Going Green: The appeal of unripe fruit

Unripe fruit doesn’t drip with sweet juices like its lush, more mature counterpart. It hardly proffers a floral bouquet to make your taste buds water. Its colorless flesh tastes bland, bitter, even sour, and feels hard as a rock instead of soft and supple. Ah, but don’t be so quick to dismiss it.

The unique flavor and firm texture of unripe fruit – positing it more like a vegetable than a fruit – can add an entirely new dimension to dishes. Raw, pickled, cooked or fried, unripe fruit can breathe new life into salads, side dishes, entrees, even desserts. At these area restaurants, chefs are using acerbic green fruit as the yin that balances the yang, offering that perfect interplay between sour and sweet, tender and crunchy, pale and prismadic.

Do it at home: In fine Nepalese fashion, the green mango at Everest Café is fermented with spices before making its appearance in a sour, bitter, salty and spicy-hot relish called achar. Besides starring in relishes that make great plate mates for dal and tarkari (vegetables fried in ghee then simmered in their own juices), green mango lends tart, taste bud-awakening flavor and crunchy texture to Indian chutneys and curries. For a bright summer salad, toss shredded green mango with bean sprouts and fresh basil and cilantro in a tangy dressing of Thai flavors – fish sauce, lime juice, Thai chiles, garlic and sugar. Garnish with chopped peanuts and toasted coconut flakes.

Everest Café & Bar, 4145 Manchester Ave., St. Louis, 314.531.4800 and 711 Olive St., St. Louis, 314.621.8533, everestcafeandbar.com

Ceviche of lightly smoked, Missouri farm-raised trout and shrimp, brine of lime juice, lime zest, salt and red pepper flakes, cucumber, spring onions, served with plantain chips

Do it at home: At Local Harvest Café, plantain chips are the ideal accompaniment to a Midwestern-style ceviche. “It’s kind of like chips and salsa,” said executive chef Clara Moore. “The sweetness of the plantain chip works with the briny, saltiness of ceviche. Ceviche is soft in texture and the plantain chip is the perfect complement – crispy and crunchy.” Fried or baked chips are a popular use for hard, green plantains, yet the starchy texture and bland flesh of an unripe plantain make it an ideal substitute for potato dishes. Boil them in chunks, then add to spicy soups or stews. For a fruit version of a baked potato, bake an unripe plantain with the peel on, then serve as a side for roasted meats. For an easy dessert, bake the fruit until the peel can be split open, then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, add a pat of butter and bake until caramelized.

Local Harvest Café, 3137 Morgan Ford Road, St. Louis, 314.772.8815, localharvestcafe.com

Shredded fresh green papaya, tomatoes, ground peanuts,
garlic, fresh red chile peppers, fish sauce

Do it at home: Green papaya is the go-to fruit for this salad not just thanks to its crunchy texture but because of the blank slate it presents to the culinary artist. “The green one has no flavor, so we can add flavors into it,” said King and I GM Sasi White of the main component for this traditional Thai salad. “Garlic, heat from the chile, tangy sauce — it’s perfect.” Shred unripe papaya for use in slaws or cook it as a vegetable in curries and stews. To make a unique side dish for shrimp or white meat, poach sliced green papaya in a simple syrup scented with lime juice and cardamom pods. Drain, purée, then add cream, salt and pepper, and simmer on the stove until smooth, thick and buttery. When marinating meat, add a piece of fresh green papaya; the fruit contains an enzyme called papain that helps make tough cuts tender and juicy.

King and I, 3157 S. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, 314.771.1777, thaispicy.com

Green and red strawberries, black sesame cake, balsamic, dill, buttermilk sorbet

Do it at home: How to make unripe strawberries soft and palatable? Pickle them. “The green ones are going to be firm but the pickle kind of breaks it down,” explained Sidney Street Cafe pastry chef Bob Zugmaier. Follow Zugmaier’s lead and pickle the tart, unripe berries in a brine of red wine vinegar, sugar, salt, celery seed, cinnamon and star anise. Other spice options for pickling pale strawberries include: cloves, coriander, peppercorns, fresh ginger and orange rind. Too pressed for time to pickle? Serve a simple salad of sliced ripe and unripe strawberries on a bed of arugula, lightly tossed with olive oil and a touch of balsamic vinegar, seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper. As Zugmaier noted of his dish, your green and red creation will demonstrate “the progress of the strawberries.” For dessert, spike a bowl of mixed green and red berries with a splash of crème de cassis. When making a soft-set strawberry jam, including a few unripened strawberries will eliminate the need for commercial pectin.

Sidney Street Cafe, 2000 Sidney St., St. Louis, 314.771.5777, sidneystreetcafe.com