Guest Blog: Gregoire Michaud
I am not sure if Earth started turning the other way around, but this is how it felt every time we dug another hole to plant dragon fruit trees. One recent Saturday, which happened to be Tuen Ng festival otherwise known as dragon boat festival, we joined the efforts of Ping, Joey and their hard-working team at Zen Organic Farm, to plant dozens of dragon fruit trees destined to provide the local market with organic and non-genetically modified dragon fruits. We spent a day between sun and thunder, touring the seasonal produces at the farm and planting the trees.
I learned that a dragon fruit tree will need about three years to reach its peak fruit production level. The cactus-like trees will reach the top of the central pole around which we planted them and a flat wheel will be added on top of the pole for the branches to grow laterally and in the end to grow downward. It’s when the branches are going down that flowers are growing and that fruit can be developed. It’s apparently due to the accumulation of sap in the extremities of the branches, where sap is not being able to go back up, thus the fruit grows.
Pitaya, more commonly known in the region as dragon fruit is actually from South America, and more particularly, beautiful Mexico. Oddly enough, we just ran a superb 10-day Mexican menu at our Lounge and I would have loved to experience dragon fruits prepared in a dish. Because frankly, when people describe dragon fruit as a delicate and subtle fruit, I tend to raise an eyebrow. Beside the interesting color and kiwi-like crunchy seeds, there is not much more I can find to the attractive looking fruit. Anyway, I was told that these fruits have been in Mexican culinary traditions since forever, for example in the fruity version of pico de gallo, a sort of fruit salad made with lime juice and chili flakes or chamoy – so be it, I was set to test it out.
I peeled a white flesh pitaya and marinated it with four spices: coriander seeds, cardamom, tonka bean and star anise. I boiled the spices in water with a little touch of sugar for about 10 minutes. The infusion was beautiful and set to give a superb fragrance to the rather dull fruit. I actually pressed the fruits sous-vide in order to have a better exchange of liquids, but marinating them in liquid directly works fine as there is no flavour that can be lost from the fruit. What I wanted to achieve was to simply give other dimensions to the fruit, one dimension for the flavour with the spices and another dimension with the texture of the pressed flesh.
I left the pitaya in the fridge for a good three hours and the result was a great surprise. The spices and the pressure transformed the insipid white fruit into a translucent seed-studded flesh with beautiful fragrances of spice. The tiny crunchy seeds didn’t bother me at all, adding a little texture and contrast to the fruit. I tried a piece of the prepared fruit and thought about adapting it as my own version of pico de gallo. I grilled a few heirloom tomatoes, added some large chunks of Alaskan crab and added the thinly sliced pitaya, drizzled the whole dish with olive oil, chili flakes, lemon juice and sea salt and there we were, seating with a plate full of flavour, textures and freshness for the summer.
Planting the actual trees and conducting different cooking experiences changed my dragon fruit status from being a dragon-fruit-skeptical to a dragon-fruit-enthusiast. There is red, yellow and even sour dragon fruits, which I am sure are other great playground for motivated amateurs!