Tropical fruit recipes for spring | Nigel Slater

It’s the fruit I miss. The dark raspberries of autumn with their heady, eau-de-vie aroma. A wedge of ice-cold, scarlet watermelon eaten in the garden and the honeyed fuzz of a warm apricot in late summer. No matter. Until then, we have a stream of welcome visitors. Fruits, as if in response to our steel grey winter skies, whose juice and flesh is amber, orange and gold. Fruit that is sent to cheer us on those days that are not quite winter, not yet spring.

Passion fruits, pineapples, papayas and mangoes are here to lift our spirits, as are blood oranges, fragile persimmons with their jellied flesh and the more resilient sharon fruits. I usually wait until June to eat a mango, but there are small Thai varieties around right now that are good if left to ripen until their skin shows the odd wrinkle.

We shouldn’t forget the everyday banana. I like them sliced in thick coins and dropped into deep pools of cardamom infused, canary-yellow custard, or crushed into a fool with yogurt, lemon juice and cream. This week I fried them, in a tempura-style batter as fine as tissue, then rolled them in sugar, and ate them with a coconut dappled dip.

Little is to be gained from cooking tropical fruits. A roast pineapple perhaps, laced with vanilla, rum and orange juice. A banana pancake or a cut-and-come-again cake. And I did once have a very fine mango tarte tatin in a snazzy restaurant. But they do benefit from a little warmth, which is why banana custard is so cosseting. Hence my suggestion this week to fold chopped sharon fruits, papayas and passion fruits into a deep bowl of golden-skinned rice pudding. The fruit cheers the rice, the rice warms the fruit’s tropical heart.

Cardamom rice, golden fruits

The salad may appear a little too tart when eaten on its own, but married with the sweet, warm rice you will find it doesn’t need any sweetening.
Serves 4

green cardamom pods 6
milk 1 litre
bay leaves 2
vanilla pod 1
butter 30g
pudding rice 80g, short grain
caster sugar 3-4 tbsp

For the fruit:
passion fruit
or sharon fruit

Set the oven at 140C/gas mark 1.

Crack the green cardamom pods and extract the tiny brown-black seeds from within. Crush them to a powder using a spice mill or pestle and mortar. Pour the milk into a saucepan. Add the ground cardamom, bay leaves, vanilla pod and butter, and bring to the boil.

Put the pudding rice and caster sugar in a baking dish then, as soon as the milk boils (watch carefully), pour it over the rice and stir until the sugar has dissolved.

Slide the dish into the preheated oven and bake for 2 hours until the rice is soft and creamy and the skin is pale gold.

Make the salad. Cut the passion fruit in half and squeeze the juice and seeds into a small sieve over a mixing bowl. Press as much juice through the sieve as you can, then discard the seeds.

Peel the papaya, discard the black seeds and cut the fruit into small dice, then add to the passion fruit juice. Cut the persimmon or sharon fruit into dice – there is no need to peel – and toss with the papaya. Cover and chill thoroughly. To serve, spoon the warm rice into bowls then add a spoonful of chilled fruits.

Banana fritters, coconut dip

Fritter them away: banana fritters with coconut dip.

Fritter them away: banana fritters with coconut dip. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer

Bananas that are over-ripe will become too soft when cooked in batter. The most successful are those that are slightly under-ripe. The skin will still be a little green here and there, the fruit only slightly giving to the touch. I suggest dried coconut rather than ready desiccated, which is dry and sawdust like.
Serves 4

bananas 4, large and slightly under-ripe
caster sugar for rolling
groundnut oil for deep frying

For the batter:
plain flour 100g
rice flour 50g
baking powder 1 tsp
water 200ml

For the dip:
dried coconut flakes 50g
natural yogurt 200g
lime 1
papaya 200g

Make the batter. Combine the flours and baking powder in a bowl. Stir in the cold water and beat with a fork or small whisk until you have a batter with a consistency like double cream. Set aside. Scatter a deep layer of caster sugar over a plate in which to roll the finished fritters.

Make the dip. Blitz the dried coconut to fine crumbs in a food processor. Transfer to a medium-sized mixing bowl and add the yogurt. Peel the papaya and grate it coarsely into the bowl. Finely grate the lime zest then mix together and chill.

Heat the oil to 180C in a deep pan. Peel the bananas, check for blemishes then cut each in half. Dip the bananas in the batter then lower carefully into the bubbling oil. Do this in small batches, no more than 4 halves at a time. Crowding the pan will result in lowering the oil temperature and the bananas sticking together.

Turn the bananas over as they cook. A pair of chopsticks or kitchen tongs will be useful for this. When the batter is golden remove the bananas with a draining spoon and lay them on kitchen paper, then roll in the caster sugar and continue with the next batch. Serve the fritters with the coconut yogurt.

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