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Summer fruits are good when eaten fresh but also great in Asian and Western dishes, writes Meera Murugesan

FRUIT is essential for a healthy diet. While it’s best eaten raw and fresh, cooking with fruit is a great way to enhance meals and add flavour and nutrition.

Australian summer fruits - such as peaches, apricots plums and nectarines are versatile enough to be used in a variety of ways, from desserts and drinks to pastries and savouries, and they bring health benefits to every dish.

What’s interesting is that these fruits, which are in season now, work just as well in Asian dishes as Western ones.

Austrade Malaysia business development manager Liew Kong Cheng says summer fruits can be enjoyed in many ways.

“They are perfect as a snack on their own or sliced up in fruity or leafy salads, delectable in baked or fresh desserts, and great when stewed, grilled, poached, pureed, baked or sauteed and make excellent jams, chutneys, pickles, compotes and sorbets.”

Australian produce is usually sought for its deeper flavours and freshness, he adds.

Thanks to Australia’s warm climate and hot summers, its stone fruits come out sweeter and juicier.

Celebrity chef Brian Chen says the flavours of stone fruits are incomparable — some sweet, others tart — and the combination of these flavours add a different dimension to every dish.

“Summer fruits are high in fibre and consuming them helps us feel full for much longer,” says Chen.

Given that these fruits are also high in moisture, they help people stay hydrated, especially children.

Australian produce is usually sought for its deeper flavour and freshness.

DELECTABLE COMBINATIONS

There are many good flavour pairings to consider when cooking with summer fruits, says Chen.

Peaches, for example, go beautifully with white chocolate. When white nectarine is paired with black pepper, the contrast brings out the flavour of the nectarine.

Summer fruits also go well with cheese.

As a general rule, says Chen, fruit which is unripe can be used for cooking while overly ripe produce is good for jams and purees.

“When you cook a fruit, you are bringing out the natural sugars in that fruit, so it softens. There’s no one or right way when it comes to cooking with fruit. It’s an experience, a mix of textures and flavours and it depends on your taste.”

Chen, preparing dishes using summer fruits at the Taste Australia event.

Chen adds that using summer fruits in local flavours is not impossible and really easy.

For example, when making a sambal, one can add a red plum to the dish for tartness and to provide some contrast in the flavour, especially if the sambal is a little sweet.

A rich “masak lemak” dish would also benefit from the tartness of the plum.

If a dish is too spicy, one can add sweetness to it with, for instance, a peach.

There are white and yellow peaches and both are different in terms of texture.

Yellow peaches tend to be more fibrous and get mushy very fast. So if one is cooking with them, one shouldn’t cook for too long. White peaches, on the other hand, tend to be more sturdy.

Chen explains that with fruits that are more sturdy in texture (like nectarine and plum), one can sautee or even flambe them.

Fruits that are softer like apricots and yellow peaches are best eaten fresh, or as a salad.

If you need to cook them, just brulee a little so you don’t end up with a big mush.

Summer fruits can be used in a variety of dishes.

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FLAVOUR PAIRINGS

HERE’S how you can pair summer fruits with everyday ingredients for great combinations.

APRICOT

Goes well with:

Chicken, salmon or lamb

Cream, Brie, mild, soft cheeses

Ginger, black pepper, vanilla, cinnamon

NECTARINE

Goes well with:

Chicken

Yogurt, cream, butter, Blue Cheese, Mozzarella, Mascarpone

Basil, cloves, mint, nutmeg, rosemary, cardamom and tarragon

PLUM

Goes well with:

Chicken, pork, duck

Goat cheese and yogurt

Ginger, black pepper, vanilla, cinnamon, almonds, cashnews

PEACH

Goes well with:

Chicken, duck, white fish

Goat cheese, yogurt

Mint, basil, ginger, rosemary, lemongrass, fennel

FAST FACTS

Benefits of Australian summer fruits

* Either free or low in sodium and fat-free.

* Provide a slow release of energy to help one feel full longer.

* Fibre to help lower cholesterol.

* Vitamin C for a healthy immune system and brain function.

* Potassium for a healthy nervous system and muscle function.

* Vitamin B3 for brain function, fighting fatigue and healthy skin.

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