You are all, no doubt, familiar with Papaya King — the famous stand-up dive known for questionable papaya drinks and hot dogs and such. Do I sometimes go there? Yes. Maybe even today as the temperature soars to above 90 degrees. I am reminded of the place because of an article sent to me from an Israeli newspaper (Ha’aretz) by a friend. The title? The Power of Papaya. The friend? Gerd Stern. A renaissance kind of artist-poet-foodie-past President of the American Cheese Society, who is currently finishing an opera and is “artist-in-residence” somewhere in the world as I write this. The author of the piece, Rachel Talshir, writes that “it is reasonable to assume that people who say they hate papaya just ran into a bad one the first time around.” While I am a huge lover of mangoes (really one of my favorite treats), I do not, as a rule, covet papaya. Perhaps I ran into a bad one as a kid. Whereas, my grandparents had a gorgeous old mango tree in their backyard in West Palm Beach (I can still remember the taste from 50 years ago! — I was very young), papayas were scarce and just not around. No one talked about them much. There are several varieties of papaya and they are nutritional powerhouses containing an abundance of vitamin A, B and C, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium and folic acid. Perhaps we should all take another look.
Almost ten years ago, in my book Desserts 1-2-3, I created my first recipe using papaya: Coconut-Glazed Papaya with Papaya-Lime Cream. And all this using only three ingredients. As it was written in the headnote, “There are many varieties of papaya available today, but the sexiest and most perfumed is one known as strawberry papaya. Graceful and tapered, about 1 foot long, its meaty flesh is bright reddish-orange. Cream of coconut is used as a glaze — which not only sweetens the fruit but blackens a bit under the broiler, imparting a curious flavor note. It is also used to make the lime-kissed cream. And if you like the notion of exploiting an ingredient to the max, as I often do, then make a coconut sorbet to top off the whole thing: mix an additional 1/2 cup cream of coconut with several tablespoons of lime juice and 1/2 cup water and freeze in an ice cream maker.” Recipe below. In the Israeli newspaper, other ideas using papaya were offered — as a carpaccio with pistachios, grated hard cheese, lemon and olive oil; as a salsa mixed with pineapple, red onion and red pepper, as a shake (with frozen bananas and cashews) and even as a soup. I have even toasted the seeds until dry and then pulverized them to use as a “spice” over other tropical fruits. Crazy, great.
As Ms. Talshir goes on to say, “Papaya’s basic influence and its ability to balance the body’s acidity noticeably enhance the wakefulness of those who eat it.” An irresistible notion, for sure.
Coconut-Glazed Papaya, Papaya-Lime Cream (from Desserts 1-2-3)
1 large ripe strawberry papaya, about 3-1/2 pounds
1/2 cup cream of coconut
5 large limes
Cut papaya lengthwise into 5 wedges. Remove seeds and discard. Remove flesh from one of the wedges and cut into large pieces. Place in the bowl of a food processor with 1/4 cup cream of coconut. Great the rind of 2 limes to get zest and add to processor. Cut limes in half and squeeze to get 6 tablespoons juice. Add to processor with a pinch of salt. Process several minutes until very smooth. Cover and refrigerate until cold. Preheat broiler: Pour 1 tablespoon cream of coconut over each papaya wedge to coat completely. Add a few drops of lime juice. Slash each across the width into sections, about 1-1/2 inches apart. Place on a broiler pan and broil several minutes until papaya is glazed and blackened in some spots. Let cool. Serve with chilled papaya cream and slices of remaining lime. Serves 4