Papaya may be my favourite common tropical fruit. By common, I mean the arbitrarily-defined set including mango (tried and true but tired), pineapple (I’m allergic), and guava (delicious but ever-elusive of late). Papaya is relatively common around these parts (that is, Vallarta), very flavourful when consumed fresh, and they’re also huge so a single fruit goes a long way! Even for a papaya fiend like me it’ll still last two days or so (conservative estimate).
The flesh is the colour of the sunsets down here: pink and orange and dark and bright. It is meaty, juicy, and slighty musky; not too sweet, but sweet enough, with a tinge of bitterness that I love and a sturdy but yielding texture. It is such a great fruit!
This past stay in Mexico was also very full of new experiences and adventures. I finally learned to surf, went to a couple different beaches to practice, and also got my open water scuba certification. Both are such great skills and have opened up such interesting and unique worlds to me. I’m so excited to pursue them further. But before I get carried away and start talking about how surfing is like yoga and the thrill of effortless 3-dimensional maneuverability underwater and the pleasing strange distortion of sound, let me remember that this is a food blog, and that here we talk about food.
Which brings me back to papaya. Another new experience/lesson I had this time in Mexico was about papaya seeds. As I was carving up my first papaya of the trip, I started scooping out the dark brown, mucilaginous seeds from the central cavity, and thought to myself, “I wonder if these are edible too.” The logical next step was wikipedia, which confirmed, along with a few other corroborating sources just to be sure, that the seeds were not only edible, but delicious, and used as a seasoning in many cultures around the world, as an alternative to black pepper.
Black pepper? Well, yes, it turns out these little guys are actually delightfully spicy, with a juicy outer casing that pops like caviar and a smaller chewy seed within that tastes very reminiscent of arugula, and something else that I can’t quite seem to place.
You can imagine my excitement upon discovering this. Immediately all papaya seeds were thereafter reserved, and they found their way into many dishes during the past couple weeks. I first tried them mixed in with the cut-up flesh of the papaya, which was a logical experiment and a highly fruitful one. The dense sweetness of the flesh found a friendly complement in the chewy, crunchy seeds with their bitter, vegetal spiciness. One of my favourite salads of the trip used this combination of papaya flesh and seeds, adding to it adult spinach, avocado, the occasional prickly pear, and a tarragon mustard dressing I made once and became obsessed with.
They also went into scrambled eggs one day. A really interesting flavour that cut through the richness of the eggs. I liked it a lot.
I also made a lot of salsa, probably every other day – we eat a lot of salsa and guacamole down in Mexico (when in Rome, right?) and I like to experiment with different ratios, ingredients, and seasonings. One salsa I made started out pretty straight, with tomatoes, onion, cucumber, cilantro, and habañero pepper – but I couldn’t help myself and cast in a few coriander seeds and a scattering of these papaya seeds too.
Another one ended up even more non-traditional after the addition of half a beet that was kicking around in the fridge. But it added a beautiful colour to the palette, and a mild crunch that was actually a welcome contrast in a medley of softer textures.
All that chopping was great taillage practice too – since I didn’t have to rush off to work or class or anything, being on vacation and all, I could take my time and work on getting more even cuts more quickly. Most ended up as a cut somewhere between a brunoise (remember this? and this? all for this?) and a macedoine, but hey, the French don’t get to make up all the cuts, right?
So, the moral of the story is: next time you find yourself cutting into a delicious whole papaya, save those seeds! Try them, you might like them. They go well with so many different types of things. And if you don’t, you know where to find me.