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Featured: Lychee
Featured Lychee Recipes
About Lychee
Lychee, Litchi chinensis, is a tropical and subtropical evergreen hardwood tree native to Southern China and Southeast Asia. The lychee tree bears a popular Asian fruit whose edible flesh is encased in a distinctive bumpy red, leathery rind or pedicarp. Fresh lychees are a juicy, sweet and fragrant delicacy with a slightly acid taste that blends the flavors of grapes, strawberries and watermelon. They are round, oval or heart-shaped and the size of small apricots.

Lychees are sometimes called “alligator strawberries” because their rind resembles alligator skin. The term, “lychee nut,” is a misnomer – lychees are not nuts – and usually refers to raisin-like dried lychees which look like dried nutmeats. To the Chinese, the red, heart-shaped lychee is a symbol of romance and love.

In the past, many Americans knew lychees only as an exotic treat served for dessert in Chinese restaurants. Today, however, thanks to expanded cultivation worldwide including the United States, you can buy and enjoy fresh lychees from local supermarkets and specialty food stores. Canned and dried lychees and lychee juice are also readily available.

Ancient lychee tree cultivation began over 2,000 years ago in South China's northern forests and rainforests. Modern commercial cultivation now extends beyond China and Southeast Asia to northern India, Bangladesh, Japan, Australia, South Africa and the United States (primarily Florida, Hawaii and California). Alternate spellings include leechi, litchi, laichi, lichu, lizhi.

Lychees are a rich source of Vitamin C, potassium, phosphorus and calcium. One cup of fresh lychees has approximately 125 calories.
How to Choose Lychees
In general, fresh lychees are fully ripe when picked from the tree. Unlike other tropical fruits such as bananas and mangoes, lychees will not ripen further once picked. The fruit is oval, round or heart-shaped and about the size of small apricots. About 15 to 18 lychees equal one pound.

When shopping at the market or specialty food store, don't assume that all lychees are perfectly ripe. Inspect each one carefully and buy ones with:
  • intact and unblemished bright pink-red to red colored rinds. Although the rind is naturally tough and leathery, it should still be pliable.
  • a sweet, perfume-like fragrance
  • pink-tinged translucent milky white flesh

Do not buy or eat lychees with:
  • cracked or leaking rinds
  • greenish-hued rinds. These immature lychees taste bitter or sour and have an unpleasant aftertaste.
  • brown or heavily blemished rinds, grayish-hued flesh or fermented aroma. These are over-aged fruit that should be discarded.
How to Store Lychees
Fresh lychees have a very short shelf-life. Eat them as soon as possible after buying or freeze to enjoy all year. Canned and dried lychees have longer shelf lives.
Here are suggested storage methods:

Refrigerator: Fresh lychees will keep for up to one week in the refrigerator. During refrigeration, it’s important to allow air to circulate around the fruit to prevent mold and condensation. Wrap lychees in a dry paper towel and place in a perforated plastic bag or container with lid left ajar. During refrigeration, the rind may turn brown and harden. This will not affect the flavor as long as you use the lychees when the rinds first begin to change color and texture. If stored too long, lychees will ferment and their flesh will turn a grayish color. Discard these over-aged lychees.

Freezer: Freeze fresh lychees for up to one year. Put unpeeled lychees in a locking freezer bag. Press out all the air and seal tightly. Date and label the bag. Place in freezer.

Pantry: Store canned lychees in a cool place and use by expiration date, if any, shown on label. Store dried lychees in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
How to Prepare Lychees
Lychees must be peeled and seeded before eating. Only the flesh is edible. To peel, first, break the rind with a knife or fingernail. If the lychee is quite fresh, gently peel away the rind and then the inner membrane sticking to the flesh. If the lychee has been stored for a few days, the rind and membrane may peel away in one piece. The lychee now resembles an extra-large peeled green grape.

The lychee flesh surrounds an inedible seed. To remove the seed, cut the peeled lychee lengthwise to the seed and gently pull the flesh away. The flesh should release easily from the seed if the lychee is ripe. Discard the seed. If you eat a whole lychee all at once, don't swallow the seed – spit out and discard it.

Eat or prepare peeled and seeded lychees as soon as possible to preserve their sweet flavor and fragrance.
How to Cook Lychees
Fresh lychees have a light and refreshing sweet taste that's a fusion of grapes, strawberries and watermelon. In general, use lychees as you would fresh grapes in cooked and uncooked dishes. Lychees go well with pork, fish, chicken, seafood, mild cheese and avocados. Cinnamon, ginger and honey enhance their flavor.

Here are some ways to enjoy fresh lychees:
  • Include unpeeled lychees in your lunch box. The rind protects the edible fruit until you're ready to eat it.
  • Fruit or chicken salad – for an exotic touch, add sliced lychees instead of grapes to your favorite recipes.
  • Instant sorbet – Defrost frozen lychees about half way. Remove rinds and seeds. Serve immediately.
  • Use fresh lychees to garnish margaritas and other cocktails.
  • For additional sweetness, add fresh lychees to hot dishes like stir fries and rice casseroles. Do not overcook. For best results, add the lychees during the last few minutes of cooking.

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