Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Papaya milk redux

If you live in an area with a sizable Chinese population, you might already be familiar with this Taiwanese version of nectar of the gods: papaya milk. This is one of those perfectly designed sweet rewards for hot weather, and I can think of little that is ever as satisfying when the mercury rises, for it quenches thirst, fills the belly, and cools the brow. 

The streets and alleyways of Taipei have blenders going night and day to satisfy the demand for this great local drink. It looks like a milkshake, but isn't as sweet, and it has lots of vitamin C and all of those phyto-nutrients that you never learned about in Home Ec. So it's good for you. But more important, it tastes incredibly delicious.

My local Chinese market recently had some good-looking Hawai'ian papayas on display, and there was no way I could resist. Perfectly ripe and fragrant... how could I ever say no?

Smooth and delicious
When you do go in search of a tasty papaya, pass over the football-sized ones if you can and head for the smallish ones from Hawai'i. I've found that these have tons more flavor and fragrance, and they also are more expensive, which sometimes makes paying extra a bit hard. 

But look at it this way: this is a little like choosing a handful of fresh, ripe, still warm tomatoes at a farmer's stand over those pink softballs that supermarkets tend to display. Yes, Sungolds and Green Zebras are probably at least twice the price of flavorless imposters, but you're buying tomatoes because you want to taste them, right? So go for the gold.

I've monkeyed around with the usual recipe a bit because I wanted to cut the sweetness and amplify the healthier aspects. I can feel good about pouring out another glass for myself that way.  However, if you want to stick with what's tried and true, then by all means use all whole milk for the liquid along with sugar to taste in place of the agave nectar. 

No one would blame you if you did.

Papaya milk 
Mugua niunai 木瓜牛奶
Southern Fujian, Taiwan
Makes about 3 cups, or two 12-ounce glasses

1 very ripe Hawai'ian papaya
⅔ cup milk (whole, low fat, almond), plus more if needed
⅔ cup plain kefir or yogurt
Agave nectar to taste
Pinch of sea salt
4 to 6 ice cubes
It's gotta be ripe
1. Peel the papaya, cut off the hard stem end, slice the papaya in half, and remove the seeds. Cut the papaya meat into large chunks and toss them into a blender.

2. Add the milk and kefir plus a squirt of agave nectar and the salt. Whiz everything together until the papaya milk is smooth, adding more milk if the mixture is too thick. Taste and add more agave nectar, if needed.

3. Toss in the ice cubes and whir on high speed until the ice is completely smooth. Pour into 2 cold glasses and serve with a thick straw.

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