Modern supermarkets still give prominent visibility to traditional favorites such as oranges, apples and bananas, but exotic newcomers frequently fill the spaces between those familiar offerings. One especially striking example is the pitaya, or dragon fruit, a mango-sized exotic with the vivid hues of a tropical orchid. Despite its spiky and fiery appearance, the dragon fruit is a novice-friendly treat that's mild in flavor and easy to peel and eat.
A Quick Introduction
Dragon fruit vaguely resemble the blossoms of a Christmas cactus, and for good reason. They grow on a large, semi-tropical cactus, with oversized blossoms that rapidly fill out to form the oval fruit. The variety sold most often in the United States features magenta skin with pale yellow and green highlights, and pale flesh inside. Other cultivars have vivid, hot-pink flesh; or yellow flesh and a paler, yellow-tinted skin. With any cultivar, the fruit should be firm when ripe and have just a slight degree of give when squeezed, like a kiwifruit or an avocado.
Slice One Open
The dragon fruit's skin is leathery and inedible, but as with a banana's skin, it yields easily to a paring knife. The quickest way to eat a dragon fruit is simply to slice it in half and scoop out the soft flesh with a spoon. Its texture is similar to kiwi, though slightly firmer, and it's kiwi-like in the scattering of tiny, dark, edible seeds sprinkled through its flesh. The fruit's flavor is less dramatic than its appearance, and in fact is downright understated. A well-ripened pitaya is sweet, juicy and refreshing, with faintly floral hints reminiscent of rose water. The colored varieties are more flavorful than those with white flesh, but they're all rather low-key.
Plays Well With Others
In fruit trays or buffet settings, dragon fruit lends an intriguingly distinct element to your trays or serving dishes. Scoop the soft flesh easily with a melon baller, or dice it evenly and add it to a display of other fruits. To take advantage of the skin's rich color, slice the fruit lengthwise into spears and serve it with the skin on. Eat it like melon wedges, leaving the skin behind. The dragon fruit's mild flavor, juicy texture and monochromatic paleness also make it a fine addition to fruit salads. The fruit's own flavor and texture provide an unobtrusively supportive backdrop to its more intensely flavored peers.
Mix It Up
Dragon fruit's mellow sweetness and neutral color -- or its vivid color, in the case of the pink version -- make it a natural for the blender. Use the bright-hued cultivar as a colorful base in smoothies and shakes with deep-colored fruits and berries, or pale dragon fruit as a complement to fruits with less assertive colors. Soft-textured dragon fruit purees easily, providing sweetness and body to fruit-based cocktails or sorbets.