Papaya Salad & Perry Como

June 16th, 2010 / Comments 5

As I was making papaya salad for a party we had on Friday night, my friend Victoria began to sing a song I hadn’t heard since I was eight. My father loved big band music and crooners and Perry Como was one of his favorites.

black tile c egbert Papaya Salad & Perry Como

When he played his 78-rpm record of Perry Como singing Papaya Mama, my sister and I jumped around and tried to dance like Carmen Miranda. She was the Brazilian samba singer who wore hats piled high with fruit and the inspiration for Chiquita Banana. I didn’t think of papaya as something to eat until many years later.

blender c egbert Papaya Salad & Perry Como

The first time I tasted papaya, a friend had whirled it in a blender with milk and ice. The drink was a lovely pale, peachy-orange color and tasted terrible. I next tasted it a few years later with pineapple, mango and banana as part of a tropical fruit salad on a holiday in Puerto Rico and I didn’t mind it. It had a nice texture and I enjoyed it topped with a bit of lime juice.

Papaya is a native of Mexico and it is cultivated in most tropical and subtropical countries around the world. It grows on a tree-like plant that looks a bit like a small umbrella of leaves atop a very long stem. There are two types of papayas, Mexican and Hawaiian. Hawaiian papayas are small, usually weighing about a pound. Mexican papayas are much larger and may weigh as much as ten pounds. I prefer the slightly less intense flavor of the Mexican papaya. The edible seeds from the hollow center of a ripe papaya have a spicy, pepper flavor and are used in salad dressings or salsas.

Packed with vitamins, minerals and natural fiber, papaya delivers a nutritional punch. Indigenous Americans have used papaya, rich in an enzyme called papain, to tenderize tough meat for thousands of years. Rubbing papaya peel on to skin rashes, insect bites, jellyfish stings and burns is a common, natural remedy where papayas grow. Papaya extract is sold in tablet form as a remedy for digestive problems.

Although there are lots of good reasons to eat papaya, the best reason is that it is delicious, particularly when featured in an Indian inspired vegetarian dinner salad. Here’s how I made it:

Papaya Salad with Baked Brown Rice

I preheated the oven to 375 degrees, heated two and a half cups of water, one tablespoon of unsalted butter and one tablespoon of kosher salt in a saucepan. I put one and a half cups of short grain brown rice into an eight-inch square, ceramic baking dish and when the water came to a boil, I poured it over the rice. I covered the dish tightly with aluminum foil and baked it for one hour. I uncovered the rice and fluffed it with a fork.

As Victoria hummed Papaya Mama, I peeled and de-seeded the papaya. I cut it into one-inch chunks and put it into a large salad bowl. I cut one medium red onion into quarter inch dice, put the onion into a small bowl, added a teaspoon of salt and covered it with cold water to eliminate the raw onion tang. I added to the papaya one large red pepper cut into half-inch chunks, one finely minced jalapeno pepper, half a cup of walnuts, half a cup of raisins, the leaves from a bunch of cilantro, the rinsed and drained onion and the cooled rice.

For the dressing, I blended together two teaspoons of ground cumin, one teaspoon of ground coriander, one minced clove of garlic, three tablespoons of red wine vinegar, three tablespoons of olive oil and half a cup of apricot jam. I stirred the dressing into the rice and papaya mixture.

I baked the short grain brown rice a couple of hours before I put the salad together so that it would room temperature when I assembled the salad. My original recipe used mango chutney but I was unable to find it at the market and I have found that either peach or apricot jam works well. You can replace the cilantro with flat leaf parsley and use scallions instead of a red onion.

Our party was a celebration of the musical collaboration of three friends combined with the singing and music making of ten others. I wished that Perry, Carmen and Chiquita had been able to join us.

Papaya Salad List

  • Papaya
  • Red Onion
  • Red Pepper
  • Jalapeno Pepper
  • Walnuts
  • Raisins
  • Cilantro
  • Brown Rice
  • Ground Cumin
  • Ground Coriander
  • Garlic
  • Red Wine Vinegar
  • Olive Oil
  • Apricot Jam
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