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Monstera Deliciosa

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...



Arepa

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 like one.

 




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