Saturday, April 25, 2009

Exotic, Delicious, & Good For You, Too!

Tropical cuisines -- Caribbean, Southeast Asian, Indian, etc. -- often feature exotic fruits and vegetables that add intriguingly delicious flavors, from citrusy to tart & tangy, and pleasantly piquant to fiery hot. I did some research and discovered that many of these fruits and vegetables also deliver important nutrients. Below is a list of some of my favorite tropical fruits and veggies, along with some info on their nutrients, and a few zesty sauces and condiments that feature these tropical treats.

*Tomatillo: They look like little green tomatoes wrapped in what looks like a dried, crinkly brown leaf. Their flavor is tart and vegetal, perfectly complementing chile peppers, onions and garlic. Tomatillos are often used in Mexican and Southwestern cuisine, and are the key ingredient in Salsa Verde ("green salsa"). I absolutely love salsa verde, and one of my favorites is Pepper Dog Salsa Verde, an all-natural medium-heat smooth (not chunky) salsa that's wonderful with enchiladas, nachos, tacos and even on burgers or simply as a chip dip. Tomatillos deliver niacin, potassium, Vitamin C, and fiber.

*Mango: Ripe mango is my all-time favorite fruit, juicy, fleshy, fragrant, and with an intensely rich, sweet flavor reminiscent of peach and banana and pineapple but without the acid edge of citrus. Mangoes are packed with Vitamin A, beta carotene and Vitamin C. In the summertime I love making a fiery chunky salsa with ripe mango, red or orange habaneros, sweet onions and fresh chopped cilantro. I serve that salsa with grilled fish or chicken, or with chips. Because mango pairs so well with habaneros, there are lots of hot sauces out there that feature mango as an ingredient. I loved the old Ruth's Mango Sauces, which are no longer being made, but thankfully the Pickapeppa Mango Hot Sauces deliver the same great flavor I had grown to love.

*Nopal: Nopal is a fleshy leaf of the prickly pear cactus, and is used in some Mexican dishes. In fact, there are a couple of taquerias here in Durham that make mouthwatering tacos and enchiladas featuring nopales. The flavor is subtly tangy and works well with chile peppers and cilantro. Nopal has potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron and dietary fiber, and also a few vitamins like A, C and B6. Marie Sharp's Green Habanero Hot Sauce features nopal as a main ingredient, blending it with green habaneros and savory ingredients for a fiery, tangy hot sauce that's especially good with poultry, seafood and cheese dishes.

*Tamarind: Used in Indian as well as Caribbean cuisine, the tamarind is tart-sour and tangy, and is often blended with sweet fruit or sugar (or both) to tame it a bit. Worcestershire sauce and steak sauces usually include tamarind as an ingredient. Rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, tamarind also has some of the B vitamins. Susie's Tamarind Tango is one of my favorite sauces for meat dishes like steak and burgers, with the perfect blend of tangy-sweet-spiciness that complements beef, venison and other meats without overpowering.

Zestfully yours,

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