Everything You Wanted To Know (or not) About: Starfruit

Thursday, April 26, 2012

You've seen them. In the grocery store, in the unflamboyant lonely basket near the banana section that houses the "bizarre" looking fruit. You know the ones -- the hairy balls that are kiwi (you've managed to get past that now), the papaya that you didn't realize was actually that huge and houses so many pearly black seeds, and....a bizarre tubular fruit with waxy yellow skin.

Carambola, or known more commonly as starfruit, is a fascinating fruit with amazing flavor and incredible presence. Usually formed into a classic five-point star (but can also have up to 7!), once you slice the tube cross-wise you yield beautiful transparent fruit in the shape of a star. Simply put: they are beautiful. And extremely tasty. The starfruit has an amazing peculiar sweetness unlike anything you've ever eaten before, with a slight undertone of sour or tart. The skin is extremely thin and edible, and the seeds are teeny tiny and also edible. The texture of the fruit is crisp and full of moisture, much like an asian pear, and holds its shape well even thinly sliced.

The starfruit is native to Southeast Asia, the South Pacific, and Eastern Asia although today it's grown also in the Caribbean, Florida, and in Central and South America. The plant thrives on a warm, moist climate. Prime starfruit season is August to February, although now you can find them year round given their global farming.

And a special note: if you're suffering from kidney issues then stay away from the starfruit. Although very healthy and high in antioxidants and vitamin C in particular, the fruit contains oxalic acid which is known to cause kidney stones and severe and very dangerous symptoms in those who have kidney disease, especialy who are at the stage of kidney failure. If your kidneys are fine, then please enjoy this most special and healthy of fruits!

But how do you use it? The fruit is best eaten as is -- simply sliced fresh and eaten like that. They go great in salads, so you can slice some and replace a fruit component in a composed salad with them for example. They can be cooked and made into a chutney or used for a curry, but admittedly they are more water than juicy, so you won't get the consistency you ideally want for a cooked food from them. You can also use them as a cracker -- slice the stars a bit thicker to make them sturdier, then top with an herbed goat cheese or ricotta cheese mixed with roasted garlic and fresh herbs. They also make a fun and unexpected addition to any fruit platter. But my personal favorite way is to squeeze out the juice and make a cocktail, then use a slice to garnish the glass.

Here's a very simple recipe using starfruit in a salad. The flavor compliments the tender spinach and punchy goat cheese, and please do use a champagne vinegar for the vinaigrette so as not to overpower the incredible flavor of the fruit! Enjoy!

Spinach Salad with Starfruit and Goat Cheese
4 cups baby spinach
1 large starfruit, sliced into 1/4" thick sliced stars
about 1/2 cup (small log) fresh goat cheese (aka "chevre")
course sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp champagne vinegar
1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, picked off the stem

Place the spinach in a large mixing bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, and thyme until emulsified. Take some of the vinaigrette and pour it over the spinach and toss, reserving the rest of the vinaigrette to spoon over the rest of the salad. Portion out the tossed spinach onto 4 plates. Add sliced starfruit to each plate, nuzzling it on top and into the leaves. Dot the plates with some goat cheese, then give another small round of pepper to the plates. Spoon some vinaigrette over the cheese and fruit and serve immediately.

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