WARNING: LOOOONG POST
There’s something about Easter. Aside from the fact that I am so Catholic I even feel guilty celebrating our salvation on the back of The Man’s crucifixion, Easter always puzzled me. What's with the bunnies and why weren’t we chasing little lambs instead and bleating Lamb of God at the top of our voices?
Yes, I had strange notions as a child. Like the time I would start singing the theme song from Centurions (the cartoon for those not born in the Dark Ages like me) every time we came to the parable of the centurion’s servant. A questionable decision as I kept getting sent to detention and at one point, there was talk of either sending me to a therapist or the exorcist.
Anyway, Easter equates lamb to me but it also makes me think of spring when I start breaking out the salad tongs and flit joyously like a dainty fairy from … oh, sorry … Have. To. Stop. Watching. The. Gay. Cult. Movies. By the by, I loved … just luuurrved The Producers. But back to spring and my Pavlov’s doggie response of craving salads during Easter. Typically, I would roast a leg of lamb and pair that with my sugar snap peas with crumbled bacon salad, and mashed potatoes.
This year, for a number of reasons, I just did not feel like lamb. I craved salads. Fresh, light salads. With just enough pertness to pucker my lips yet sufficient flavour to make me smack them with relish. The housemate brought back a couple of pomelos from his mother-in-law’s home. Apparently, he’s not fond of them. He managed to offload one to the neighbour and I subtly revealed that I rather like them. My housemate … he’s quite a bright lad sometimes.
So there I was, the proud owner of one pomelo. I knew exactly what I wanted to make. Pomelo salad. I was salivating just at the thought.
Contrary to some people’s misconception, I have no Thai blood. So I’ve been mistaken for a Thai before … by Thais. In Thailand. But then again, I have been mistaken for Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, Indian, Arabic, and what not (even Irish once … now how mothered was that person???). I used to think I should be a spy. Mana Makan … Woman of Mystery. Has a bit of a ring to it, doesn’t it?
But I simply adore Thai food despite my lack of street creds. I even think I would like to retire to Thailand just so I can enjoy the food every day! I do not claim to cook authentic Thai food or know oodles about it but the flavours, aromas, taste, texture and philosophy of Thai cooking speak to every rumbling of my ever hungry stomach.
Most of my salads tend to be Thai-influenced because Thai salads personify all that is fresh, light, savoury and tongue tingling to me. The pomelo salad is an all-time favourite. I am thoroughly addicted to pomelos - my preferred couch potato food. Pshaw on beer nuts, popcorn and pretzels! Give me a bowl of crystalline gems of tart, sweet-with-a-hint-of-bitterness pomelos any time. The tear-drop beads of creamy hued succulence are a pleasurable indulgence as I roll and tease them across my tongue before piercing the taut membrane with a delicate puncture of my teeth. The burst of juicy bliss is enough to send me into a tailspin of eye-rolling ecstasy.
And to think I was not acquainted with this fabulous fruit till my pre-teens. A relative brought it when he was visiting and at first I gave it a wide berth, thinking it was a mutant grapefruit. I hate grapefruit. When I was doing the British Heart Association diet with three of my colleagues (the ole misery loves company and the company loves miserable employees adage is true) and had to eat grapefruit, I literally cried as I spooned each astringent bite of unnatural and cruel punishment into my poor, innocent mouth.
Now, you are probably wondering at my temerity entering the pomelo into this week’s Weekend Herb Blogging. But MM, you say patronisingly, you must be getting confused. Pomelos are not herbs. Ah, but I am canny and sneaky like a fox. I am entering not the fruit but the skin. Bada bing! The pomelo skin which the Asians use for herbal purposes. See how I did that??? Pretty snazzy, huh? You can’t see it but I’m sporting a smug and really annoying smirk now.
Actually the pomelo is related to the gruesome grapefruit. But how far from the tree it fell! In Indonesa, it is called jeruk bali. In the rest of Asia, it’s also called jabong but I kind of like the sound of the Chinese name for it – youzi. In Latin, it’s citrus maxima – sounds like a gladiator. Hey, fight me! I’m tart like a pomelo, sting like a bee! OK, too much coffee this morning …
While not as ancient as the apple, the pomelo was first christened as such in 1858 but was known to the world before that when a sea captain called Captain Shaddock introduced it to the West Indies as shaddock. I am betting he was Irish. With delusions of grandeur. But the pomelo is actually native to Southeast Asia, namely Malaysia and Indonesia but nowadays, you’ll find the pomelo growing in California, Florida, the Caribbeans and even Israel.
True to its Latin name, the pomelo is the big daddy of all citrus. Apparently the largest pomelo grew to 30 cm in diameter (the length of my ruler!) and weighed in at 10 kg. Show off! The tree can even grow up to 50 feet – probably so the heavy fruits can kill you when dropped from that height. Pummeled by Pomelos, One Man’s Guide to Botanical Warfare.
The rind is super thick and peeling it is a real chore. But worth every plump bead! Bright, pale green or slowly aging yellow, the pomelo skin is softly pitted and feels awfully strange when ripe. I was told by fruit sellers to look out for pomelos with spongy tops - these are ripe and usually sweet. So far, they have not been far wrong. I still get a little creeped out that such a large, heavy and firm-looking fruit should yield like a sponge but since this signals a bounty of lovely tangy-sweet juiciness, I press on.
Below the thick lime green rind is an enormously thick layer of fluffy, doughy pith. I loved playing with these as a child. I would rub them all over my skin as if they were loofahs and “powder” my cheeks with these makeshift powder puffs. The waxy sponginess of it all was a tactile delight to me and I could spend hours just caressing, moulding, and pressing them. I once dyed them to see how absorbent they are. They are. Absorbent that is. I used up all of Aunt Kris’ Dylon. She was not impressed.
Perhaps my pomelo dye bath and my loofah playacting was not that far fetched. The Chinese, being supremely superstitious, would boil the rind and have a ceremonial bath with it to cleanse the body and aura of any evil spirits or energy which might have clung to the person. It is supposed to repel evil. Now why didn’t anyone tell me that when I met the ex-mistake? It is said that this marvellous fruit was first introduced to China around 100 BC. How it got from Malaysia to China is probably a story to rival The Da Vinci Code.
The rind is quite amazing. It is fed raw to patients suffering from excessive coughing and epileptic fits in Southeast Asia, and is also dried and used in a sweet dessert soup to soothe sore throats. It can also be candied just like orange rind and there are even pomelo rind marmalades. I’ve never tried that but I am definitely intrigued.
Pomelos keep fairly well. You may refrigerate them for up to a week to keep them fresh. I wouldn’t know. They seldom last past a day with me. However, I do peel the segments apart, membrane intact, and wrap them in cling wrap to refrigerate for quick snacks and they can last for a few days. Look out for unblemished skins and spongy heads for good pomelos. Did I just say that? Did that sound as bad to you as it does to me?
Besides its fantastic taste, pomelos are also highly nutritious. Because a cup of pomelo only contains 72 calories and almost non-existent cholesterol, fat or sodium, they are a dieter's dream. They make excellent snack food and if you keep the membrane intact till just prior to devouring, they are easily transportable, remaining fresh and juicy. I used to bring these on picnics with my young cousins, nieces and nephews. Kids like to chew on the individual baubles, making them too busy to talk and bug you. A babysitter's blessing.
Pomelo 1 cup - sections
Total fat (g): 0.076
Saturated fat (g): --
Monounsaturated fat (g): --
Potassium (mg): 410.400
Dietary fiber (g): 1.900
Protein (g): 1.444
Carbohydrate (g): 18.278
Cholesterol (mg): 0
Sodium (mg): 1.900
Vitamin C (mg): 115.900
So alright … I cheated. I blogged about the pomelo rind but my recipe uses the fruit. I shamefacedly give you my version of a pomelo salad.
Squid, Pomelo & Green Mango Salad
1 green mango
1 tbsp roasted, salted peanuts – I used the snack ones so I can have the leftovers with beer! Hic!
3 garlic cloves, sliced
¼ red onion, sliced – you can also use two small shallots
2 cups coriander, coarsely shredded by hand
Juice of 1 large lime
Juice of ½ lemon
2 tbsp fish sauce
About 3 tsp palm sugar
2 really hot red chilli padi, minced
Ground black pepper
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
1. Lob off the top of the pomelo and slice fairly deeply into the skin in segments – just like peeling a very thick orange. Dig right in till you feel the fruit and peel the skin off. Break into segments and reserve half to snack on or for a pomelo dessert. You only need half a pomelo.
2. Peel off the tough membrane and fan out the corners to release the beads of pomelo. Break them apart in chunks and loose beads to give it a more rustic and complex textural taste sensation in the salad.
3. Peel the green mango. Mine was little too ripe for my liking so it was sweeter and squishier than expected. Try to get the less ripe for easier handling and tartness. I decided to try to cut it the Thai way, which is to hack vertically at the mango lengthwise and then slice underneath and across it to get the thin juliennes. If the thought of potential finger dismemberment scares you, just grate it on the largest hole or cut it into juliennes.
4. Fry the onions in hot oil till golden brown and crispy. Drain and set aside
6. Crush the peanuts coarsely in the mortar & pestle
7. Add the fried garlic and crush with the peanuts till semi-finely crushed. Do not crush it till it is a powder. You want texture. Texture, you hear?? This toasty, smokey, nutty and earthy concoction is something I came up with one day and grew addicted to. I sprinkle this on everything from salads to rice to mash and even to encrust meat with a coriander paste. You can make extras and store them in airtight container in the fridge.
8. Right, let’s get the icky stuff out of the way. Remove the tentacles from the tubes of the squid and reserve this, making sure to pull any “innards”, the hard “teeth” and gross stuff from it and washing gently to cleanse. Pull out the hard, transparent spine.
9. Here’s where it got interesting. One squid had the lovely roe which I was loathed to lose. I peeled the two “wings” from both squids and removed the purplish membrane from the barren one. Split it right down the middle lengthwide and spread that out. I scored the inside of the spread-out tube with diagonal criss-cross with my trusty knife, making sure not to cut through. I cleaned this thoroughly and set aside.
10. I sliced the roeful squid into thick rings about 1 inch thick, making sure not to lose the roe
11. Pound the Szechuan peppercorns in the mortar & pestle till fairly finely crushed
12. Sprinkle the squids in about 1 tsp of salt (don’t worry that it will be too salty as it will balance out in the salad), 3 dashes of pepper, about 1/2 tbsp oil and the crushed Szechuan peppercorns. Mix gently to combine without squishing the roe or bursting the ink sacs on the tentacles.
13. Heat a grill pan till smoking and char grill the squid till cooked through. You know this when it turns opaque and curls up. If you are using the squid with roe, make sure that the roe is also cooked through. The scored squid will not curl up as much because of the scoring so don’t worry.
14. Remove from heat. Cut the scored squid into bite sizes and set aside with the rest
15. Mix the pomelo and green mango in a salad bowl and toss in the coriander
16. Mix the fish sauce with the palm sugar, the juices of the lime and lemon (you can use just lime but I had ½ a lemon left over so I decided to use it), and the minced chilli padi in a bowl. Taste and adjust if required. Remember that the pomelo and the green mango are tart and there is quite a lot of pomelo so your sauce should be fairly vibrant in order to stand up to this assertive combination
17. Pour over the fruits and toss well to mix
18. Spoon salad into a platter and plate the squid on top
19. Sprinkle the crispy onions and the garlic-peanut crumble over the top
Needless to say, I finished the entire salad at one sitting. But that’s all I ate for lunch and it was good, even if I say so myself. Wonderfully healthy, ebullient with the freshness of spring, piquant, sweet, spicy, sea salty, herbalicious and immensely satisfying, this salad scores a 10/10 for taste and health.
You can make this with grilled prawns but I noticed so many people making prawns and pomelo or green mango salad recently that I wanted a change. I also wanted a firmer, more toothsome bite and a different sweetness to balance the tartness of the fruits. I think the squid salad fulfilled that admirably and is definitely a salad I would repeat again and again.
Just so you know, I did not forget about the pomelo rind. I am drying it as I post this to see if I can use it for a sweet herbal tea for sore throats. See, Kalyn, I did not cheat … much.