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By Emily Paster
Okay, now I am really cheating. I haven't been to a farmers' market since I left Florida. It's plainly not even farmers market season. And what's worse, I found my pomelos at Meijer. Meijer! But in my defense, the Meijer store on North Ave. is a treasure trove of unusual, hard-to-find and ethnic ingredients from White Lily Flour -- the absolute best for making flaky biscuits -- to Sambal Oelek chili paste* to, well, pomelos. I don't know why this Meijer is so special but I love it. I love that I can go there for Coke Zero and chopped cactus. Not that I know what to do with cactus be it chopped or whole.
*Here's a great post, by the way, breaking down the differences between three common kinds of chili paste available in the U.S. I'm obsessed with Sambal Oelek lately. It looks terrifyingly fiery but it's really not that hot.
So, I was at Meijer, not a farmers' market, missing the sunny warmth of Florida and exotic citrus fruits like Rangpur limes when I spied pomelos for sale, two for $3. (That's a great deal, by the way.) I vaguely knew that pomelos are a kind of citrus fruit, like grapefruits, but I did not know what one does with them. Eat them? Juice them? Lob them at back-talkin' children? Luckily, the sign next to the pomelos said that they were "best for making jams and jellies." Well, I do that, so for $3, it seemed like a worthwhile investment. Boom! Two pomelos went in my cart next to three kinds of flour, frozen pizza and juice boxes.
At home, I did more research. It turns out that pomelos really are a kind of citrus fruit like grapefruit. They are round, quite large for a citrus fruit and often yellow or pale green in color. In fact, some scientists think that the pomelo is the grapefruit's ancestor and that grapefruit are actually a hybrid of oranges and pomelos. Pomelos, which are milder than grapefruit but have a similar flavor, are native to southeast Asia. Pomelos often feature in salads or desserts in cuisines from that region, such as Vietnamese or Thai.
My pomelos, which sadly I forgot to photograph, were more yellow than green and had a wonderfully citrusy fragrance. My husband's brother and his wife and baby were staying with us the weekend that I bought the pomelos and we all had fun sniffing the pomelos and trying the pulpy flesh. Note that pomelos have very thick rinds, which make them a chore to peel. But I found that once I was inside, the flesh of the pomelo was easy to separate from the rind.
Despite the sign about using pomelos for jam, I didn't find any jam recipes that grabbed me. There were plenty of recipes for marmalade, but honestly, marmalade is too much work and I don't like the results nearly enough. Although I was intrigued by this recipe for couscous with pomelo and mint from The Kitchn, and hope to make it in the future, I opted to use my pomelos for dessert. I first made a batch of pomelo bars, which tasted like a grown-up version of lemon bars, and I also candied the pomelo rind using this recipe by Munchkin with Munchkin. The candied pomelo rind turned out beautifully but it was a fat ton of work. I don't know if I will be up for that again any time soon as pretty and tasty as the results were. My plan is to bring my two bags of candied pomelo rind to the next Chicago Food Swap and hope for lots of oohs and ahs from appreciative swappers.
If you see pomelos at your supermarket or ethnic grocery store, I hope you will pick some up. They are delicious to eat out of hand, once you get through the massive rind, and I imagine that they would make a refreshing addition to a salad. My mother makes a salad with arugula, grapefruit segments and red onion -- I think that salad would be fantastic with pomelos in place of the grapefruit. You can also just zest and juice pomelos and use them in any of your favorite citrus recipes.
Here is my recipe for pomelo bars:
1 stick cold unsalted butter cut into pieces
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 TB flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 pomelo, zested and juiced
Preheat oven to 325. To make the crust for the bars, whisk together flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Add the pieces of butter and cut them into the flour mixture using two knives or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Pour crust mixture into an ungreased square baking pan and press down with your fingertips until it starts to come together just a bit. Bake crust for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, make the custard. In a standing mixer, beat the eggs and sugar. Add the flour, baking powder, the zest and 2 tsp. of juice from the pomelo and mix. Once you remove the crust from the oven. turn the heat up to 350 and pour the pomelo custard on top of the crust. Bake 20-25 minutes until set. Cool on a rack and dust with powdered sugar. Cut into squares before serving.