The color of a tropical sunset, papaya always brings an exotic touch to the table. Simply serving a wedge, accompanied by fresh lime to squeeze over as the perfect complement to its musky-sweet flavor, this fruit also tastes like a trip to the tropics.

Whether the intense apricot-orange of the large papayas imported from Mexico and the Caribbean, or the more garish red shading to orange-peach of Hawaiian varieties around the size of a small melon, its creamy flesh makes this fruit more than a luscious eyeful.

Its colors mean papayas provide an abundance of carotenoids, anti-inflammatory antioxidants good for the eyes and more. The goodness of papaya includes healthy amounts of vitamin C, folate, potassium and fiber, too.

Selecting a ripe papaya presents a bigger mystery than knowing when a melon is just right. With melons, fragrance helps in their selection, while for a papaya, the clues are solely color and touch.

Papayas do continue to ripen after picking, but ones that are really green won't turn soft and sweet. Instead, finely shred their flesh to make the savory green papaya salad that is a Southeast Asian classic.

The signals you want are skin patched with green and golden yellow, or evenly golden, depending on the type of papaya, and fruit that yields slightly to a gentle squeeze. Or, you can eliminate guesswork and buy either a clearly ripe cut half of a papaya or a wedge.

Eating papaya frequently is a good idea. Personally, I am content with it on its own or mixed into fruit salads. For more variety, I also make simple dishes like papaya slices alternated with tomato for a colorful salad to serve alongside grilled fish or this succulent and spicy papaya salsa.

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Papaya Salsa with Jicama "Chips"

Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups small-diced papaya
  • 2/3 cup plum tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped seedless European cucumber, peeled
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 serrano or jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 medium jicama
  • 1/3 cup chopped cilantro

Directions

  1. In mixing bowl, combine papaya, tomatoes, cucumber, onion and chile pepper, tossing gently with fork. In small bowl, whisk lime juice and cumin with sea salt and 3-4 grinds pepper until salt dissolves. Pour over salsa and toss to combine. Set aside for up to 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, use paring knife to peel brown skin from jicama and cut away fibrous layer beneath it. Cut a thin slice off bottom and stand jicama on work surface. Using large knife, cut jicama vertically into 1/8- to 1/4-inch slices. Stack oval slices, including uneven ones, and halve vertically. Cut slices longer than 4 inches into thirds. Sliced jicama can be stored in bowl of water in refrigerator for up to 8 hours if not serving immediately. Drain and pat dry before using.
  3. Just before serving, mix cilantro into salsa. Spoon salsa into serving bowl in center of serving plate. Arrange sliced jicama around it to use as dippers.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
105 calories
<1 g total fat
0 g saturated fat
25 g carbohydrate
2 g protein
10 g dietary fiber
304 mg sodium