When those orchid vendors on Sunset Drive and Old Cutler set up coolers and cardboard signs with the word LYCHEES scrawled across the top, my heart skips a beat with excitement. Lychees represent one of the few real “seasonal” fruits we enjoy in Miami. Due to mass transportation, our grocery stores and markets are full of other seasonal fruits year round, but lychees make a quick May appearance (sometimes we have them through June), and then they are gone. Inevitably, I always regret not buying just one more bag.
Lychee trees are fickle about fruiting. I have a lychee tree in my backyard, and in seven years, I have only once had the luxury of it offering a bounty of those juicy, sweet gems. That incredible year I discovered new ways to incorporate lychees into the kitchen. With the exception of a lychee martini, recipes that include lychees are uncommon, but an understanding of their flavor and texture make it easy to use them in everyday dishes.
Lychee Cocktails: Yes, the lychee martini is a standard, but there are even better ways to enjoy lychee libations. Their floral flavor pairs well with herbs, so muddle them with the mint in a mojito or use them in white sangria with basil.
· Salads: Because they are so juicy, lychees can be used in the dressing and as a topping for salads. For the dressing, mash a few lychees in the bottom of a large bowl. Add extra virgin olive oil (eyeball it so that you pour just a little more oil than you have lychee juice), a splash of white wine vinegar, a pinch of salt, and few twists of fresh ground pepper. Whisk it together…done. As for the salad, I’m a big fan of arugula, and I think the perfect salad formula is greens with vinaigrette, fruit, nuts, and cheese. For a lychee salad, I prefer sliced lychees, toasted almonds, and Gorgonzola.
· Pizzas: The texture of lychees reminds me of fresh pineapple, so why not take the concept of a Hawaiian pizza to the next level? Try lychees with prosciutto and thinly sliced onions on a pizza, and for even more flavor, spike the crust with fresh rosemary. It's a winning combo!
· Freezer Jams: Admittedly, the only time I've ever made lychee freezer jam was that banner year of my backyard crop. Making the freezer jams offered a great way to continue enjoying lychees throughout the year by spicing them up for a chutney, glazing pork tenderloins, making jam pies, or just having a great pb&j.
· Sorbets: Lychee sorbet is my all-time favorite way to use lychees in the kitchen. The fruit provides so much juice and sweetness that the sorbet base barely needs added water and sugar. Yes, you can add other citrus to the base, or you can top the sorbet with berries, but why? Just enjoy the lychee in its pure form.
Of course, the best way to enjoy a lychee will always be standing over the sink with the juice running down your chin while you peel the next one, but hopefully, these ideas will inspire new, more civilized uses for this most glorious fruit.
Happy LYCHEE season! Don't miss it as it is a short one.