Succulent Summer
Enliven your meals with exotic tropical fruits

By Monique Cole
Photos by Rita Maas

Prickly-leafed pineapples, soft and blotchy papayas, hairy brown kiwis ... have you passed these over for the comforting familiarity of apples and oranges? Summer's bounty includes these delectable fruits and more, all native to tropical climates. If you're willing to peel back their intimidating exteriors, you're in for a nutrient-packed treat.

Besides having fabulous taste and vibrant colors, tropical fruits are healthy for you. Compared with apples and peaches, for example, kiwis, papayas, mangoes, and litchis have a higher average percentage of vitamin C, folate, potassium, beta-carotene, and fiber. What's more, their out-of-the-ordinary flavors and textures—tart, sweet, tender, fibrous—partner splendidly with meats, liven up salads, and add zip to desserts.

These five recipes feature commonly available tropical fruits. But keep your eyes open for even more exotic offerings. (Ever heard of soursops, cherimoyas, or kiwanos?) You never know what new taste treat might be waiting for you.

Grilled Mahimahi with Mango Salsa

Serves 4 / Here, Mexican, Hawaiian, and Asian ingredients combine for a one-world celebration of flavor and color. The spicy-sweet salsa livens up mild mahimahi, a fish native to tropical waters. You can also serve the salsa with tortilla chips, quesadillas, or baked chicken.

2 tablespoons freshly grated gingerroot
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
Juice of 1 small lime
4 mahimahi fillets (6-7 ounces each)

Mango Salsa
1 ripe mango, peeled and chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen and thawed
1 small jalapeño or habanero chili, seeded and minced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 green onions, diced (including white parts)
1/4 cup diced Thai basil or cilantro
Juice of 1 small lime

1. Combine gingerroot, sesame oil, soy sauce, and lime juice in a large zip-top bag. Rinse fish, pat dry, and place in bag, sealing tightly. Marinate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

2. Combine all salsa ingredients in a medium bowl. Chill at least 1/2 hour.

3. Preheat and clean grill (it should be very hot so the fish doesn't stick). Remove fish from marinade; pat with a paper towel to remove excess marinade.

4. Cook fish on grill, about 2-3 minutes per side, or until internal temperature reaches 145°F. Remove fish to a serving platter and cover with salsa. Serve immediately.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 219 calories % fat calories: 9 Fat: 2g Saturated Fat: 1g Cholesterol: 124mg Carbohydrate: 17g Protein: 33g Fiber: 3g Sodium: 322mg

Papaya-Avocado Salad

Serves 4 / Usually discarded, papaya seeds are edible and have a slightly peppery taste. It's OK if some of the pulp sticks to the seeds—it just adds flavor. The dressing is also good as a sauce for fish or chicken.

1 ripe papaya (about 1 pound)
1 large ripe avocado
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
2 cups endive leaves or mixed baby greens
Toasted macadamia nuts (optional)

Papaya-seed Dressing
3-4 tablespoons fresh papaya seeds
1/3 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup canola or other vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon dry mustard
3 tablespoons chopped Maui or white onion

1. Cut papaya in half and remove seeds; don't discard seeds. Combine all dressing ingredients in a blender; blend on high until papaya seeds are about the size of ground black pepper.

2. Peel papaya and cut flesh into 1/2-inch cubes. Cut avocado in half; remove pit and peel, and dice flesh into 1/2-inch cubes. Toss papaya, avocado, and green onions with dressing to taste. Serve over endive leaves or mixed greens, garnished with nuts if desired.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving (with 1 tbsp dressing): Calories: 160 calories % fat calories: 61 Fat: 12g Saturated Fat: 2g Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate: 15g Protein: 2g Fiber: 6g Sodium: 50mg

Pineapple-Banana Bread

Serves 12 / Last year, I started trading mangoes from my backyard tree for pineapples, coconuts, and apple bananas at a fruit stand near my Oahu home.

The vendors, a mother-daughter team from Tonga, were so generous that I brought them a loaf of this bread to say thank you. Apple bananas, also called manzanos, are smaller and sweeter than the usual variety, but any overripe bananas will suffice.

1 cup rolled oats
2 large eggs
1-1/4 cups nonfat milk
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1-1/2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup finely chopped mango
3/4 cup mashed ripe bananas
3/4 cup finely chopped fresh or canned pineapple
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts (optional)
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Using cooking spray, coat the bottoms of two 8-inch or one 9-inch loaf pans.

2. Spread oats on a cookie sheet and bake until golden, 5-7 minutes. Cool.

3. Beat eggs in a medium bowl, then whisk in milk, sugar, and oil. Stir in toasted oatmeal and set aside for at least 3 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine flours, wheat germ, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Make a well, then pour in oat mixture. Stir just until combined. Fold in mango, bananas, and pineapple and the macadamia nuts if desired.

5. Pour dough into pans, tapping pans on the counter to remove air bubbles. Sprinkle coconut over top. Bake about 1 hour for small pans or 1-1/4 hours for large. Test for doneness using a sharp knife or a toothpick inserted in the middle.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 252 calories % fat calories: 30 Fat: 9g Saturated Fat: 2g Cholesterol: 36mg Carbohydrate: 38g Protein: 6g Fiber: 3g Sodium: 279mg

Aztec Corn Soup with Yucca and Plantains

Serves 6-7 / Plantains, or plátanos, are a starchier, milder version of their close relatives, bananas. Serve slices of fried plantain as a side dish to this hearty soup, reprinted with permission from The Purple Kiwi Cookbook by Karen Caplan (Frieda's, 2001).

2 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 cup sliced celery
1 cup chopped carrot
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces yucca root (also called cassava), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 plantain, peeled and chopped
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen and thawed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

1. Melt butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Sauté onion, celery, carrot, and garlic for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in yucca, plantain, broth, water, lemon juice, and orange peel. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer, partially covered, for 30-40 minutes, or until yucca and plantain are tender.

2. Remove half the soup (about 3 cups) to a food processor or blender; cover and process until puréed. Return puréed mixture to saucepan and stir in corn, salt, and pepper. Cook until heated through.

3. Sprinkle each serving with cilantro or parsley and serve.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 195 calories % fat calories: 20 Fat: 5g Saturated Fat: 3g Cholesterol: 10mg Carbohydrate: 36g Protein: 6g Fiber: 6g Sodium: 408mg

Kiwi and Carambola Tart

Serves 10-12 / This elegant yet simple dessert is a perfect way to enjoy kiwi, including the new gold variety. Sweeter and softer than the green version, with a flavor that calls to mind melon and peaches, the gold kiwi made its international debut in the summer of 2000. Slices of carambola, also known as star fruit, do not require peeling and add a festive flair.

1 cup graham-cracker crumbs (about 6 whole graham crackers)
1/3 cup toasted wheat germ
2 tablespoons maple sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon water
6 ounces low-fat lemon yogurt
1/3 cup low-fat cream cheese, softened
Zest of one small lime
2 green or gold kiwifruit, peeled and sliced
1 carambola (star fruit), sliced
1/2 pint strawberries, sliced

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan or individual tart pans with nonstick cooking spray. Stir together graham-cracker crumbs, wheat germ, sugar, and ginger in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, mix together butter, oil, and water, then pour over graham cracker mixture and stir with a fork. With moist fingers, press crumb mixture onto bottom of pan and 1/4 inch up sides. Bake for 10 minutes, or until set. Cool.

2. In a medium bowl, blend yogurt, cream cheese, and lime zest until smooth. Spread mixture on cooled crust and refrigerate until set, about 1 hour.

3. Arrange kiwifruit, carambola, and strawberries on top of filling. Serve chilled.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 155 calories % fat calories: 40 Fat: 7g Saturated Fat: 3g Cholesterol: 10mg Carbohydrate: 20g Protein: 4g Fiber: 2g Sodium: 131mg