Summer is the best season for enjoying nature’s bounty; exotic fruits and vegetables are not only delicious, but also colorful and healthful. You just need to know where to look, and have a little courage to be adventurous.
Most vegetables and many fruits at Whole Foods Markets are certified organic, but the exotic inventory is limited. Ashley Hoff, one of the produce managers at the Green Valley branch, says customer demand for unusual produce is sporadic at best.
“We can get anything the customer wants,” says Hoff, slicing a champagne mango, named for the bubbly sensation it gives in the mouth. The mango is sweet, without the bitterness sometimes found in a conventional mango, and has five times the vitamin C content.
Hoff loves orange cauliflower, too, and recommends giving Romanesco broccoli a try in late July or early August when it comes in. It’s a hybrid of broccoli and cauliflower that’s high in vitamins C and K, as well as dietary fiber.
Over at Mariana’s Supermarket (4151 S. Eastern Ave.), chilies and tropical fruits in the produce department have great prices. Chilies are one of nature’s best sources of vitamin C.
Mamey, a sweet cactus fruit that the store sells whole at $4.99 a pound, is often used for licuados, a sort of milk shake. One serving, about 4 ounces, contains nearly twice the daily requirement of vitamin C, and is high in B vitamins as well.
Pasilla chilies, high in vitamin C, are 79 cents a pound. Coconuts, nutritionally a complete food, are $1.69. And for something really exotic, try some nopal, or cactus, which is 99 cents for two pounds.
Trader Joe’s is another good market from which to source exotica. The chain sells delicious, sweet Hami melons for only $2.99 each, and a variety of leafy organic greens in packages. The Hami melon is from northwest China, and is a type of muskmelon, high in phosphorus and iron, and good for blood functions.
How can Trader Joe’s offer competitive pricing? “We buy in bulk for the entire chain, and our volume is enormous,” one of the store managers at the Green Valley branch says.
Finally, at 168 Market, a Chinese grocery at 3459 S. Jones Blvd., the selection of exotic fruits and vegetables is enormous as well. Giant jackfruit go for 99 cents a pound, and fresh lychee is only $1.99 a pound. If you’ve never tasted fresh lychee, or litchi, as we often spell it, you’re in for a treat. They are delicious, and are high in potassium and copper as well as B vitamins, good for regulating body fluids and lowering the blood pressure.
Two popular Chinese vegetables are value-priced here as well: Snow pea shoots are $3.59 a pound, and ong choy (a.k.a. water spinach) a reedy green vegetable with a nut-like flavor, is a bargain at $1.65 a pound. Both are high in vitamins A, C and E.
Chef Yu of Beijing Noodle No. 9 likes to sauté either vegetable lightly in a garlic and oil bath. He says both are delicious and stand on their own.