My friend Yuki recoils at the mere mention of meat and fruit in tandem. I can still remember the times her face scrunched up into an origami of disgust at everything from sweet and sour pork to Hawaiian pizza.
As for me, give me pork stewed with prunes or mango chicken any day.
So it’s not surprising that I fell in love with an appetizer of sweet lychees stuffed with savory ground pork when I went to Duangrat’s Thai Restaurant in Falls Church, VA. Lychee, also commonly called litchi or lichi, is the fruit of a tropical and subtropical tree native to southern China and Southeast Asia, and now cultivated in many parts of the world. When eaten fresh, the translucent white pulp surrounding the seed is delicate and springy and it has a faint floral perfume and flavor. Unfortunately, I mostly make do with eating it out of a can.
Anyway, I’ve been fantasizing about this dish for weeks and as I was rummaging through my pantry during Operation CDMK, I found a can of lychees. My next post literally wrote itself.
To recreate the dish, I relied on my taste memory to deconstruct the flavors of the ground pork stuffing. For sweetness, the natural choice was the syrup the lychees came in, but I made a note to moderate the amount I used. Duangrat’s version was a little too sugary for even my major sweet tooth. I figured I could rely on either soy sauce or fish sauce for the savory layer. Instead of ground pork, I used turkey for a less greasy finish.
When it came time to cook, I started with a basic foundation of onions and garlic. I cooked the turkey until it was no longer pink then added the lychee syrup and simmered until the syrup was absorbed, rendering the meat subtly sweet. I added some chopped green onions for color and flourish.
Next, I had to figure out an efficient way to stuff the lychees. After breaking apart one too many lychees, I eventually learned how to gently pry open each fruit with my thumb and stuff it with a 1/2 teaspoon of filling at a time while leaving the fruit intact. A chopstick acted as a poking device when necessary.
At Duangrat’s, the stuffed lychees were served cold and almost gave my tongue the impression that I was eating a salty dessert. So I stuck mine under the broiler until they were burnished. I think this extra step not only integrated but also intensified the flavors and gave the little appetizers a peachier, prettier appearance. And personally, I prefer warm appetizers.
What about you? “Yay” or “Nay” to meat and fruit?
Sweet and Savory Stuffed Lychees
These appetizers are absolutely scrumptious and will make a delightful introduction at your next dinner party. I would make enough for at least 5 or 6 per person. Trust me, you simply can’t stop at just one or two. Stuffing the lychees does involve some fiddly work but you can make the filling up to 2 days ahead and refrigerate it. Then fill the lychees on the day you plan to serve them.
2 (20 oz) cans lychees (about 45 lychees)
8 ounces/250 g ground turkey, pork, or chicken
1/4 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons fish or soy sauce
2 green onions, chopped
Time: 40 minutes
Makes: about 45 stuffed lychees
Drain the lychees, reserving 1/4 cup/60 ml of syrup. (The rest of the syrup makes a refreshing drink over ice or add it to a cocktail.)
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onion and garlic and fry until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Raise the heat to medium-high and tumble in the turkey. Stir to break up the meat, frying until it is no longer pink. Sprinkle in the fish sauce and a dash of white pepper.
Pour in the reserved lychee syrup and simmer over low heat until the liquid is absorbed, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the green onions and stir until wilted, about 30 to 45 seconds. Taste and add salt and more pepper if desired.
Set the filling aside to cool.
Move an oven rack to the topmost rung, 4 to 5 inches from the heat source. Start your broiler, on HIGH if you have the option. Line 2 baking trays with aluminum foil and brush with oil or spray with nonstick spray.
Stick your thumb gently into a lychee to expand the opening. Stuff the fruit with about 1 teaspoon of the turkey filling using a 1/2 (measuring) teaspoon. Use a chopstick to push the filling into the lychee if necessary. Lay the stuffed lychee on the baking tray on its side. Repeat until all the lychees and filling are used up.
Broil the stuffed lychees for 2 to 3 minutes, until the meat is lightly caramelized but not charred, and the lychees take on a slight blush.