By Eva Rodriguez, HF&G Interpretive Services Manager
Last week, I shared the bounty of Cleveland Botanical Garden’s Costa Rica biome of Smith Glasshouse with the people of Cleveland on Kickin’ it with Kenny, Fox8’s morning show. Glasshouse Horticulturist, Mark Bir was kind enough to harvest a Vietnamese red papaya (Carica papaya), a fruit tree with varieties present across the tropics. Our specimen is a self-fertile, dwarf and was planted about 5 years ago. These trees are short-lived, and Mark suspects that it will only produce fruit for another 10 years or so. He said that I was welcome to take it home after the show and I jumped on that opportunity.
Growing up, I never liked papaya. My grandmother used to suck her teeth every time my picky-eater, childhood self would tell her that. She grows a variety of papayas in her yard in Puerto Rico and I grew up watching her slice them like butter and eating its salmon-colored flesh cold on the beach. It’s been a while since I have tested my palate with papaya – until today of course. I was gifted this special papaya by Mark – the only ripe fruit of the bunch, and I was definitely going to try it. So, I decided to start safe and made a refreshing goat cheese papaya salad.
I started by slicing the papaya in half. If I had used a traditional papaya native to Central America, I would have needed to use a spoon and scrape out the seeds. This papaya variety is a seedless.
I carefully sliced the outside of the fruit and removed the skin then cut the fruit vertically into thin slices and set aside. I harvested a few young leaves of my pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) that I have been growing in my garden. It’s minty, pineapple-y taste served as a refreshing pop of herbal flavor present in every bite.
I then set out to make the balsamic glaze to dress my mixed green and pineapple sage salad base. I simmered ½ cup of balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan with 3 tbsp of raw, local honey and a dash of Italian seasoning.
Once the glaze was reduced by half and cooled, I dressed my greens and prepared the toppings for my summer salad.
I set aside 2 tbsp of crumbled goat cheese, a handful of chopped walnuts, and 1 tbsp of chopped coconut flakes.
Finally, the papaya was delicately arranged atop the dressed greens, followed by the goat cheese, walnuts and coconut. I garnished with pineapple sage and microgreens.
To my surprise, the papaya was delicious, and its tropical fruitiness blended incredibly well with the tartness of the balsamic vinegar and earthiness of the goat cheese. My grandma would be proud of this salad – I think. Though I am sure she’d prefer to enjoy it on its own, I’d gladly continue my baby steps to becoming a papaya-lover by making this salad again and again. I hope you try it too – and please let us know if you do!
Eva Rodriguez, Interpretive Services Manager develops educational content and experiences for general visitors to the Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, special exhibits, events and programs. She holds an Interpretive Planner certification through National Association for Interpretation. Eva’s expertise in interpretation helps HF&G design experiences that connect natural science and plant information, as well as our mission and vision to our members and community at large.