Perhaps you've strolled by the rambutans in your local produce aisle and thought to yourself, “What in the world is that?” Simultaneously beautiful and intimidating, the fruit's spiky exterior belies the sweet tartness of its insides. Grown from a tree of the same name, rambutans are native to tropical Southeast Asia and are related to the lychee. The fruit's name stems from the Malay word “rambut,” which translates to “hair,” a reference to the fruit's unusual appearance.
To get to the heart of a rambutan, score the outer shell with a paring knife and peel away the leathery covering to expose the aril. The delicate interior is often likened to a grape and contains a sizable nutty seed at its center. Despite its small stature, the rambutan is said to pack a powerful nutrition punch, being a solid source of fiber, vitamin C and minerals such as copper and calcium. The fruit should be eaten within a few days when stored at room temperature but can be refrigerated in a perforated plastic bag for longer periods.
Many prefer to eat the sweet treat straight from its curious packaging, though it can be used in a variety of recipes. Add it to a salad for a tropical twist or use it to give a tart tang to meat or seafood dishes. If you're feeling adventurous, try making a rambutan curry or some homemade sorbet. Unsurprisingly, the rambutan is also great for cocktail creations. Keep it classic with a mojito or try your own hand at experimental mixology. The fruit pairs well with pineapple, lime, coconut or jalapeños if you like a little kick while you sip.
Even in season, which runs May-December depending on where they are grown, the rambutan may be hard to find. Though somewhat elusive, they have been spotted on the shelves at Detwiler's Farm Market, Trader Joe's, Yoder's Amish Village and Whole Foods Market. Next time you spy this beguiling fruit, don't be afraid to give it a try.