The papaya is probably one of the Two Captains favorite fruits. This is good because it not only pervades the tropics around the world, but it is in season pretty much year round. In our charter days, one our most popular hors d’oeuvres to serve with our special rum punch was “papaya guacamole” with plantain chips. Later when we were dieting hard in Central America, papaya was a staple additive to our Slim Fast Shakes, a breakfast we continue to eat regularly, although we also often eat papaya straight, cut lengthwise into a long quarter topped with a wedge of lime. (Personally, although it is traditional, I don’t need that squeeze of lime, but I do it anyway because the bright green against the orange is so aesthetically pleasing!)
The papaya tree grows to anywhere from 6-25’, the taller trees resulting from deliberate cultivation. Not particularly pretty, they have a slim, soft trunk with a topknot of long stemmed, lobed leaves under which the fruit grow in clusters. It makes me wonder how they get the fruit down, since the trunk is not strong enough to climb. In addition to being a major source of fruit, papaya is cultivated for its papain, an enzyme used in meat tenderizer!
Papayas come in all different sizes and shapes. In the US you most frequently see the small, yellow, pear-shaped fruits, perfectly shaped to stuff for a luncheon salad, much like an oversized avocado. In areas where there is a large Latin American population, however the larger fruits from 2-10 pounds with a moe reddish flesh are popular. These are the ones we’ve eaten most frequently from the Virgin Islands, to Trinidad, to Central America and Mexico. In the Caribbean, papaya are sometimes used green as part of the “provision” (or starch) added to stews, but most often the fruit is eaten ripe when the skin turns yellowish and the orange flesh is sweet.
One of the small fascinations for me over the years has been whether or not I will find seeds inside. Usually, the hollow center of the papaya is packed with hundreds of small round seeds the size of peppercorns, but sometimes I will cut open a fruit and there will be nary a seed in sight, or, odder, just three or four! I presume this is the result of genetic manipulations, aimed at making it easier for the cook! Who knows? However, as you will see below, there are recipes that make use of the seeds themselves, for not only do they look a bit like peppercorns, but they add a zip somewhat pepper-like!
In French Polynesia we are seeing mostly fruits in the 1-2lb range, and they have been much more easily found at roadside stands in the Societies than in the Marquesas. I am hoping the trend will continue as we move westward. I’ve bought five or six under-ripe fruit at a time and successfully kept them slowly maturing in a cool place. Riper fruit I have done better keeping by dicing it up and storing it in an airtight Rubbermaid tub.
Papaya Guacamole (modified from Taste of the Tropics, by Jay Solomon)
1 small papaya, chopped
2 green onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 hot pepper, seeded and minced
2 tablespoon cilantro, minced
1/8 cup lime juice
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, red
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Green Papaya Curry (from Waking Dream)
1 green papaya, peeled and diced
½ cup coconut milk
2 Tb butter
1 onion diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 green chilies
2 t. ginger grated
1 t curry powder
· Sauté onion, garlic & ginger in butter
· Add everything except coconut milk and papaya. Cook for 5 minutes.
· Stir in papaya cubes and coconut milk. Cook 15 minutes.
· Serve with rice and enjoy!
Green Papaya Chutney (from Waking Dream))
1 green papaya, grated
¼ c lemon juice or vinegar
1 t salt.
1 t ginger
ground black pepper to taste
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Mix together and serve with curries or broiled fish.
Papaya Rice (from Wandering Spirit)
2 t oil
1 Tb chopped ginger
2 cloves garlic
½ tsp. cardamom
1 cup papaya nectar or juice (or mango)
1 ¼ cup Jasmine or Basmatic rice
½ tsp salt
1 ¾ cup papaya, peeled, seeded and diced
1-2 tsp papaya seeds
Chinese Papaya Salad (from my sister Cecily)
2 small, yellow papaya
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup sugar
4 cups romaine lettuce leaves (or other greens)
½ red onion, sliced
water chestnuts, sliced
pea pods, blanched