When I happened across A Fruit of the Month blog event and discovered that the theme fruit happened to be the lychee (or litchi, ãƒ©ã‚¤ãƒãƒ¼ã€ãƒ©ã‚¤ãƒ, è”æž) fruit, I was beside myself with excitement. The lychee is my latest fruit “crush,” and a relative newcomer to my diet, as I only discovered it two summers ago while studying in Japan. I was living in the off the beaten track city of Okazaki, a city in Aichi prefecture that is most noted for being about 35 minutes of the large city Nagoya. I was attending the Yamasa Institute and having a glorious time. I had lived in Japan previously so I was used to navigating the gluten free diet in Japan and was eating a lot of sushi and onigiri (rice balls wrapped in nori seaweed). Lunch time was slightly tricky, as I didn’t have that much time between classes and didn’t always have time to pack myself a “bento” or packed lunch. Luckily, there was a wonderful Kaiten Zushi restaurant, a sushi joint with cheap (105 yen) sushi on a conveyor belt, called Atom Boy in walking/ biking distance of the school. The sushi was great- but my favorite part was dessert- they had several purin (puddings), yogurt, and best of all, a bowl of freshly chilled bowl of lychee fruit as a summer special. I had never had this sweet, refreshing fruit before, and it was the perfect end to a sushi meal enjoyed in an air conditioned escape from the hot, humid Japanese summer. Lychee has a red to brownish shell (it turns brown when refrigerated) and a small pit similar in size to a date pit. The flesh of the fruit is silky and sweet, with similar texture and flavor to grapes, but yet better. Lychee fruit is high in the antioxidant Vitamin C and the essential mineral Potassium, and, in my opinion is the perfect fruit. Unfortunately it’s a delicate fruit, which deteriorates rapidly once picked, and it has a relatively short season.
The lychee has a long and honored history in China. “The Lychee originated over 2000 years ago first in the north tropical rainforests and mountain forests of Southern China, where it is a dominant tree species.” (Lychees Online) According to my friend Wikipedia, “A major early Chinese historical reference to lychees was made in the Tang Dynasty, when it was the favorite fruit of Emperor Li Longji (Xuanzong)’s favoured concubine Yang Yuhuan (Yang Guifei). The emperor had the fruit, which was only grown in southern China, delivered by the imperial messenger service’s fast horses, whose riders would take shifts day and night in a Pony Express-like manner, to the capital.”
Now, you can find lychee being grown “in the native region of China, and also elsewhere in South-East Asia, especially in north of Thailand,Vietnam, Pakistan, India, southern Japan, and more recently in California, Hawaii, and Florida in the United States, the wetter areas of eastern Australia and sub-tropical regions of South Africa, also in the state of Sinaloa in Mexico. They are also grown as an ornamental tree as well as for their fruit.” In fact, since the early 1990’s, production of lychee in China has doubled thanks to improved farming methods. You can buy fresh lychee in season in Chinese, Vietnamese, and some Asian markets, and you may be able to find them at specialty produce shops or Trader Joes. Asian markets and recently Trader Joes sell the lychee canned in syrup. The pure fruit is also available dried, and there are many products made from lychee available like Lychee ice cream, lychee juice, lychee candy, and even lychee jam. Look for exotic and tasty lychee alcohols like lychee sake, and lychee tea made from dried lychee fruit and tea. Many bubble tea shops like Tapioca Express also often have a black tea lychee drink that I highly recommend. If you can’t find any fresh lychee in your area in season, you can order it online from a company in Florida, Lychees Online. They also have a wealth of information about growing, consuming, and enjoying lychee on their site.
When picking out lychee, avoid any batches with white fuzzy dots on the skin, as the entire batch has been contaminated with mold and the mold will spread rapidly. The skin should be consistent in color and either a nice rich red (best) or brown (if it has been refrigerated.) Frozen lychee is tasty, if you can find it. Canned lychee is your last option, and my least favorite source of lychee, but will work for some recipes. Canned lychee tend to be packed in heavy syrup, and they lose most of their fresh crispness and unique flavor in the canning process, but it’s better than no lychees at all, especially if you use it in the right recipe!
For my entry in AFAM, I was inspired by my summer experiences in Japan to create a light, refreshing kakigori recipe. Kakigori is a summery Japanese dessert of shaved ice and flavored syrup similar to a snow cone, but usually consumed with a spoon. Traditionally you use a cranked machine to shave your ice with an ice shaving blade, but electric ice shavers are popular. Because DH loves Japanese kakigori, usually with strawberry or lemon syrup, we brought a manual ice shaving machine home with us from Japan and enjoy it in the hottest summer months. You can use a snow cone machine or try to find an authentic kakigori machine at an asian market. During summer, kakigori is sold at festival stands, convenience stores, coffee shops and restaurants, especially family restaurants. Tourist areas and elsewhere, you can usually find kakigori with elaborate toppings like sweet bean paste (Azuki), green tea, rice mochi balls, and condensed milk. Nothing is better after a long day hiking around temples in Kyoto than sitting down at a bench at an outdoor kakigori shop and enjoying icy, refreshing kakigori with a faint breeze and the sound of glass wind chimes tinkling faintly in the air. If you must, you can call this a lychee snow cone recipe, but to me, it will always be kakigori, because I never really had snow cones in the US before enjoying kakigori in Japan.
My one complaint with kakigori is that many people have a very heavy hand with the sweet, sweet fruity syrups used to top the ice. I prefer light, sweet flavor rather than heavy cloying syrup that congregates in the bottom of the bowl and renders half of the ice sickly sweet. Therefore, when making my kakigori recipe, rather than using plain ice, I decided to use two kinds of liquid for my “ice blocks”- a sweet lychee juice (30% juice), and unsweetened black lychee tea. I thought the dry, acidic flavor of the lychee tea would compliment the sweet, light flavor of the juice. I prowled my local asian market for lychee ice cream and Popsicles (optional) for a creamy dairy element to fill the role of the usual canned milk topping, and then created two variations of kakigori for grown ups; one in a wine goblet, and the other in one of my favorite lotus shaped dishes that I bought in Japan. The results? A summery and elegant light dessert which celebrated the versatility of the yummiest fruit I’ve encountered- the lychee, or litchi. Why not have your own lychee adventure- see what crazy gluten free lychee products you can find in your local asian market, and come up with your own lychee dish- and tell me about it! I’m sure you will come to love this fruit as much as I do.
My Kakigori Gallery
Lychee Kakigori Shaved Ice Recipe
Kakigori/ Shaved Ice Making machine
1 lychee black tea bag
Dairy toppings, optional:
If you have a shaved ice machine, it may come with trays or containers for freezing ice. My machine only comes with two small containers, so freezing my ingredients took several days. If you have more containers or are making your frozen flavored ice in ice cube trays, freeze it all at once. Otherwise, two days before you want kakigori, make one batch of lychee black tea, medium strength. It is not necessary to add sugar. Freeze your lychee tea in your trays. The next day (as long as the tea has completely frozen into a block), remove your tea blocks and put them in a freezer proof ziploc bag and store them in the freezer until needed. Then wash your freezer containers and fill them with your lychee juice and place them in the freezer. Once you have your 4 blocks of ice ready, prepare your toppings.
Take your fresh or frozen lychee and reserve three with skin on for decorative function. If you like, you can skin and pit your fresh lychee and freeze them overnight so they get slightly chrystallized, or you can just use them, skinned and pitted, fresh. Slice them into halves or fourths.
If using dairy, take your lychee popsicle and cut it into little cubes. As soon as you cut them, put them in the freezer, as they will melt immediately. Take your tablespoon of lychee ice cream and put it in a little dish at room temperature for a few minutes and let it begin to melt. You will be using it as a substitute for condensed milk that is often drizzled over shaved ice deserts as a topping.
This dessert is light and sweet but not overpoweringly so, and not too bad for you, considering. Great on a hot summer day.