As exotic ingredients become more mainstream, there is a constant demand as chefs and wholesalers look for the next trend. With improvements in transportation it is now easier than ever to get hold of unusual fruit and vegetables at wholesale markets.
Continuing our tutored tasting series, several chefs had the opportunity to try a variety of exotic fruit and vegetables provided by wholesaler C&C and discuss their flavour profiles and ideas for dishes.
Damian Fowler, director of C&C Group at New Covent Garden Market, says: "Although there are more and more exotic products coming through the market all the time, they quickly become mainstream when they are picked up by chefs, so we are always looking for the next new thing, such as finger limes."
There is an emerging trend for using exotic ingredients in European menus - such as lemon grass crème brûlée, and green tea tiramisù - so chefs should not feel restricted to Asian dishes with these types of exotics. Fusion continues to be the fashion.
Although exotics can be an expensive addition to a menu due to their delicacy and transportation issues, the interest they add to dishes makes their use worthwhile.
Here, Fowler guides us through a selection of exotic fruit and vegetables.
Properties An egg-shaped fruit with yellow, orange or red skin that resembles a tomato. Red fruits are more acetous, yellow and orange fruits are sweeter.
Usage Pickles, chutneys, stews, compotes and curries. The skin must be removed before cooking.
Notes Native to South America but also cultivated in subtropical areas such as Australia and India.
Chinese long aubergine
Properties Longer and thinner than its more common counterparts. A rich dark purple with white flesh. Oriental aubergines are sweet and delicious, and can be cooked without peeling or salting.
Usage Ideal for stir-frying, but also great in stews and curries.
Notes Can be bought all year round, but they are at their best, not to mention cheapest, from July to September. Look for unblemished, firm, lustrous skin with a bright green stem.
Pitahaya (dragon fruit)
Properties Red-skinned fruit of several cactus species, usually with white-seeded flesh. It has a light, sweet taste and a striking shape and colour.
Usage Salads, both sweet and savoury, in ice-cream and smoothies.
Notes Native to the Americas, the pitahaya is also cultivated in East Asian and South-east Asian countries and is a favourite in Asian cuisine.
Properties This long, thin green vegetable is also known as ladies' fingers because of its shape. The texture varies dramatically depending on how it is cooked.
Usage Okra can be served raw, marinated in salads or cooked on its own, and goes well with tomatoes, onions, peppers and aubergine. Whole, fresh okra pods also make excellent pickles.
Notes When buying okra, look for young pods free of bruises, no more than 10cm long. Okra can be stored in the fridge for two to three days.
Properties The lotus root is indigenous to Asia, and is found underwater. The exterior of this root is covered with a reddish-brown peel, and it has a white interior that has the appearance of lace. The meat of the lotus root has a texture that is slightly crunchy and mildly sweet.
Usage Can be eaten raw as a crudité, and makes a welcome addition to cold salads.
Notes Lotus roots should have a firm texture and appear plump and juicy, and should not have much in the way of exterior blemishes or soft spots. To store, the lotus root can be wrapped in clingfilm and stored in the fridge for up to a week.
Raw green paw paw
Properties When ripe, a large yellow-skinned and -fleshed fruit with small black bead-like seeds, it is green before ripening.
Usage The unripe green fruit can be eaten cooked, usually in curries and stews or raw in salads. Green paw paw is used in South-east Asian cooking, both raw and cooked.
Notes In cultivation it grows rapidly, fruiting within three years. It is, however, sensitive to frost, limiting production to tropical lands.
What the chefs said
Mahindra Tamang, head chef, Oishii Sushi & Noodle Bar
â- Tamarillo is fresh and juicy, a bit like tomato. However, the flavour is much more fruity but also quite sharp. The chefs use it in a simple salad with fish sauce, palm sugar, red onion and mint dressing, which highlights the fruit flavour.
Atique Choudhury, director, Yum Yum Restaurant Group
â- Remember not to leave the Chinese long aubergine in oil for too long, as it is like a sponge and absorbs liquid very quickly.
Team Wantawee, head chef, Yum Yum Restaurant Group
â- We make a sweet sushi using strawberry, mascarpone and dragon fruit, including a salty seaweed as a contrast. Used this way, the creaminess of the dragon fruit comes through.
â- Top tip
The dragon fruit husk can be used as a serving dish and looks great containing a fruit salad made with the flesh of the dragon fruit, together with pineapple and banana coated in syrup.
For information on supply contact the wholesale companies listed opposite at New Covent Garden Market:
â- For more information on the market or to request a guided tour call 020 7622 6746. To request a free copy of New Covent Garden's monthly Market Report detailing what's in season, prices and other useful information visit www.newcoventgardenmarket.com
C&C Fruit Co
020 7498 3362
020 7720 6436