Sizzling Summer Potlucks and Trying New Foods

When my love affair with raw foods was still in its infancy, I made an effort to pick up 3 or 4 foods a month that I’d never eaten before. I had a lot of fun making recipes with these new-to-me items and am still amazed at all the different foods out there that I’ve yet to try. (Yet another example of how a vegan diet isn’t all iceberg lettuce and tofu.) A bit of time had gone by since I’d tried something new, and the adventurous side of me was craving it.

On one sweltering evening a few weeks ago, the heat index reaching about 104 degrees, my partner and I attended a raw food potluck in the park. If it was much hotter, our food may have crossed the line from raw to cooked. All joking aside, the spread of food looked fabulous – like a produce section. That’s what I like to see! There was a ton of fruit, a large bed of sprouts, a couple different salads, and a fruit and nut crumble. I brought cucumber noodles with a tomato orange dressing. The dish was so refreshing. I have no idea what took me so long to spiralize cukes!

As we exited the car, I paused for a moment to absorb the beautiful surroundings. We were on a hilltop enveloped by trees and could see some city landmarks peeking out on the horizon. After spending so much of my time in a stagnant world of concrete and brick, I never tire of the rejuvenating charge that nature gives me when I set my feet in the grass, breathe in the fresh air, listen to bird songs, and watch the playful chipmunks bounce around. We walked over to the picnic area and noticed that everyone was gathered around one table feasting on the orange flesh of an unfamiliar fruit.
That night at the potluck I got a chance to try jackfruit for the first time. Before I continue, I should mention that I love eating with my hands. And though I am a very clean person in general, I don’t mind the messiness. I actually find it to be a very meditative and mindful practice. I’m not talking about using your hand as a shovel to stuff your mouth with potato chips. I mean that I find it meditative to eat my mango caribbean-style, scoop up spicy veggies and legumes with injera (even more special when sharing with others), pick apart a freshly steamed artichoke leaf by leaf. The sense of touch is amazing in so many ways, and in this case, it triggers a process of full appreciation for the food that is nourishing me.
So, back to the jackfruit. This fruit tree is indigenous to Southeast Asia. The outside looks like a large honeydew with little spikes. As it ripens, the color turns brown and the spikes soften. I didn’t arrive to the picnic before the jackfruit was cut open, but the outside of it is said to have a strong onion-like odor when it’s ripe. Don’t worry though, the inside has a sweet, pleasant smell.
When you cut it open, the fruit is encased in a pulp of sticky latex. I’d advise you not to use your best knife for this job. Also, I’ve read that oiling your hands can prevent them from looking like you got in a fight with a tube of Elmer’s glue. Cut and core the fruit like you would a cabbage. Pick through the pulp to find orange orbs of fruit, looking much like gigantic corn kernels, with a large pit inside. Peel any pulp off the fruit, remove the pit, and enjoy! Depending on it’s size, a jackfruit can have hundreds of bulbs of fruit in one shell, so it’s the perfect communal food.
The many varieties that grow vary in sweetness. I thought it tasted reminiscent of cantaloupe, but the flavor was more subtle. Someone at the potluck said that it was the inspiration for Juicy Fruit gum. It’s been years since I’ve had that gum, but I could discern that flavor in the fruit.  

What was most interesting to me about the jackfruit is its versatility. It’s not only eaten raw when in a ripened state, but the unripe fruit can be used for cooking. It has a meaty, chewy texture that I’ve never known a fruit to have. I can see why it would be used as the meat component in curries and other traditional dishes of its origin. Jackfruit is also used to make other things like chips, dried fruit snacks, and custard. The plant yields much more than precious fruit bulbs: the leaves are served as a vegetable and also used for topical medicinal purposes, the rind can be used to make jelly, the latex is used as a glue/cement, and the wood of the tree is a termite-proof, anti-fungal material of the highest quality that is used for constructing many things.

The seeds are a wonder on their own and are edible if sun-dried, boiled, roasted, or preserved. They’re not recommended to be eaten raw because of a trypsin inhibitor in the seed. They’re a great source of protein, carbohydrate, thiamine, and riboflavin. The latter two are B vitamins. Thiamine, or B1, is an important vitamin for those like me who suffer from adrenal fatigue. It’s also essential in maintaining a healthy nervous system and protecting the heart. Riboflavin, or B2, is particularly important for skin and eye health and growth processes of the body’s tissues. They both also aid in the conversion of carbohydrates into energy. So, nature provided these seeds with vitamins that help convert the high starch content into energy inside your body. How cool is that?

All in all, we had a fantastic time at the potluck. Our company was an admirable mix of people doing such interesting things with their lives. I’m looking forward to the next one!

Are there any unfamiliar foods that pique your interest? Have you tried any exciting new foods recently?

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