Shop 'Outside the box' for healthy alternatives
Small Mexican or Latin American groceries, have popped up all over the US. Interestingly, other than the delectable Mexican hot chocolate, they offer a range of produce that a lot of people may not be familiar with, and which may offer a degree of variety to spice up a monotonous menu. Many of the options are healthy and packed with vitamins and minerals, in addition to the exotic flavors and textures.
Mango is a fruit that most Americans are familiar with. What most of them don't know, however, is that there are many varieties of mango, each with their own level of sweet, starch, and stringy qualities. Originally from India, mango has spread across the tropics worldwide, and offers its sweet orange fruit to a wide range of both sweet and savory applications, from mango salsa fish tacos to mango smoothies.
Plantain is a banana relative. It is, however, a starchy and more savory fruit that can be used more like a potato when green, or sauteed to caramelize it when it is dark yellow and spotted. Plantains are generally coarser, more angular, and larger than their banana counterparts.
Prickly pear, or pitaya, is a Latin American native. It is the fruit of the nopal cactus. The nopals themselves are edible, and make a delicious green-pepper flavored taco. The prickly pear fruit itself can be made into jams and jellies, glazes, wines, candies, and simply juiced. When harvesting, be sure to wear gloves to avoid the prickles.
Guava is another native Latin fruit that shines in pastries, smoothies, and drinks. It's bright flavor lends itself well to adding a little fruity acid to a variety of dishes, and is an ingredient in real tropical fruit punch.
Tamarind is magic. Originally from Africa, it has become popular around the tropics worldwide, because of its sour pulp, which is scraped from the inside of a beanlike husk. This pulp is the base of Pad Thai, among many other things. Tamarind is delicious in a wide variety of dishes, including those of Southeast Asia, and is made into beverages, syrups, and candy as well.
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