Fruit of the Month: Pejibaye
What fruit tastes like a cross between roasted chestnuts and a perfectly buttered baked potato? The wonderfully unique pejibaye, or peach palm fruit in English, is one of Costa Rica's must-try foods. One of the country's most readily available fruits, you can buy pejibaye (pronounced pay-hee-by-yay) at your local farmers' market, corner fruit stand, or grocery store; they usually cost a little under $2 a pound. Even the upscale Auto Mercado chain sells these starchy delicacies simmering in light brine. And once you sample a freshly cooked pejibaye topped with a dollop of mayonnaise, you'll understand why homemakers and chefs across the country praise the nutty, rich essence of this underestimated delight.
In fact, every October more than twenty thousand people gather in the tiny hamlet of Tucurrique de Cartago for the annual Pejibaye Festival. Here, you can tease your taste buds with all sorts of pejibaye-based concoctions, from cakes and cookies to soups and handcrafted moonshine.
The fruit is harvested in large hanging clusters from the tops of a particular variety of palm tree known as Bactris gasipaes. Found in the tropics of Central and South America, these palms also produce another savory food quite popular in Costa Rica: palmito, or hearts of palm. The tough skin of the pejibaye ranges from yellowish-orange to red in color, and the fruit is always boiled before consumption. The favored method of preparation is to cook them (skin intact) in a large pot of heavily salted water for one to two hours, until tender. Afterward, you can peel them, remove the large seed and enjoy the vibrantly orange fibrous meat, which is similar in texture to a baked sweet potato. A small crown of sour cream or mayonnaise adds some creaminess to the naturally dry fruit.
Though peach palm fruit is rich in Vitamin C, calcium and phosphorus, think twice before you scarf down too many. The average pejibaye contains about 200 calories, so they're not exactly a light snack. If you want a dish that will lure folks back for seconds, give this tried and tested recipe a go; we promise you won't be disappointed.
Cream of Pejibaye Soup (serves 4)
3 cups cooked pejibaye: pealed, seeded and chopped into small pieces
2.5 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon of butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup finely diced onions
1/4 cup chopped carrots
Salt and pepper to taste
In a saucepan on medium heat, add butter and saute the celery, carrots and onions until they turn light brown. Incorporate the pejibaye pieces and cook the mixture for three minutes. Add the vegetable stock, bring it to a boil and cook on low heat for roughly 20 minutes. Using a hand blender or traditional mixer, blend the ingredients until smooth and strain. Put the strained mixture back in the saucepan, add the heavy cream and bring it to a simmer. Season with salt and fresh pepper to taste. On low heat, let the soup cook for five minutes, stirring constantly.