KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 15 — “Sodchun!”
It’s a familiar refrain if you watch enough of the breezy (and often delightfully zany) Thai commercials for chilled beverages. From fruit flavoured soda pop to “chewy” drinks with translucent cubes of jelly, someone always announces, with plenty of gusto in their voice: “Sodchun!”
In case you haven’t guessed by now, sodchun means “refreshing” in Thai. It’s an effervescent declaration of superior thirst quenching properties, of rejuvenating tired palates, of bringing a little skip back to your step.
A lot of this has to do with the cornucopia of tropical fruits available to us and our northern neighbour: rambutans and guava, dragon fruit and star fruit, mango and papaya.
One unusual suspect, perhaps less heralded but no less deserving, is the homely looking cherimoya.
Also known as the soursop or sweetsop (which are actually different species — their taste differs slightly with their names as clues; more on this below), this knobbly, pale green fruit can be quite unassuming.
Open one up and you’d be rewarded by valleys and peaks of snowy flesh, with hidden troves of obsidian seeds. Sweet, yes. Sour, too. Perfumed with the passionate embrace of pear and tangerine.
And above all else, refreshing. Sodchun.
Now, how to translate this into a dish? One could argue it’s best savoured over the kitchen sink, elegantly spitting the seeds as a form of culinary target practice, but this probably isn’t the most attractive way to share the fruit with family and friends (not unless everyone has an abundance of competitive spirit and one is in the possession of a rather large sink).
As often is the case, I find inspiration in the place where I first discovered a particular ingredient or had enjoyed it the most. The soi of Bangkok, those bustling alleys full of fruit and vegetable stands jostling for space on the narrow pavements.
There we would find ripe mangoes and pungent durians; bouquets of cilantro and holy basil, the latter destined for a stir fry krapao; mountains of fiery prik kee noo (bird’s eye chillies), baskets of limes and shallots...
A salad, then.
Tangy and sweet in equal measure, the cherimoya makes for a fine foundation to a refreshing medley of tropical fruits and herbs. There’s more than a touch of Thai in this dish; it’s positively bursting with “Sodchun!”
TROPICAL CHERIMOYA SALAD
The cherimoya is the fruit of Annona cherimola, a plant found in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world. Its name comes from the Quechua word chirimuya, meaning “cold seeds” — which perhaps alludes to how refreshing it is, eaten as is or in a salad.
Though it looks similar to its close cousins the sweetsop (Annona squamosa) and the soursop (Annona muricata), they are in fact different species.
Cherimoya lacks the thorns of the soursop while the sweetsop has more distinct knobby segments in its rind. They are often used interchangeably, however, and referred to colloquially as the custard apple.
The other aspects of this tropical salad ought to be more familiar: chunks of ripe mango, pale pink shrimp (boiled briefly then chilled immediately), the sharp bite of raw red onions (or shallots), the acid from fresh limes, the heat from bird’s eye chillies (the red cili padi, please, for its startling, vibrant colour).
Too often cilantro is considered as a mere garnish. A nice to have but to be dispensed with if you can’t find any.
Here, I’d argue, while indeed a garnish, cilantro is also an essential component of the salad, imparting its distinctive flavour (a blend of citrus and parsley, almost) and enervating fragrance.
This is meant to be a fresh-tasting salad, not a ceviche, so there’s no need to marinate the shrimp (already cooked) and raw shallots in lime juice and fish sauce. The idea here is assembly, then a quick toss to combine, and you’re ready to serve!
Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon coconut oil
½ teaspoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon gula Melaka, ground into powder
1 ripe cherimoya, cut into bite-sized chunks
Half a ripe mango, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 dozen large shrimps, cooked, peeled and chilled
1-2 red onions (or shallots), thinly sliced
2-3 red cili padi, thinly sliced
Fresh cilantro leaves, to finish
In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, coconut oil, fish sauce and ground gula Melaka. Stir well to mix. Set this salad dressing aside.
Add the cherimoya, mango, shrimps, red onions and red cili padi to a larger mixing bowl. Pour the salad dressing over these ingredients and toss to mix thoroughly.
Divide into two plates to serve and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves.
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