Summer is mango season in Miami. Right now, trees all over the city are dripping with ripening fruit. In celebration of the coming months, I created this simple mango salad with mozzarella and mint. It features mango in all its glory, along with soft buffalo mozzarella, fresh mint and tangy pickled onions. A drizzle of good olive oil, 18 year balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of sea salt and fresh pepper are the only seasoning needed. This is the type of recipe that focuses on the quality of the ingredients instead of a lot of fuss—my favorite kind!
Mangos start ripening as early as April in Miami, depending on the species. There are hundreds of species and the different varieties continue producing until January. Peak season is during the summer months.
In July, we visit the Mango Festival at Fairchild Tropical Garden. This botanical garden holds the largest mango festival in the world, featuring hundreds of mango species. You can taste different mango varieties, eat mango -filled goodies and purchase fresh fruit and trees at the festival. It’s definitely a must-see for any foodie family.
Many Miami homeowners have mango trees in their backyard. We planted a dwarf mango two years ago, and this is the first year it fruited. We only harvested three little mangoes, but they were our mangoes. If you don’t have your own mango tree, this is the time of year when you wish you were friends with the grumpy neighbor who’s massive old mango tree is loaded with fruit.
The older trees bear so much fruit, many people hire pickers to come harvest the fruit from their yards; others just let it rot on the ground. If you drive through some of the old neighborhoods, you will see boxes of fruit for the taking, along with a tip jar.
Mangoes can be found cheaply throughout the city right now. You can sometimes find them in the grocery store for as little as $.25. They aren’t in as good condition as they would be straight off the tree, but for that price, I’ll take a few bruises. If you want really good prices and quality, visit the Spanish grocery stores. They get their fruit from small local producers and it is often in better condition than the fruit in the big stores.
I hope you get to try some good mangoes this year. Be sure to come by the Mango festival if you are visiting Miami in July. It’s hot, but there is plenty of good eating!
Yield: 2-4 servings
To prepare the mango, carefully remove the skin with a paring knife or vegetable peeler. Cutting lengthwise in the direction of the seed, slice two slices from the mango. Lay the slices cut-side down and cut into thin slices.
Arrange salad greens on plates. Layer a slice of mozzarella, three slices of mango, another slice of mozzarella and three more slices of mango. Add onion and mint leaves. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
We recently went on a week-long trip to Puerto Rico, leaving a whole bunch of bananas sitting on the kitchen counter at home. We returned to find a whole bunch of very ripe bananas that needed to be used quickly or face the compost heap. Four bananas went into this tasty banana bread and two more ended up in the caramel on the top of this amazingly delicious banana bread upside down cake. It’s the best banana bread we’ve ever had and I’m excited to share the recipe!
If you read along in this blog (thank you if you do), you know I’m fond of upside-down cakes. They are easy to make and adapt well to all seasons. Living in the subtropics of Miami, we have access to all sorts of fruit. In my yard alone, there’s a papaya, coconut, starfruit, mango and sapodilla tree. Two of my favorite cakes to make with local fruit are this starfruit upside-down cake and kumquat upside-down cake.
The marriage of banana bread and upside-down cake was meant to be. Why isn’t this a thing? You end up with moist banana bread with a buttery-rich banana nut topping– similar to a Bananas Foster. It’s perfection. If you are in the mood for something really luxurious, add a bit of rum to the caramel topping. The alcohol cooks out in the oven, but the rum adds a little extra flavor. You can even take the recipe a step further and throw in some pineapple with the bananas.
I was limited in the ingredients available when I made this recipe, and walnuts were missing from my pantry. Given a choice between pine nuts or pumpkin seeds; I went with the pumpkin seeds. They worked out nicely, giving the cake a bit of crunch. Walnuts or pecans would still be my first (and second) choice.
Of course, you can make this easy banana bread upside-down cake recipe without nuts at all-it’s really up to you. However you make it, it’s a delicious treat the whole family will love—even the ones who don’t usually like banana bread. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we did and I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
You can make the entire cake in an 8-inch cast iron skillet. If you don’t have a skillet, use a buttered 8-inch cake pan. You will need to make the topping on the stovetop and carefully pour it into the cake pan while it’s still hot.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/ 180 degrees C.
Melt the butter in an 8-inch cast iron skillet or saucepan. Add the brown sugar and orange juice or rum. Stir until the mixture begins to boil and the sugar is melted. Remove from the heat. If you are using a cake pan, immediately pour the caramel into the bottom of the pan.
Once the caramel is cooled, arrange the sliced bananas around the outside edge of the skillet in a pinwheel design. Sprinkle nuts in the middle or arrange them in a design as well.
In a medium mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Add the eggs and mashed bananas and mix until well combined.
Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt and slowly add the wet ingredients. Add the vanilla. Stir in the nuts.
Carefully spoon the batter on top of the caramel layer and spread smooth. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out smooth.
Allow the cake to cook in the pan for 10 minutes, then carefully flip the pan onto a serving platter, being careful not to burn yourself on the hot caramel that may leak out.
Banana bread recipe adapted from lkadlec’s Best Banana Bread
I have a treasured star fruit tree in my yard, which produces a crop of fruit several times a year. I end up with so much of this delicious tropical fruit; I’m forced to think of new ways to use it (even though my neighbors are very happy to accept my fruity gifts).
A few months ago, I wanted to make a star fruit upside-down cake, but the fruit on my tree wasn’t ripe enough. Instead, I made this delicious kumquat upside-down cake. The kumquat cake was better than I thought it would be. The tart kumquat skins, though a little chewy, were perfect with the sweet caramel-covered cake.
With my star fruit tree loaded with ripening fruit, I anxiously awaited the moment when I could make the upside-down cake again. Unfortunately, my waiting was prolonged, because one of my neighbors decided to take it upon herself (without asking) to pluck the ripest fruit from my tree as she walked her dog. She isn’t very tall, though, so the top branches were left untouched and I was able to find 2 tree-ripened fruit to make the long-awaited cake.
Visually, the star fruit upside-down cake is stunning, with drippy caramel and cake squeezed between the thick slices of fruit. Despite its fragile appearance, star fruit holds up well to cooking. It keeps its distinct star shape even in sauces. The flavor, however, is very subtle. Star fruit is very juicy, mildly sweet and a little tart, reminiscent of a kiwi.
I used a different recipe for the cake batter this time, and made a richer caramel topping. The cake is more substantial and buttery. It is very moist, with a touch of nutty flavor from the addition of ground almonds. The caramel topping could easily be made with a touch of rum to accent the tropical fruit even more.
So which cake is better, Kumquat or Star fruit upside-down cake?
I’ll just have to make them both again to have a real taste test.
You can make the entire cake using a large (10”) cast iron skillet. If you don’t have one, use a standard 9-inch cake pan. It’s up to you how much fruit to use. I recommend cramming as much as you can into the pan, because it will shrink together when it cooks.
Melt the butter and brown sugar (and rum if using) over medium heat in your skillet or a heavy saucepan, until the sugar is melted and bubbly, about 5-10 minutes. If you added rum, cook 5 minutes longer on low heat. Try not to stir it around too much, because it isn’t necessary. Remove from the heat. If you are using a cake pan instead of a cast iron skillet, pour the caramel into the bottom of the cake pan.
When the caramel is cool, arrange the fruit from the outside-in. Squeeze as much fruit in the bottom as you can. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 325° F/ 170° C
Combine the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, beat together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs to the butter mixture one at a time, beating until combined. Add the vanilla extract. Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the yogurt everything is blended.
Pour the cake batter over the fruit layer and spread evenly (it will be thick). Bake 50 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes.
Carefully turn the cake out onto a large platter, taking care as there will be hot caramel that may drip through the sides of the pan. Best served warm or room temperature.
The cake I really wanted to make was a starfruit upside-down cake, but the fruit on my tree isn’t ripe yet. Instead, I made this kumquat upside-down cake, which is just as fun, and may be even tastier. I grew up with a kumquat tree in my south Florida backyard. It was just a little thing, and I don’t remember doing much with the fruit. We would pluck the little orange gems from the tree and nibble at the sweet kumquat skin. Sometimes we just tossed the sour insides away.
Now I know what to do with kumquats. They make a delicious marmalade. They are beautiful sliced into thin rings and cooked in a citrus sauce for chicken or duck. They are perfect in a cranberry sauce, and as this recipe proves, they make an excellent upside-down cake. The sweetness of the cake and caramel are perfect with the sourness of the fruit. It’s just the right amount to make this one of those cakes you can eat all day.
My Aunt who lives in Tennessee says she gets kumquats in her supermarket every winter. I hope she is right and everyone has access to these little fruits. Eating the skin takes a little getting used to. It’s the opposite with all the other citrus, but this is a kumquat’s best feature.
Or it could be their name. It’s fun to say. Go ahead…say it.
This kumquat upside-down cake showcases the little fruit beautifully. When my statfruit does finally ripen, I’ll be posting a follow-up to compare the two cakes. I have a feeling they will both be equally delicious. How could you not love a kumquat upside-down cake?
Only slightly adapted from David Lebovitz’s upside down cake.
Preheat oven to 350°F/190°C
In a 10” cast iron skillet or cake pan (not a springform pan), melt the butter and brown sugar over medium heat. Cook, while stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar melts and bubbles. Set aside and allow to cool while you make the cake batter.
Beat together the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until fluffy. Add the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture, alternating with the milk until the batter is smooth. Do not over mix.
Arrange the fruit in the bottom of the skillet or pan, cut side down. If you have two cut sides on a piece, place the largest end facing down. Work from the outside of the pan, creating a tight ring of fruit. Continue until you have covered the bottom of the pan.
Pour the batter on top of the fruit and spread it towards the sides. Place in the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes until a wooden pick comes out clean. Allow the pan to cool for 20 minutes.
To flip the cake, place a plate on top of the skillet or pan. Put on your oven mitts just in case some hot juices escape. Flip the cake over and it should pop right out.
A papaya tree in my backyard was so heavy with fruit; it broke in half, leaving me with 30 or so green papayas all ripening at the same time. This is our second crop of fruit from this tree, and we have learned to eat papaya in many nontraditional ways. We love to eat it while it is still green. It makes a delicious, crunchy addition to salads like in a traditional Thai green papaya salad. I’ve also prepared green papaya stewed like a potato in curry dishes, fried and roasted, like this recipe.
There are varying ripeness levels of a green papaya, each appropriate for different ways of cooking. I’ve found that a very young papaya isn’t ideal for roasting. It lacks any flavor. For this dish, you want the papaya to be green on the outside, with just a touch of yellow near the top. When you slice it open, there should be a faint blush of coral, with the seeds mostly dark grey.
At this stage, the papaya is still firm. When you roast it, the sugars will intensify and the resulting glossy chunks will have a divine taste and texture that is a cross between a peach and a butternut squash. This is nothing like the papaya you know! I can think of a bunch of ways you can use your roasted papaya. Serve it for breakfast with vanilla Greek yogurt, add it in a savory sauce to pair with tropical pork tenderloin or sprinkle it with brown sugar and cinnamon for dessert. I bet it would even be good in a pie!
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
Peel the skin from the papaya and split in half lengthwise. With a spoon, scrape out the seeds and any membrane. Cut the papaya in slices 1-inch thick, or 1-inch cubes. Arrange in a single layer on a backing sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Toss to coat.
Roast for approximately 20 minutes, until papaya is tender and lightly browned.
I have a fond memory of a Middle Eastern restaurant in South Miami we visited when I was a kid. It had gauzy curtains secluding each table and exotic belly dancers performing while you ate. It was such a treat for me. While I don’t remember the food or the name of the restaurant, there was one item on the menu that has stuck with me for life: watermelon juice. It was served cold in a tall glass with a straw, and I could drink three of them in a night if my mother let me.
Now that I’m a grownup, I make watermelon juice fairly regularly. Living in hot and humid Florida, it’s a refreshing drink that instantly brings me back to those days when it was such an extravagance. It’s actually super easy to make and doesn’t require a juicer. You just blend the watermelon, strain and drink. There’s no need to add sugar since watermelon is already perfectly sweet.
I decided to turn my latest batch of fresh watermelon juice into homemade Jell-O (or gelatin if you don’t want to use a brand name).Having recently purchased some intricate baking molds; this gave me a perfect opportunity to try them out. I try to steer away from artificial flavors and dyes, so I anticipate making homemade Jello often when my little one gets old enough to appreciate these things.
I recommend using gelatin powder instead of sheets for this recipe. Gelatin powder is less expensive, easier to find and you need less of it. While this recipe came out perfect, I did have trouble removing it from the most intricate molds. I would have added it to my recipe “fail” list had I not been able to extract 2 of the 6 molds perfectly. Either way, we enjoyed every bit of these healthy, low sugar gelatins and I plan to make more in the future.
Feel free to play around with these. You can add fresh chunks of watermelon, or other fruit such as mango or strawberry. Get really creative by layering different flavors, adding a layer of mousse or gelled minted cream. The possibilities are endless.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours, 10 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Taste your watermelon juice before you start to see if it is sweet enough. If not, add sugar to taste.
Cut watermelon into chunks and puree in a blender until smooth. You may have to make a few small batches. Pour juice through a fine mesh strainer. Place juice into the refrigerator to cool for 1 ½ hour.
Place your gelatin into a heat proof bowl and cover with about ¼ cup of watermelon juice. Place bowl over a double boiler and heat until the gelatin melts, about 8 minutes. Add gelatin to the chilled watermelon juice and stir.
Pour watermelon mixture into molds and chill for 4 hours until set. To remove from molds, run a knife around the edge, then submerge bottom of mold into hot water for 10 seconds. Invert mold onto a serving platter.