KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 24 — Are you a beetroot lover or hater?
If this sounds like a divisive question, it’s not meant to be. When shopping for ingredients for new dishes and old favourites, one has to take into consideration the likes and dislikes of the dinner party.
No point conjuring up a feast highlighting a single, remarkable ingredient only to discover the majority of the guests loathe the stuff.
Personally, I love beetroot. Its earthy tones, the crazy purplish reds, the health benefits — what’s not to love, really?
Most of my family would disagree heartily.
It’s not the end of the world. There is a reason why they invented substitutions, after all. Fortunately for us living in Malaysia, there’s a tropical option that might be even better.
I’m talking about red dragon fruit, of course. Certainly the same crazy purplish red colour persists; any splatter might stain your clothes dramatically like in a blood-soaked crime scene.
Besides its vivid hue, red dragon fruit is also full of nutrients.
Just like the beetroot, red dragon fruit is full of nutrients. While beetroot gets its scarlet hue from betanin, red dragon fruit gets its colour from betacyanin, an antioxidant that can protect cells in our bodies from damage by free radicals.
Red dragon fruit features frequently in my salads as an impromptu doppelgänger for the much-maligned beetroot. It looks about the same, particularly the way it will dye cubes of feta cheese a stunning ruby red.
I have also been using red dragon fruit in smoothies. It’s a fantastic replacement for beetroot here, especially when it’s a vegetable-centric smoothie and you want a little natural sweetness to balance the sometimes bitter notes of the green leaves.
For the above purpose, I like to freeze the red dragon fruit after I have cut it in half, peeled back the skin and sliced the halves into cubes. Freezing makes for a creamier smoothie consistency, I find, and removes the need for additional ice cubes to keep the smoothie cold.
Cut the red dragon fruit into half, peel back the skin then slice into cubes.
Of course, sometimes this means I have a surplus of cut red dragon fruit in the freezer. Which is always an enticement for experimenting with new recipes. While we’re checking the freezer, what else do we have?
In my case, it’s an unfinished tub of “cookies & cream” ice cream. This flavour tends to be overlooked as it’s easier to reach out for the chocolate or vanilla.
Not here though. Inspiration can strike when one least expects it — or have half-empty containers to clear from one’s freezer.
I fancy the natural sweetness of the red dragon fruit would make a great match for the creamier sweetness of the “cookies & cream” whilst the colour contrast – just like cubes of beetroot and feta cheese in a salad — would be dramatic.
Both ingredients are clearly on the sweeter side, however. Some acidity is needed, some nuttiness too.
‘Cookies & cream’ ice cream tends to be overlooked but not here.
Any citrus might work for the former but I love sacs of pomelo, its crystalline juices always promising to release promiscuously. Rather than toasted nuts such as almonds or pecans, a generous spoonful of peanut butter is far more convenient.
You can tell I’ve been raiding my pantry again. (Waste not, want not, I always say.)
What I ended up assembling is a tapestry of tastes and textures: chilled red dragon fruit, luscious “cookies & cream”, tart and tangy pomelo, and rich peanut butter.
I am reminded of Carole King’s classic song, “Tapestry”, where she sings “My life has been a tapestry/Of rich and royal hue.” Here, these vibrant colours just pop and invite yet another bite.
It’s a dessert that is more than capable of providing a sweet ending to any meal or dinner party. And to think, it all came from pampering all my loved ones who detest… beetroot!
Juicy sacs of pomelo (left) and rich peanut butter (right).
‘TAPESTRY OF TASTES AND TEXTURES’
Dragon fruits come in two colours — red and white. It can be tempting to swap one for the other but, aside from the obvious difference in colours, there is a difference in taste too.
The red variety is sweeter than the white. Red dragon fruits are also higher in antioxidants; in fact, the deeper the colour, the more antioxidants you’ll get. According to nutritionists, this makes red dragon fruits beneficial for skin, eye and blood health.
Of course, the white dragon fruit is delicious and healthful in its own right. I have employed this in a past Weekend Kitchen recipe: my Dragon Bowl pairs it with Greek yoghurt, granola and nata de coco.
The key thing is to freeze the sliced red dragon fruit ahead of time. This way, you can plate it the way a pastry chef would in a fine dining restaurant, on a wide, shallow dish.
It’s a bit precious, true, but sometimes it can be fun to change things up – eating with a fork and knife rather than a spoon can test our assumptions and prove that there is no one “right way” to enjoy food.
Half a red dragon fruit
1-2 large scoops of “cookies & cream” ice cream
2 segments of pomelo
1 tablespoon of creamy peanut butter
The colours just pop and invite yet another bite.
Cut a ripe red dragon fruit into half. Peel back the skin to remove. Slice into bite-sized cubes (these are roughly cubes; some will be imperfect and that’s fine).
Transfer to a container and cover with its lid tightly. Freeze overnight or at least four hours.
When ready to plate, put a scoop or two of “cookies & cream” ice cream in the centre of a wide, shallow dish. Using the rounded back of a spoon, spread the ice cream around so it forms coarse chunks.
Break one segment of pomelo over the ice cream, so that the pomelo sacs cover it. Add a dollop of creamy peanut butter atop this. Continue by scattering the cubes of frozen red dragon fruit over everything.
Finally break the remaining segment of pomelo over the plate, so that the pomelo sacs fall naturally. Serve immediately.
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