Strange fruit

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 January, 2010, 12:00am

The kiwi's rough, fuzzy brown skin covers a colourful interior. The most common is green, although some varieties are a pretty golden yellow. A cross section of the fruit shows an attractive sunburst pattern dotted with small, delicately crunchy black seeds.

About 20 years ago, in the days of nouvelle cuisine, the fruit was overused to the point of being a clichE, along with sun-dried tomatoes and rasp- berry vinegar. It can be better appreciated when used sparingly - not served in every course from soup to dessert.

The flavour of the kiwi (known in Cantonese as kei yi gwo - 'unusual' or 'strange fruit') is sweet-tart with an acidic bite. Baby kiwis - about 1.5cm in diameter - can be eaten skin and all but the larger fruit should be peeled (not a difficult task because the skin is soft). If you have sensitive skin, you should rinse your hands frequently (or wear kitchen gloves) if handling a lot of kiwis, because the flesh contains an enzyme, actinidin, that can cause irritation. This enzyme also makes the fruit a natural meat tenderiser: pur?e the flesh, add other seasonings (such as soy sauce, rice wine, garlic and ginger) then spread the marinade over a tough cut of meat. Don't marinate it for too long, though, or the enzymes from the fruit will give the meat an unpleasantly mushy texture.

Kiwis are nutritious with high levels of vitamin C and fibre. You can tell the fruit is ripe when it yields slightly when pressed gently with the fingertips.

Other than in marinades, I've never tasted a cooked kiwi dish that I liked because the fruit loses its bright, refreshing flavour when heated. It makes a beautiful sorbet flecked with black seeds: puree the fruit and mix with an equal amount of sugar syrup, a splash of vodka and some fresh lemon juice, then freeze in an ice cream maker.

The fruit also makes a colourful addition to winter fruit salads made with orange and grapefruit segments and chunks of fresh pineapple, along with some Grand Marnier and finely shredded mint leaves.