There's monsters out there. And I'm not talking Halloween
Monsters. These monsters are delicious!
One of the most exotic fruits I've ever encountered
is local to South Florida. Monstera Deliciosa
is the full name, but Monstera will do. It is in season
right now. I've seen them at some of the best markets
in Miami and I have them in use at the restaurant.
You owe it to yourself to experience Monsteras.
It resembles a banana or large cucumber in shape,
but with hexagonal platelets or scales that fall off
as the fruit ripens, which it does in stages. Once
you bring them home just set them out at room temperature
on a plate. A few days may pass and then a day or
so later about 1/3 of the fruit will buckle those
platelets off and reveal pale white yellow kernel
shaped fruit (very much like corn in shapes and construction).
Carefully remove the green platelets and discard them.
(They taste awful!) The fruit will have black specks,
which almost look like vanilla seeds. They are part
of the flavor so leave them on. You take a small sharp
knife and cut into the fruit and scrape off the kernels
into a bowl.
People ask me what I do with this fruit. One thing
that is wonderful is enjoying it with your cereal
in the morning. And the way it ripens a little bit
at a time makes the morning thing work too. In my
"Great Exotic Fruit Book" which features many fruits
and fruit related recipes, I have a Halloween-inspired
dish. It's called "West Indian Pumpkin Pound Cake
with a Monstera Mash Anglaise"
Someone said it's so good it's scary...
His high voice called out, "Arepa, Arepa, Arepa
de Maiz!" The Parade of the Three Kings was heading
our way and our son was marching with his High School
band. This parade is very important to our Cuban community
in that it was begun when Castro outlawed Christmas
and the Three Kings parades in Cuba in the early 1970's.
The little children around me were busy throwing their
tiny exploding ball firecrackers against the hot pavement
of Calle Ocho. I ordered my arepa and moved
toward a spot in the shade.
The other items street vendors were hawking were all
variously interesting, great wooden skewers of grilled
meat, fat sausages on buns, twice fried tostones with
salsas, but I find it wise to begin with the simple,
earthy, Indian-Latino mix of corn and cheese, a great
road-side snack. The fuel of a coffee buchito
would be wonderful and not so nerve-rattling now with
the arepa settling into my previously empty belly.
Elizabeth Ortiz tells us that "the arepa are unique
in the world of bread since they are made with cooked
flour. Dried corn kernels are boiled with lime (to
loosen the skin), then the kernels are drained and
ground, and, if not for immediate use, are dried and
packaged as flour. Though the method of cooking the
corn is the same for both tortillas and arepas, the
results is very different because of the difference
in the types of corn used. The corn for arepas has
very large kernels, giving a rather starchy flour."
It fascinates me how ancient cultures figured all
of these things about corn out. One Sunday in Calle
Ocho I was one of the lucky ones. It was great
to see my son with his big drum, marching down the
street in his "Sergeant Pepper" Uniform. Maybe I was
not one of the Three Kings, but I sure was feeling