Dragon fruit: The diva of the fruit world

DragonfruitDragon fruits, or pitayas, are a species of cactus found in many Asian countries.

AISLE 3 — Lady Gaga’s fans are known as Little Monsters and I have just found the eggs they come from in the produce section of the H-Mart in Wheaton.

For bold chefs, the pitaya (dragon fruit) offers dashing style and a refreshing taste.

The egg-shaped freaks, the color of inflamed pink flamingos with DayGlo green spines, seem ready to snap at customers passing by. “Are you afraid of us? Huh? Huh?!” they taunt from the bin between the well-behaved lychee nuts and the diminutive Thai eggplant, “cuz maybe you should be…”

Being a sucker for feisty fruit with attitude, I bought three.

“I was born under a full moon in Vietnam, where I waited to be pollinated by a bat,” our dragon fruit explained her fantastic origins on the ride home.  Either that or my kids had googled dragon fruit on the smart phone and read all this to me from the back seat.  No matter, for now I was smitten. I named her Drusilla and promised I would make something special out of her. Drusilla merely sighed, wistful for her bat lover.

I am not the only one smitten, however.  Dragon fruit, is the pomegranate du jour and will soon appear in everything you drink.  Sobe has a dragon fruit “LifeWater,” Celestial Seasoning has added dragon fruit to green tea, Bacardi has a new Dragon Berry and Skyy is marketing a Vodka with dragon fruit “flavor.”  I’m using air quotes here, as “flavor” may be too strong a word.  For all it’s devilish style, dragon fruit’s taste is surprisingly mild-manner; similar to cactus pear, kind of like a wet jicama, very much like kiwi, edible seeds and all, but most like a crisp, juicy ice cube.

Cut a dragon fruit open and be prepared for the total non sequitur of white flesh and black seeds.  Lady Gaga would be lucky to have a dress made with this.

Dragon fruit sliced

For an easy snack, scoop out the dragon fruit’s flesh, cut into cubes, and serve in the pink shell.

The pulp is easily cut into juicy little chunks.  The simplest presentation is to cut in half, scoop out the flesh, cut into cubes and pile back into the funky shell to serve to your incredulous guests.

Red and pink-fleshed dragon fruit varieties exist, are reputed to be sweeter and contain more of the antioxident Lycopene, but damned if I can find them anywhere. I strongly suspect the Coca Cola bottling company has bought all the red dragon fruit in the world to cash in on this latest fruit craze.  But if you find them, let me know.  They would make some truly groovy Jell-Os and cocktails. I found a gorgeous recipe at the Malaysian food website DeliciousAsianFood.com.

Dragon fruit Jell-O

Slices of Dragonfruit Jell-O.

Feeling game, I went on the hunt for agar agar, a sea-weed based gelatin substitute, and pandan leaves, the vanilla flavoring of Asian desserts. I found at the little Hung Phat grocery on Fern St. in Wheaton, along with encouragement from the helpful staff.

It’s possible, however, that I need an agar agar tutorial, as I did not end up with anything quite as lovely. But don’t let the fact that my dragon fruit jelly made my kids scream and run from the room stop you from trying.

Mattslandscape.com is an encyclopedia of how to grow, propagate and enjoy dragon fruits.  His recipe for Lemonade with dragon fruit pulp was a lifesaver on a recent 103 degree day.

But perhaps the perfect home for this Super Freak party girl is the cocktail.  Strip her down to her black polka dot bikini and toss her in the fruit pool party known as Sangria. Muddle dragon fruit with mint for a Dragonojito.  Invite over some other Asian celebs, like sake or the juice of the lumpy lemon-like fruit called Yuzu, and get a party started.

The Divine Drusilla

After much experimentation, I named this cocktail “The Divine Drusilla.”

Dragonfruit cocktail

  • 2 part vodka (something citron)
  • dragon fruit chunks
  • 2 parts grapefruit juice (ruby red if you’re using white dragon fruit and want a fun color)
  • 1 part lime juice
  • 1 part jasmine syrup (a simple sugar syrup with jasmine tea)

Muddle dragon fruit in a pint glass.  Add grapefruit, lime and jasmine syrup and ice.  Shake. Strain into glass and adorn with a strip of dragon fruit peel. 

* Our resident Gwailo, or “foreign devil” in Cantonese, Bethany, explores uncharted terrain in our area grocery aisles and reports back every so often on fascinating finds and fun food.

About the Author

Bethany Karn
Bethany Karn is easily distracted by bright and shiny objects and writes sporadically on food, fashion, flowers, and fluff for the Voice newspapers.