When you travel in Asia and eat your breakfast at hotel coffee house, a favorite breakfast food is fresh papaya served with a wedge of lemon or half a lime. The juice of the citrus fruit is dribbled over the papaya.
At home, most of us eat the papaya as a breakfast or dessert fruit. And, very often, we have it ripe, when it’s at its juiciest. But the papaya can be used, with delicious result, as a vegetable. Yes, the way you would use a squash, for example.
When papayas are to be used in savory cooking, the best would be the green ones. Contrary to popular belief, unripe papaya are not hard and taste tasteless. In any case, they become soft and sweet when they are cooked.
You should eat a papaya as soon as it is cut. Leaving the fruit exposed to air cause it to dry out. When using an unripe papaya, allow it to “bleed” to get rid of its white acidic juice. This is done by leaving the cut papaya uncovered for a while before rinsing it with water. You would find it easier to skin the unripe fruit with a vegetable peeler. The papaya can then be grated like a carrot.
The papaya has a rather low calorific value of about 44 Cal per 100 grams. It is rich in vitamins B and C. It contains lots of water, to. Hence, its value as a tasty thirst quencher. Papaya juice is easily extracted.
As it tends to be quite sweet, it’s perfect for soups. The Cantonese have this wonderful long-boiling version combining papaya with very lean pork, white fungus, honey dates and blanched Chinese almonds. If you like your soup clear, light and flavorful, this is it!
The papaya is also great for stir frying. Use it with other vegetables like snow peas, carrots, broccoli and peppers. For a nice crunchy touch, consider also water chestnuts. But whatever you do, don’t drench the vegetables with a heavy sauce. Papayas are at their best with just a hint of soy sauce. Papayas are also ideal for pickling.
Papaya need not be cooked too long to render them soft and palatable. Unless you’re preparing soup, about five ten minutes of stir frying time five will turn the yellowish pink slices into juicy red, indicating that the fruit is cooked.
How to choose a Papaya
When buying papayas, choose those that have smooth, taut skins. Wrinkled skins are a clear indication of staleness. Forget the bruised and dented ones as they could mean over handled, overripe fruit. Papayas store quite well at room temperature but once they’re cut, they’d do better in cold storage.