Dragon fruit is so aptly named. The baseball-sized fruit is covered in long, lime-green, fleshy scales that ripple out from a dark red core. Open one up and you stain your hands magenta from the nearly fluorescent flesh dotted with tiny black seeds. Asia has long grown dragon fruit -- also known as pitaya -- by the ton, selling it whole or in bright red juice bottles at night markets, pre-chilled for hot summers.
This Asian sensation is actually local, in L.A. terms at least. It's native to Mexico and points south, and made its way to the other side of the Pacific during the colonial centuries on European ships exploring Southeast Asia. It only started to gain a commercial foothold in the United States in the last decade, and thanks to Pedro's Avocado Ranch out in Fallbrook, we can get certified organic dragon fruit at more than 30 farmers markets throughout the L.A. area.
Richard Dominguez, who mans the Pedro's booth at the Hollywood market, says there are a few ways to pick dragon fruit.
"We try to pick them fresh so we don't have a lot of fully ripe ones available on market days," says Dominguez. "The ripe ones we do bring go pretty quickly. But they're almost all pretty much like this, a little hard and the color a littler paler. Let them sit out for a couple of days to get soft on the outside and the skin will go a darker red."
Dominguez adds the darker the red, the sweeter the fruit. He says a lot of his customers juice it -- "lots of Vitamin C" -- but he recommends chilling it in the fridge and just scooping it out with a spoon. We set ours out on the counter for a couple of days as advised. Once ripe, into the fridge it went. Scooping the cold fruit was easy but it still had a slight crunch and was the perfect summer dessert after a long, hot day.
Dragon fruit isn't punch-you-in-the-mouth sweet. It's more like a juicy kiwi or pear with the fresh wetness of cactus. Appropriate, since the fruit is borne along trailing, spiny limbs that climb easily on trellises. The flowers open only at night, which makes them dependent on moths and bats to pollinate them. Given the piles of fruit we saw at Pedro's this past Sunday, we don't think that's a problem. The farm out in Fallbrook, which also produces mountains of avocados, persimmons and pomegranates, is host to a wide variety of wildlife, nocturnal and otherwise.
You can find Pedro's dragon fruit at the farmers markets in Silver Lake (both Tuesday and Saturday), Torrance (both Tuesday and Saturday), Sherman Oaks, Barnsdall, Santa Monica (both Wednesday and Sunday), Glendale, Long Beach Uptown, El Segundo, Hermosa, Huntington and Redondo Beach, Calabasas, Downey, Montrose and many many others. Visit Pedro's website for a complete listing.