Tag: naples fl

Swept away by 21 Spices

As I sit here eating my leftover biryani from an amazing dinner-date night, I can’t help but be reminded of how infrequently we get to enjoy beautifully made food in a gorgeous setting.  This is made exceptionally rare for my husband and me by two factors: we’re parents and vegan.

It’s not that there aren’t options here in Naples – it’s just that to find a dining facility with all the elements of a romantic and satisfying experience with a selection of interesting and thoughtful plant-based food is like finding a unicorn in this area.

I found one though.

Dining at the new 21 Spices by Chef Asif in East Naples, just a few miles from 5th Street downtown, was as magical as saddling up a rainbow-haired unicorn and riding off into sunset.  Plus, another rarity here – they’re open until 10 pm.

The restaurant was dim and twinkly.  Since the restaurant was not very full when we arrived, we had our choice of seating and we chose to sit along the wall.  It was quiet with no neighbors, but I can only imagine a place this great will be swarmed by midseason.  Now is the time to go!

Their fare is Indian cuisine and Chef Asif is extremely talented with his spices, all 21 of them.  Many options on the menu are vegetarian as it would be in India, but they do have some vegan options too! For starters we ordered the samosas and a side of yellow lentils with some lentil crisps as recommended by our server who was informative and charming.  The naan, unfortunately, is NOT vegan – a bummer because the spicy naan sounded awesome.  The samosas were nicely plated and delicious and the yellow lentils were so flavorful and filling.

Because we so rarely get to have this experience we kind of forget how to order like normal people, so we clearly ordered too much food.

We were pretty much full by the time our main courses arrived, but I just had to keep going.  I really wanted to order the Aloo Gobi, but since my husband ordered that and I refuse to order the same dish, I decided to try the vegetable biryani.  I’m not a crazy person when it comes to my vegan food sharing the same space as nonvegan food, so when the biryani arrived tucked in bread like a parcel, the server carefully opened it to release the effervescent steam and I simply peeled it off because the bread crust contained milk ingredients.  My husband didn’t complain about my bread donation to him.  The basmati rice and vegetables were superb.  I also tried the aloo gobi and next time I eat there that will be my selection.

Also, let me tell you about the heat Chef Asif infuses into his dishes.  When the server asks you to choose from mild, spicy, very spicy and Indian spicy, choose wisely!  I ordered Indian spicy because I don’t mess around.  The spice level doesn’t disappoint, so if you’re not looking to burn your face off order on the lower rungs.

We had the pleasure of meeting Chef Asif.  Smiling from ear to ear, he was nice enough to stop by a few tables to introduce himself and welcome us to his restaurant which I thought was a nice gesture.  I told him that his signature Chef Asif craft cocktail was amazing and he informed me the plan on vamping up their craft cocktails soon, so that’s something to revisit.  They also have a full bar and a vast wine collection.

I’m always excited to find restaurants like this in Naples that can accommodate my diet and deliver on flavor.  Though I’m always on the hunt for new options, I definitely plan a second visit to 21 Spices in the near future.

Close up of a jackfruit. Vying for Veganism

The Butchering of a Jackfruit

Finally!  After months of false leads I got my hands on a fresh jackfruit.  And not just any jackfruit, this one was a behemoth.  Weighing in at 20 lbs, it’s a wonder how this huge fruit dangled precariously from its tiny stem without succumbing to the effects of gravity.  Then again, when is nature not amazing?

A friend and fellow fruit fanatic, Charles King, helps to pluck this massive jackfruit from its tree in Naples, FL. Vying for Veganism.

A friend and fellow fruit fanatic, Charles King, helps to pluck this massive jackfruit from its tree in Naples, FL. Vying for Veganism.

The jackfruit, a native fruit to Thailand and some other Southeast Asian countries, is the largest known treeborne fruit with some weighing in at 100lbs!  It has been hailed as a “miracle crop” and an option to possibly end world hunger.  It’s no wonder this fruit is garnering some attention lately.

Another fantastic benefit of this fruit is its versatility.  Some say young, green jackfruit almost has a similar taste or mouthfeel to pork when cooked down, while others use the sweet, ripe version for desserts or nutritious smoothies.  Little tidbit – the jackfruit is the flavor of Juicy Fruit gum.

Giant jackfruit high in the canopy... the last one. Grown in Naples, FL by Charles King. Vying for Veganism

Giant jackfruit high in the canopy… the last one. Grown in Naples, FL by Charles King. Vying for Veganism

I was pretty lucky to have scored one of these babies, let alone such a massive specimen.  I caught the tail end of the season even though the season is a bit loose according to the tree owner I received mine from.  We plucked it from the tree at the beginning of August here in Naples, FL.  Mine was already sweet so I was unable to use it in a savory dish as I had planned, but it was really easy to butcher because the fruit was so soft.

Don the apron, let’s crack this thing open!

The first and most important step is to prep your work area.  Jackfruit is STICKY – like, no joke.  You will want to have all of your tools ready and surface protected.  I used some packing paper that I hoard away for such endeavors.  I took the advice of others and wrapped my knife handle with cling wrap and wore latex gloves.  I kept some oil on hand also to grease up the blade before diving in.

Setting up for the task. Jackfruit, wrapped knives, oil, gloves and surface paper. Vying for Veganism

Setting up for the task. Jackfruit, wrapped knives, oil, gloves and surface paper. Vying for Veganism

I found the serrated knife worked best for slicing through that spiny rind.  To start, make a cut straight through horizontally, the jackfruit’s axial plane, to make even halves.  As soon as you open it you will notices some of the white juices oozing from the flesh, that’s more of the super sticky sap.  If you have a rag handy give each half a wipe to keep from spreading that everywhere.  Then divide into quarters by slicing through the median of each half.  Finally, cut the with core out from each quarter making sure to leave the fleshy pods in tact.

Steps to opening a jackfruit. Vying for Veganism.

Steps to opening a jackfruit. Vying for Veganism.

Now you’re ready for the fun stuff!  The endgame here is to extract all of the fruit pods.  Start by running your knife carefully under the pod releasing it from the rind. Once it is free you will want to make sure all of the stringy bits are pulled away so you’re left with a smooth pod.  Last step is to get the seed out of the pod along with the pink skin which may still be attached to the pod.

Separating the pods from a jackfruit rind. Vying for Veganism.

Separating the pods from a jackfruit rind. Vying for Veganism.

Repeat the steps to removing the fruit pods until you’re all done or for as long as you can stand it!  This one in particular took me about an hour, not including set up and prep.

What you can do now with the fruit you reaped is limitless!  I froze mine by laying them in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment then later transferring to tupperware.  However, you can certainly use it right away, jar it or share with your neighbors…I’ll bet they’ve never tried one before 🙂

Please send any comments you have on this post or any great jackfruit recipes you may have.

‘Till next time….

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