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Jackfruit is a fibrous meat alternative

Updated: 
August 8, 2017 - 12:05am

For the uninitiated, jackfruit brings to mind monkey balls (also known as Osage orange or hedge apples) or maybe just alien brains, with its spiky green shell. You can buy it fresh, canned, in refrigerated pouches and dried into strips or chips.

The largest tree-borne fruit in the world, jackfruit can grow up to 80 pounds or more, but you’re more likely to find specimens weighing much less (think watermelon-sized) in specialty grocery stores such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Common in South and Southeast Asian cuisines, it’s also available in Asian and Indian markets.

Cutting a fresh jackfruit isn’t easy — it has a thick skin that brings to mind a rhino hind and a sticky sap that will gunk up your knife and fingers — making it one of the most intimidating fruits. It’s also fairly expensive. At Whole Foods, where the average jackfruit weighs in at about 15 to 20 pounds, it runs $3.99 a pound or $60 to $80. (Although you can buy a cut for $5.)

The fleshy bulbs of fruit inside the fibrous innards hold round, chestnut-like seeds that can be roasted or boiled. The fruit itself, which has a strong, musky fragrance, can be eaten out of hand, blended into a smoothie, baked into desserts, mixed with shaved ice or dehydrated into a munchable snack.

But what if you don’t want to go to the trouble or expense of a fresh jackfruit? The much-cheaper canned or packaged varieties are an easy way to dive in and test the waters.

Said to be the inspiration for Juicy Fruit gum, a fresh ripe fruit tastes like a cross between pineapples and bananas. Ready-to-eat varieties, conversely, are made from “young” jackfruit, or those harvested before they’re fully ripened. So it’s less sweet, and has a completely different texture.

When cooked and broken apart, the texture is similar to pulled pork or shredded chicken. Which makes it popular with vegans and vegetarians who seek a meaty mouthfeel but find other plant-based proteins such as tofu and seitan unsatisfying.

Another plus is its neutral taste. Like tofu, it takes on the flavor of whatever it’s cooked in.

Jackfruit Potpie

This recipe puts a plant-based spin on a family favorite. I used phyllo sheets instead of puff pastry, but you also could do a traditional scratch pastry crust. Adapted from Cooking Light. Serves 6.

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1 can (14 ounces) jackfruit in brine, drained and shredded

Handful fingerling potatoes (about 5), sliced

Handful baby carrots (about 6), sliced

1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup kale, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup milk

20 sheets phyllo dough, thawed

Melted butter for layering

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In large pot over medium-high heat, saute onion and garlic in olive oil. Cook until translucent and fragrant. Add stock, jackfruit, potatoes, carrots, sage, rosemary, pepper and salt. Boil until vegetables are fork tender, about 15 minutes.

Stir in kale. Make a slurry by whisking together flour and milk. Stir in and simmer until semi-thickened.

To make pie, overlap 10 sheets of phyllo in a 9-inch pie pan or cast-iron skillet, buttering the sheets as you layer them in the pie pan. Pour chicken mixture on phyllo dough. Top with remaining 10 sheets, overlapping the phyllo and brushing each layer with butter. Score top.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

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