North Fork Chef: Winter’s a good time to go tropical

Juicily enticing and glowing golden
Once opened in the tropical sun.
Promising the deepest satisfactions
Available in this life.
But the sweetness is simply too much.

So might the apple have appeared to Eve.
She ate from it anyway and I did not.
Sadly, though, that decision has not
Shielded me from awareness.

Perhaps I should have tasted it after all.
At least then, knowledge may have left
A somewhat better taste in my mouth.

If only I had known then
The things I think I know now

Hindsight is always so clear.
“Mango in Paradise: a Poem”
David A. Reinstein

In January on the North Fork, not many things are in season. It is a time to enjoy some of the tropical fruits that have become commonplace in our supermarkets. The mango, the papaya, the pomegranate and the persimmon are all available, along with the more common pineapples, kiwi fruit and bananas. Salsas, stuffings, sauces and salads are good places to start with these healthy fruits.

Mango: Indigenous to the Indian subcontinent, it is now cultivated in most tropical regions. India is the largest producer. When ripe, the mango turns red and contains a sweet yellow flesh. It is commonly used to make salsa, but is delicious by itself. To prepare the mango, peel off the skin with a knife and cut the flesh away from the large pit.

Papaya: Native to the tropics of the Americas, the papaya was first cultivated in ancient Mexico. The large oblong fruit is green but turns amber to orange when ripe. Slice the papaya in half and scoop out the black seeds. Peel the skin and slice the sweet, yellow flesh into bite-sized pieces. It can be eaten by itself or used in salsas and sauces.

Persimmon: The nonastringent “fuyu persimmon” is most common for eating raw. It is of Japanese origin but grows in many warm areas. The fruit has an orange skin and is squat like a tomato. When the stem and leaves are removed and the skin peeled off, the soft yellow flesh is sweet and slightly tannic. It makes a good chutney to serve with grilled fish and poultry.

Pomegranate: Widely cultivated in the Middle East, the pomegranate is native to Iran. Its juice is sold in bottles and its seeds are removed from the fresh fruit for use on salads and to garnish entrees. It has many health benefits. To remove the arils (seed casings), cut off the top of the pomegranate and score the outside skin along the membrane lines. Break the fruit apart over a bowl of water and scrape the seeds away from the pulp with a fork. The pulp will rise to the surface. Strain out the seeds and they are ready to use. Grenadine is sweetened, thickened pomegranate juice and pomegranate molasses is used in cooking.

Roast Pork Loin
with Mango and Papaya

Purchase a 3- to 4-pound, boneless, center-cut pork loin and slice it almost in half lengthwise. Open it up like a book and place it in a shallow pan. Sprinkle 1 cup chopped onion over the meat. Prepare a marinade by placing 2 cups dry sherry in a saucepan along with 10 peppercorns and 10 whole cloves. Bring this to a boil and remove from the heat. When it cools, pour the marinade over the pork and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

While the meat is marinating, add 2 more cups dry sherry to a saucepan along with 1 cinnamon stick and the zest and juice of 1 lemon. Bring to a boil and turn down the heat to simmer. Add 1/2 cup dried prunes and 1/2 cup dried cranberries. Simmer for 5 minutes and remove from the heat. Peel and dice 1 mango and half of a papaya. Stir this fruit into the prune mixture along with 1 tablespoon brown sugar.

When the pork is finished marinating, remove the meat and place it, opened like a book, on a board. Using a slotted spoon, remove about half of the fruit mixture and place it on the meat. Fold up the meat and tie it securely with butcher’s twine. Put the meat in a small roasting pan and place it in a 425-degree oven for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 250 degrees and continue roasting until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 155 degrees, about 1 1/2 hours.

While the meat is cooking, heat the remaining fruit and juice in a saucepan. Dissolve 1 tablespoon cornstarch in cold water and add it to the pan to thicken. When the roast is cooked, remove it from the oven and place it on a carving board. Pour off any excess fat and deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup chicken broth, scraping up any brown bits in the bottom. Pour this liquid into the fruit sauce and taste for seasoning. Slice the roast and serve the sauce on the side.

Baby Back Ribs with
Pomegranate Barbecue Sauce

Purchase 2 whole baby back pork spareribs and cut them in half. Make a marinade/sauce by heating a large saucepan and adding 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 cup chopped onion. Cook until the onion is soft and add 1 cup cider vinegar, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon dry mustard, 3/4 cup ketchup, 1 cup canned crushed pineapple, 1/2 cup pomegranate juice, the juice and zest of 1 lime, 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce. Simmer this mixture for 30 minutes, cool and pour over the ribs in a shallow pan. Refrigerate overnight.

Place the ribs on a sheet pan and brush them with marinade. Put them in a 250-degree oven and cook for 3 hours, basting every 45 minutes. Heat the remaining marinade and serve with the ribs.

Persimmon Chutney

In a saucepan combine 1 cup cider vinegar, 1 cup chopped red onion, 1 cup raisins, 1 chopped apple (peeled and cored), 1 chopped pear (peeled and cored), 1/2 cup sugar, the juice and zest of 1 lemon, 1/2 jalapeno pepper (minced), 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger, a pinch of ground cloves, and 1 teaspoon ground coriander. Bring this mixture to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Peel and chop 3 persimmons and add them to the pan. Simmer another 5 minutes and remove. Refrigerate the chutney and serve with grilled chicken breasts.

Mango, Grapefruit, Avocado
and Pomegranate Salad

Make a dressing by combining 1/4 cup pomegranate juice with 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon grated ginger and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint. Whisk in 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil and season with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Prepare the fruit by peeling 2 mangoes, cutting the flesh off the pits and slicing it into uniform pieces. Peel and cut the flesh off of 2 ripe avocados and slice into uniform pieces. Peel and separate the sections of 2 pink grapefruits, cutting off the membranes and removing the seeds. Cut the top off of 1 pomegranate and hold the fruit over a bowl of water. Score the side with a knife along the line of the membranes. Break it apart and scrape the seeds into the water. Remove the pulp and strain out the seeds. Place a 5-ounce package of baby greens in a bowl and toss with the dressing. Divide among 6 plates and arrange the fruit on the plate. Sprinkle the pomegranate seeds on the salad for garnish.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. E-mail: [email protected].