to taste. Spoon mixture into greased 1-quart-casserole. Bake in preheated 350˚F oven for about 45 minutes or until pudding is set. Serve hot with veal, pork or chicken as a side dish. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Papaya Chutney
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
3 tablespoons (2 limes) fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
5 cups papaya, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
2/3 cups golden raisins

Heat oil in a large heavy saucepan. Add onion and saute for 2 minutes. Add garlic and saute one additional minute, stirring often. Add cider vinegar, brown sugar, lime juice, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, salt, and dry mustard. Stir until well-combined. Add papaya and raisins. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Chill for 2 hours before serving. Refrigerate any leftovers in a covered glass container. Makes about 1-1/2 quarts.

Papaya Pie
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
2 cups (about 1 medium papaya) fresh papaya cut into 1-inch cubes
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg, beaten
1 9-inch graham cracker pie crust

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Whisk together brown sugar and white sugar. Add papayas and toss to coat. Let rest for 10 minutes. Place papayas with its juices in a heavy saucepan. Simmer 10 minutes. Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and salt. Continue to cook about another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until fruit is softened, but not falling apart. Remove papaya mixture from the heat and let cool until lukewarm. Stir in beaten egg with a large fork until well-combined, taking care to leave the fruit in chunks. Pour papaya filling into graham cracker pie crust. Bake for about 45 minutes. Let papaya pie cool before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings (1 pie)

Candied Papaya
This is a classic Portuguese dessert from the Cape Verde Islands called "Dulce de Papaya". It is important not to use ripe papaya in this recipe, or it will disintegrate in the cooking process.

2 pounds almost ripe papaya
1 pound white sugar
4 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
4 cups water
1 lemon, grated zest

Peel the almost ripe papaya, remove the seeds and cut the flesh either into strips or into 1" cubes.

Combine the water and sugar in a large pot. Heat until the sugar has dissolved then add the papaya pieces along with the cinnamon stick, cloves and lemon zest. Bring to a heavy simmer and cook over medium-low heat without stirring until the sugar becomes a thick syrup (about 20 minutes).

At this point take the pan off the heat and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

Put the papaya and syrup mixture into a jar and store in the refrigerator. It is typically served as a dessert with cottage cheese, cream cheese or thick yogurt, or as a sweet filling in fried empanadas (wonton wrappers stuffed with candied papaya then sealed with a little water and fried, then dusted while still hot, with cinnamon sugar). Delicious!

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