Friday, December 18, 2009

Food: Dulce de Papaya

The holidays are a time to get together with friends and family, and social get-togethers often revolve around food. Here is a recipe I'll be preparing for the holidays. It's probably not too useful for my readers in the north where green papaya is not available, but for what it's worth, here it is. Variations undoubtedly would work with other fruits.

I have never been a huge fan of papaya. I can eat it mixed in a fruit salad, and it's OK with a little lemon or lime juice, but there is something about the blandness that doesn't always agree with me. However, I eat a bit of papaya from time to time, and along with other fruit and vegetable trimmings from my kitchen, the uneaten parts end up as compost in the garden.

The result was this past year that seeds germinated and I have two large papaya plants in my back yard. I don't really have room for what amount to small trees, but I was curious and decided to let them be, just to watch them grow. Some months later, the plants are over ten feet/three meters tall, and producing fruit. I was wondering what I was going to do with all that papaya, when a friend of mine showed me how to make "dulce de papaya," or candied papaya, with unripe, green fruit. It is very tasty, and the flavor barely resembles that of mature papaya. Here's the recipe.

You need: green papayas; sugar; cinnamon; water; large deep skillet or stew pot with lid; sharp knife. There are no fixed quantities. This example was done with a small papaya of about 3 pounds/1.5 kilograms. You'll have to try it and adjust the recipe to your tastes.

Peel the papaya. As you do this you may want occasionally to rinse the sap that comes out by dunking the fruit in the sink or putting it under running water. The sap of the unripe fruit is strong and exposure may cause skin irritation. When the papaya is peeled, let it soak for a few minutes to remove more of the juices from the surface so it is easier to handle.

Cut the papaya in half and scoop out seeds. The fruit is hard, about the consistency of raw potato. This is a "Maradol" papaya. Some, like this example, are seedless.

Slice and soak the pieces in water for awhile to leach out more of the sap. Some cooks at this point suggest soaking the pieces in a solution of lime in water, I assume to counteract the acidity of the juices. I have tried it both with a lime solution and with plain water, and don't notice any difference in the end product. It's easier to skip the lime.

When the soaking process is about done, carmelize about a cup of sugar in the bottom of your skillet or pot. Lightly stir the papaya slices in the molten sugar for a few minutes, watching carefully to avoid burning the sugar. Slowly add water to partially cover the fruit. Break up and add cinnamon. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer, gently stirring occasionally, until papaya begins to soften.
The papaya will take on a red-brown color. Add more sugar if you want it really sweet. Cook until the pieces reach almost the texture you want. If you want the results a bit firm, remove promptly. Drain papaya and allow to air dry until the surface is no longer wet. Sometimes in this climate anything sweet and moist will attract fruit flies. If this is a problem, I position a fan to blow over the drying fruit. This cools and dries it faster, and keeps flying insects away. To me dulce de papaya tastes best when still warm, but it will keep for days in the refrigerator and makes a nice dessert served chilled. I think it would be good with whipped cream on top. Some people sprinkle a little sugar or drizzle honey on the papaya when serving. I like it plain.


  1. Click around on the net for somtom recipes. This Thai salad is made with fresh green papaya. Delicious!

  2. Thanks! Will try this, haven't eaten this in years!


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