Q. The sea grape trees are now covered with bunches of grapes waiting to ripen to their beautiful purple color. As children in South Florida, we would climb the trees to snack on the ripe grapes. Would you please share a recipe for the delicious sea grape jelly? I have also heard that the juice of ripe sea grapes can be added to salad dressing. Would you have any suggestions for other sea grape recipes?
A. First, let’s remind everyone that sea grapes may look tempting at the beach, but don’t harvest them there. Sea grapes are protected by the same state law that protects sea oats, and the purpose is to help prevent sand erosion and give protection to native birds and sea turtles. If you don’t have sea grapes in your own back yard, ask permission from a neighbor. They’ll probably be happy to see the grapes go before they stain the sidewalks.
Second, though you may see a few purplish fruits on bunches now, the ripening season won’t be in full swing until late July and August. Green sea grapes will not ripen once detached from the cluster, though old-timers will tell you to throw a few green ones into the jelly pot because they’ve got more pectin.
As to other uses besides jelly, sea grapes — as you remember from your childhood — are wonderfully sweet just eaten raw. It is hard to describe the flavor if you’ve never tried one — it’s like an old Muscadine grape married a plum (but it is not a grape).
I’ve known people to make wine or vinegar from sea grapes but don’t have any personal experience doing so. When I failed to cook my sea grape pulp long enough once because I couldn’t find my thermometer, I ended up with wonderful syrup for drizzling on pancakes and shortcakes.
As to making the jelly: It is more a labor of nostalgia, of being in touch with our roots and our environment, than one that is, well, fruitful. The sea grapes are mostly seed, with just a little fruit and juice, so it will take a barrel to make a dozen pints of jelly.
The one time I accompanied a native Floridian on a sea grape harvest she showed me how to take a plastic grocery sack, slide it over the whole cluster, and just shake gently. The ripe sea grapes fall into the bag and the green ones stay to ripen another day. It took us a good three hours to get enough to make the recipe here. Happily, she still gifts me with a jar or two every year so I have not relived the experience for a long time.
My favorite way to savor the jelly is the way folks probably did 50 years ago, with a frugal dab on a Ritz cracker smeared with cream cheese.
Snapper in summer
I love serving dishes on hot summer days that are fine at room temperature. This snapper with eggplant escabeche and chorizo-spiced potatoes is perfect for entertaining, since nearly all the cooking can be done in advance, and serving it piping hot is not necessary.
The recipe is from executive chef Elgin Woodman of A Joy Wallace Catering, which has 26 years of experience dishing up party and event fare. A Joy Wallace also runs the Café at Viscaya Museum and Gardens.
Jenna Helwig, food editor at Parents magazine, has created dozens of power-packed breakfasts, whole fruit juices, dessert smoothies and more in Smoothie-Licious (HMH, $15). The recipes are designed for busy parents tempting picky eaters with portable nutrition, but there also are suggestions for adult spin-offs, like boozy ice pops and slushies, and there are plenty of complex flavors that will appeal to all, as in the Hawaiian Breeze here.
The book is very user-friendly, with symbols that tell you which smoothies have enough calories and protein to stand in for a meal and which are vegan, gluten-free or have specific nutritional bonuses of protein and vitamins. Bonus: This smoothie offers a great way to use the bounty of South Florida’s mango season.
Reader Harry Valdivieso advises that you can find fresh frozen aji amarillo at President Supermarket, 450 NE 125th St., in North Miami.
Send questions and responses to LindaCiceroCooks@aol.com or Food, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172.
Jeanne’s Sea Grape Jelly
3 cups sea grape juice and pulp
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup calamondin, sour orange or lime juice
Rinse the grapes thoroughly. You will need about a quart of grapes to yield a cup of pulp and juice. Place in a large pot with water to cover by 2 inches and bring to a rolling boil. Lower heat to a bare simmer and cook about 15 minutes. Crush the sea grapes in the pan with a potato masher while continuing to cook for about 10 minutes longer. Force through a food mill or large sieve (or a jelly mesh bag if you have one) and measure the juice.
Using the ratio in the recipe, add the sugar and citrus juice of your choice and bring to a boil again. Taste to see if you have enough sugar and add up to 1/4 cup more if needed. Continue boiling until mixture reaches 225 degrees on a thermometer, or until the jelly will not run when you dip in a spoon and turn it upside down; this will take up to 30 minutes. Pour into sterilized jars and seal. Makes about 3 cups jelly.
Per tablespoon: 48 calories (0 percent from fat), 0 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 g protein, 10.8 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 0 mg sodium.
Pan-Seared Snapper with Eggplant Escabeche
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1/4 cup diced red pepper
1 cup diced Japanese eggplant
1/3 cup diced red onion
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons raisins or currants
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
10 (6- to 8-ounce) snapper filets
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
1 green onion, sliced
Prepare the eggplant escabeche one day in advance of serving. Heat half the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and lightly sauté the garlic with the red peppers, then add the eggplant and red onion. Do not sauté more than a minute or two; you want to make sure all the vegetables are vibrant. Season with salt and pepper.
Add the raisins and the sherry vinegar, and remove from the heat. Coat the mix lightly with the remaining extra virgin olive oil. Refrigerate to allow the flavors to marinate.
Just before serving time: Season the fish with salt and pepper. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the oil. Place the snapper fillets in the pan and cook, turning once, until they are lightly browned and just cooked through, about 3 minutes per side.
Mix the parsley and green onion into the marinated vegetables and place on top of fish. Serve with Patatas Bravas (see recipe). May be served at any temperature. Makes 10 servings.
Per serving (without potatoes): 212 calories (32 percent from fat), 7.6 g fat, (1.2 g saturated fat, 4.3 g monounsaturated fat), 63 mg cholesterol, 33.5 g protein, 2.7 g carbohydrates, 0.4 g fiber, 132 mg sodium.
Source: Adapted by Linda Cicero for Cook’s Corner from recipe by executive chef Elgin Woodman of A Joy Wallace Catering.
1 1/2 pounds fingerling potatoes
1/2 pound (about 1 medium) Vidalia onion, cut into strips
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces Spanish chorizo, sliced
3 to 4 piquillo peppers, diced (see note)
1 tablespoon chopped chives or green onion
Boil the potatoes until tender. Drain, cut in half and set aside. In a sauté pan over medium high heat sauté the onion in the olive oil. Add the chorizo and piquillo peppers. Cook until the chorizo releases the flavor, 2-3 minutes. Add the cooked fingerling potatoes to the pan. Toss and season with salt and pepper. Finish with chopped chives or green onions. Serve under the Snapper Escabeche. Makes 10 servings.
Note: Piquillos are small and sweet fire-roasted red peppers from Spain. Jars of piquillos are available online and at Latin markets.
Per serving: 116 calories (35 percent from fat), 4.5 g fat, (0.8 g saturated fat, 1.9 g monounsaturated fat), 35 mg cholesterol, 3.9 g protein, 15.3 g carbohydrates, 0.9 g fiber, 215 mg sodium.
Source: Adapted by Linda Cicero for Cook’s Corner from recipe by Executive Chef Elgin Woodman of A Joy Wallace Catering
1 1/4 cups coconut milk
1 cup chopped papaya (about 1 medium)
3/4 cup frozen pineapple chunks
3/4 cup frozen mango chunks
1/4 cup unsalted macadamia nuts
Starting with the coconut milk, add all of the ingredients to a blender. Cover and blend until smooth, about 30 seconds. Makes 2 servings.
Per serving: 263 calories, 16 g fat 5g saturated fat), 3 g protein, 33 g carbohydrates, 5 g fiber, 25 g sugar, 17 mg sodium.
Source: “Smoothie-Licious,” by Jenna Helwig. Reproduced with permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.