Monday, January 18, 2010

The Big Island of Hawaii: Papaya Heaven

If you want big waves and papayas, this is the perfect season of the year to visit The Big Island of Hawaii. We just returned from nine days of feasting on papaya in multiple forms, hiking along lava rock-strewn coast, snorkeling (for me, the first time), watching waves crash against the cliffs, visiting historical sites like the City of Refuge, and soaking up the warmth. It was heavenly.

We stayed in a house overlooking the ocean. While the kitchen was not particularly well-equipped, the land on which the house was situated could not have been more suited to our culinary endeavors. Trees of papayas (fully ripe, medium ripe, and green), avocados (ripening), bananas, macadamia nuts, tangerines, mangoes (out of season) dotted the landscape adjoining the house. The papayas played the biggest role in our diet by far. One of our traveling companions ate a very large papaya every day—seeds scooped out and replaced with yogurt. Simple and, he reports, delicious. Because he was the biggest consumer, he took on the role of forager and harvester. Not a particularly onerous task given our proximity to the source.

Our adventure with papayas began at the Farmers Market in Kona where we picked up six of them for $5, along with a bag of macadamia nuts, lettuce from the other side of the island, and a grapefruit. At the supermarket later in the day we bought bacon, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. Our first dinner on the island featured all these ingredients in a salad that was one of the best we’d ever eaten. We swooned. I call it First Night Dinner Salad and have tried my best to recreate it in the recipe below. What I can’t recreate is the particular situation in which we ate it: our first night in the house, so ready for tropical fruit we could hardly stand it, and still pretty full from a large lunch next to the water in Kona. During the course of the week, we went on to fix Papaya Quesadillas, Papaya Salsa with Ahi Tuna, Vietnamese Green Papaya Salad, and nearly every day a Papaya-Banana Smoothie, a specialty of our second traveling companion.

I took two cookbooks with me: Quick and Easy Vietnamese by Nancie McDermott and Aloha Days, Hula Nights by the Junior League of Honolulu, Hawaii. Both of them were excellent resources and provided us with a huge number of options for island eating. Ingredients were readily available at our ChoiceMart in Captain Cook.

Since returning, I haven’t been able to stop my island eating. I remembered Cindy Pawlcyn’s papaya salad in Big Small Plates with a salad dressing made with the papaya's round black seeds; I fixed it for dinner last evening. Let me know if you'd like the recipe for this salad. In addition to the First Night Dinner Salad, I’ve also cooked the Quesadillas, Tomato Relish, and the Salsa again, just to make sure they are as good here on the mainland as they were on the island. You’ll find the recipes below.

Now I must admit that the papayas I get in my supermarket here are not local and have no doubt accumulated a pretty large carbon footprint. From time to time I am willing to bend my local/sustainable/organic guidelines and this week, when I am still remembering and yearning for the foods we prepared in Hawaii, is one of those occasions. I bought myself three small papayas and have savored every bite. If you are yearning for a little tropical sunshine in your tummy, in the midst of the cold and rain, I recommend that you do the same.

1 comment:

Dante Noto said...

For your friends on the east coast or visiting Miami, a visit to El Palacio de los Jugos, a Cuban fruit and vegetable mart, is a must-do. Papayas of breathtaking size and flavor, Caribbean fruits completely new to me, and avocados the size of watermelons! You have my mouth watering!