Cooking and eating through a new culture

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

The passion of the fruit.

I haven’t written a blog like this in quite some time. Mainly, because I thought I had pretty much tapped into all there could be. Silly me. It started off innocently enough. A late run to the Sunday farmers market to net some goodies for the week had me lingering in front of a stand judging the merits of eggplant. The seller thought I was balking at the price, but I was really trying to figure out how much I needed for my recipe. I ended up buying the rest he had, and since he was relieved of having to haul eggplants back home, he tossed in a half a dozen of these fragrant fruits for free.

“What is this?” I held one up to Rafa as I was unpacking my bounty. They were over ripe, orange sized yellowish fruit with a wonderfully perfumed scent.

Maracuyá, or passion fruit” He says helping me with my bags.

“Huh. What do I do with it?” It seems they needed to be dealt with quickly since anything left in the Costa Rican climate rapidly deteriorates and becomes a cloud of fruit flies, hell-bent on making your life miserable in the kitchen. I pondered over one, feeling its papery wrinkled rind and out of curiosity, I cracked it open, and in egg like fashion, a mass of juicy, pulpy seeds plopped to the floor. Was not expecting that one.

Maracuyá (Passiflora edulis) is in the family Passifloraceae and is a common fruit in Central and South America and used mainly in desserts and drinks. Like most of the fruit down here, it is packed with vitamins and antioxidants and is touted to do everything from relieving depression to increasing libido (like I need that). Lets face it, pretty much any fruit you get here is awesome for you in some way, shape, or form and I love eating them all!

I opened the rest of them into a blender thinking I would whip up a smoothie on a hot San Jose afternoon but decided against it. Staring back at me from the blender pretty much looked like a mass of sweet-smelling fish eggs.

I ditched the idea of the blender and went to my fine strainer and ended up squeezing the juice and pulp from the seeds. The juice was sweet but rather acrid. Not good to drink straight, but I can definitely see how well it would go with gin or rum. I ended up just mixing it with other fruits. Lame, I know…but tasty!

Now, I didn’t think that really warranted a blog (then again…what does) but a week or so later I come upon these.

Not Maracuyá, but close: Granadilla. Passiflora ligularis, is still in the Passiflora genus but is the sweeter, less acidic cousin. Again, this fruit is used mainly in jellies, drinks and desserts, but for me there is only one way to eat them; straight up. It’s easy to pop through the thick papery rind and the good stuff is held in this white fluffy padding (not as runny as maracuyás), then you just suck it down. It’s like doing fruit shooters. The seeds are edible and add a crunchy dimension but are not big enough to feel uncomfortable to swallow whole. They are really good if you leave them in the fridge for a bit to cool. Self contained in a thick rind, sweet and crunchy, they make the perfect fast food snack. Do yourself a favor, if you see these crazy fruits around suck a few down. But do it in front of your partner for the libido increasing effect.

Embrace your inner zombie and suck it down!


Jardín Del Parque, my substitute kitchen

Everytime I think about it, I give a mournful sigh. I miss it with a depth of sorrow few people can understand and, at times, it can lead me into quite a funk.  Maybe that is why I covet those of others. I want my kitchen.

Circumstances being what they are, Rafa and I are only guests, or how I sometimes see it: homeless. Sure, we have a comfortable place to live, but it is not ours and that wears on me. We have been in a long limbo waiting for opportunities to manifest and we still have some time to go. So we wait, and I ache for a kitchen of my own.

Normally, my kitchen would be stocked with a plethora of good-for-you goodies. I love cooking healthy because going out meant splurging on a hamburger, chicharrónes, a plate of prosciutto and cheese, or any number of tasty delicacies I wouldn’t necessarily make (although Rafa savoringly raves about my hand packed hamburgers.) For the most part, what we eat out is what we don’t normally have, but since I have not been cooking, I miss a nice healthy meal of food I feel good about.  Enter Jardín Del Parque .

Jardín Del Parque was, oddly enough, right under my nose all along but it took me, and my never-ending search for good eats, to tentatively begin talking to (and then never seeming to shut up) to the owner, whom I met at the Feria Verde. I am horribly self-conscious about my limited Spanish and pointing at everything I see with a childlike “¿Qué es eso?” Then someone speaks English to me and I start chattering away like a monkey in a tree looking for a treat. Needless to say, English is widely spoken at this restaurant.

Only open since the beginning of the year, this lovely establishment is set east of the Parque de National tucked into a small hotel of the same name. The eating area is under a wonderful custom-made bamboo tent, made by the same person who built their tables and chairs. One of my biggest pet peeves about  eating around here are wobbly tables. I have shimmed countless tables to keep my food from sliding around but these are perfectly sturdy and something I would even invest in for my future home…*sigh*

Sometimes I find vegetarian food a little lacking (like meat) but you will not miss your portion of protein with these flavorful meals. Not only is the food tasty but everything is organic, locally grown, free of refined sugar or artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated fats, artificial colors, artificial flavors and GMOs. Basically, just like I make!

The plato del dia is an ever-changing delicious offer of all that is good in the world. The meal includes a starter of soup or salad and a generous main meal with a choice of drink. The day I went, I had a mushroom risotto that I still long for. Curious about good fresh mushrooms, I was told these were a combination of some personally grown and farm produced from around Cartago. Oh, how I love mushrooms.

I plowed halfway through this before I remembered about taking a picture.

The drinks are wonderfully creative mixing fruit and spice to tantalize your taste buds, like ginger mango, or blackberry cinnamon.  There is fine coffee and loose tea (no commercial tea bags here) should you need something to chase away the cool blast of afternoon showers. Since those showers can linger a bit, be sure to add one of their sweet and savory desserts too. I have been finding that my sweet tooth is being refined with my added consumption of Costa Rican made chocolate. It’s not the sweetness I crave, but the depth and complexity of flavor. Needless to say, all the chocolate used at Jardín Del Parque comes from the finest chocolatiers (more on that soon!)

I tend to take my time through the menu since it all looks divine. Open Monday through Friday (because weekends are for decadence) from 11am to 7pm. Be sure to check daily specials on their Facebook page and drool over the luscious pictures they post. Luckily, all this is a short jaunt from where we live. I have a feeling I will be making this place a regular escape. If they get their wifi up, I may just take up permanent residence.

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