CASA GRANDE

There are plenty of things to look forward to in September, including Labor Day, the first day of autumn and the promise of cooler temperatures. The humble papaya also gets a shout-out in September, with National Papaya Month.

Tropical, sweet and nutritious, the papaya is a versatile fruit that’s great in a smoothie, in pancakes or even in a face-mask.

With its soft, green-yellow peel on the exterior and pink-orange fruit on the interior, it’s one of the prettier fruits.

When our family visits Haiti, papayas are top on the list of foods we seek out. And it’s not hard to find fresh-off-the-tree papayas in Haiti as they are grown in abundance throughout the Caribbean.

Major producers of papayas are Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, Africa and India, but as a tropical fruit, it’s also popularly grown in the Caribbean, including Haiti, where it’s a major part of the Haitian diet and lifestyle.

As well as milkshakes, we’ve had papayas served up in salads, cut in half and roasted and also served with a stir fry. Of course, it’s awesome when eaten fresh as a snack.

Papaya contains magnesium, which can help combat insomnia, so in Haiti, a papaya milkshake, made from a blending of the fruit with milk and ice, is a common pre-bedtime treat.

In our family, we whip up papaya milkshakes fairly often but I’ll admit, they don’t taste the same as they do in Haiti. We’ve tried using frozen and canned papaya but have found that fresh papaya works best. Also, to get the flavor as close to the Haitian papaya milkshake as possible, we use evaporated milk rather than fresh milk, as the canned variety is more commonly used in Haiti.

Each serving of papaya also contains vitamins C and A as well as potassium, calcium and iron, so it’s also good for hair and skin, blood pressure and the kidneys.

Perhaps one reason the papaya is so popular in the Caribbean is that the whole tree — fruit, bark and leaves — is useful. The leaves can be made into a tea that’s been used to prevent malaria, and papaya tree bark can be made into rope. Dried and ground, papaya seeds are sometimes used as a substitute for pepper.

Unripened papaya fruit has an enzyme called papain that is used as a meat tenderizer.

Below are a few recipes for enjoying papayas in September or any time of the year.

Haitian papaya milkshake

½ papaya, peeled, seeded and diced

1½ cups crushed ice

1 teaspoon salt

1 can evaporated milk

4 tablespoons sugar (or honey)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Yum.

Papaya face mask

This face mask from the ProPapaya website, mexicanpapayas.com, could also be a yummy breakfast or blended into a smoothie.

½ cup fresh papaya, peeled, seeded and cut into pieces

1 cup plain yogurt

1 tablespoon honey

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. The face mask can be used right away or stored in the refrigerator for later use. Smooth the mixture onto the face and allow to sit for about 15 minutes, than rinse using cool water.

Green papaya salad

2 cups fresh papaya, peeled and shredded

2 cups green or yellow beans, cooked

1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half

¼ cup roasted peanuts

¼ cup coriander

6 to 8 leaves of Thai basil

For the dressing

2 Thai red chilies

1 clove of garlic

1 teaspoon brown sugar

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons mango lemon juice

Using a mortar and pestle, muddle the ingredients for the dressing together.

Transfer dressing to a large bowl. Add the papaya, beans and tomatoes and toss until well coated. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with roasted peanuts and garnish with fresh coriander.

Chill for about one hour before serving.

Mango papaya chia seed pudding

Chia pudding

3 tablespoons chia seeds

1 cup almond milk

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon ginger

Mango and papaya mousse

1 ripe mango

½ small papaya, peeled, seeded and diced

1 apricot

3 tablespoons coconut cream

Mix together chia seeds, milk, maple syrup and ginger. Stir until chia seeds begin to form a gel-like texture.

Transfer mixture to a small jar and place in the fridge for about four hours.

In a blender, mix mango papaya, apricot and coconut cream. Blend until smooth.

Layer in a tall glass or jar and chill for about an hour or longer.

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