How disappointing is it to buy an unripe durian?
Very. I can’t count the number of times I’ve hopefully clawed open a durian only to find a pale pod with the texture and appeal of daikon radish. But unlike the insanely spicy vegetable, unripe durian is edible and can be cooked into a number of creative dishes.
When a friend accidentally gave me an unripe durian, I looked up a traditional Malaysian recipe called Durian Sayur Rebus and decided to make it vegan.
Sayur Rebus literally means “boiled vegetables,” in Malay and is usually a soup with a stock made from dried anchovies, shrimp, and chilies. When you cook unripe durian as one of the vegetables, the soup is called Durian Sayur Rebus.
As a vegan, I don’t eat anchovies or shrimp.
But I could do the chilies.
I first encountered immature durian being cooked as a vegetable in Kalimantan, Indonesia.
We were far up a river of Putussibau, in a village with no electricity, running water, or beds. But the house where we laid down on the thin reed mat that night was filled with durians.
There were durians all over the village, so many falling out of the trees that we heard them plopping into the river all night.
But not all the durians making the hundred-foot tumble were ripe. Some were knocked off by the storms that rolled through every evening, or by the animals rustling in the branches over head.
Unfertilized trees will also abort durian fetuses when they can’t get absorb enough nutrients to feed them all. So there’s usually a number of unripe durians around.
|Cooking durian for breakfast.|
In the morning, the woman in charge of our house built a fire out of split logs. She boiled sugar into a syrup, added oil and what I think was bamboo root, and then finally tossed in the sliced durian, which had been soaking in water.
|Cooked immature durian in Kalimantan|
I was fascinated, and considered breaking my rule about food cooked in oil (not a fan) just to try it until the woman brought out a yellow flavoring packet.
Besides MSG and probably cancer, the packet contained beef flavoring. Just look at that adorable little cow on the label – who wants to eat him? He looks like a kitten with horns.
So I had to wait until I had my own kitchen and access to unripe durian and could try cooking unripe durian for myself, vegan-style.
I tried to mimic the flavors found in traditional Sayur Rebus, but there was probably little similarity in flavor between my fish-free version and the original. I can say however that it was darn tasty and has me convinced that unripe durian flesh can be used like a starchy vegetable in any savory recipe.
- One 1kg durian, unripe
- 1 cup spinach
- Pinkie of ginger, diced
- 1 clove of garlic, diced (I suggest omitting this unless you’re concerned about vampires)
- Dash of tamari (If you’re not gluten sensitive you can use soy sauce)
- As much cayenne as you can reasonably take
1. Hack the durian open. This is the hardest part, as unripe durian shells are about as pliable as cement. Good luck, and watch your fingers.
2. Remove the durian flesh from the seeds. The flesh will be pale and hard, while the seeds are small and surprisingly soft.
3. Place in a pot with the ginger, garlic, a dash of tamari, and enough cayenne pepper to make it authentically spicy.
4. Boil for 5 minutes. The durian became soft and translucent surprisingly quickly. Add spinach and cover.
And wha-la! I thought it looked great, but it took some persuasion to get Rob to taste it.
The durian was a creamy tan color from the tamari, and without the spinach for color the dish would have looked kind of gross.
The texture was soft but firm and quite pleasant, even smoother than overcooked potato. It didn’t really taste like durian.
The flavor was dominated by a rich, intense garlic with a kick of sweet. Even though I only added one small clove, this dish definitely didn’t need it. If I ever try cooking durian again, I’ll leave the garlic out.
Someday, I’d love to try making a Durian Massaman Curry like they do in Thailand.
My friend Ryan also says you can cook durian and then mash it to make a sweeter version of Mashed Potatoes. With Thanksgiving coming up, that sounds like a pretty cool idea!
Do you have any great ideas for how to prepare unripe durian? Please get the creativity flowing by leaving a comment.