Sizeable Citrus: The Pomelo's Journey to the Holy Land

Fresh and wintry, the pomelo adds zest to salads and fried foods. How did it get here?

Dan Peretz

The French took the Dutch pompelmoes and gave it a more elegant moniker, pomelo. But even before the European explorers and traders brought it home with them, the Malaysians and Indonesians knew Citrus maxima as jabong, and the Chinese as youzi, and they probably had lots of other names for it as they picked and ate it in Fiji and Tonga.

But none of this was known in the Old Yishuv in Jerusalem 130 years ago. God blessed Esther-Baila Holtzman with a son, and her husband, Meir Shimon, named the child Shmuel Zvi. At 15, the boy traveled to America for rabbinical training, but his travels didn’t stop there. He went on to work as a tailor and as a gold miner in Africa, while in his heart he continued to yearn for the land he had left behind. Time after time, he returned, always with great tales to tell and bearing magnificent gifts. Once he brought ostriches to be used in the feather industry; another time he brought back a variety of banana that can still be seen in the Jordan Valley and along the coast; and one time, he brought back from his travels in Singapore – the pomelo. He planted a pomelo tree in the garden of his home in Rehovot. When the trees bore fruit, the fruits were referred to in Hebrew as pomelot. A single fruit was referred to with the feminine form of the word – pomela, perhaps because of its shape, resembling a very pregnant belly.

If you’ve ever peeled a pomelo in season, you can understand why it took a gold miner to bring it to these shores. The peel is thick and bitter, and strenuous effort is required to reach the sweet pulp inside, just as miners toil to extract precious metals from deep underground.

Here’s a fun way to deal with that peel: Place the pomelo on a flat surface, sitting on its bottom. Then take a sharp knife, insert it as deep as the peel goes, then make a slit all the way around the fruit, at its widest point. Then use your fingers to widen the slit a little and then pry the peel off the fruit. You should end up with two empty “bowls” and the peeled fruit in the middle. Cut the fruit in half, place one half in each bowl and serve.

Spinach and pomelo with fried fish

Pomelo has a wintry freshness, so it goes beautifully with salads and boiled or fried foods. In this recipe, the batter-fried fish is offset by the very gently steamed spinach and a slightly tangy slice of pomelo that doesn’t make the crispy coating soggy, but creates a wonderful combination when the flavors and textures meet on the tongue. A nice dish to eat by the shore on a warm wintry day, or toward evening as the sun’s last warming rays come through the kitchen window.

For the fish:

1 cup (240 ml) very cold

light beer

1 egg (cold from the fridge)

¾ cup (80 gr) white flour

fine sea salt

½ kilo fresh fish fillets

vegetable oil for deep frying

For the salad:

1 kilo spinach

¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil

4 garlic cloves

½ red onion

1 medium pomelo

juice of ½ lemon

sea salt

coarsely ground black pepper

Start by making the batter for the fish: Beat the beer and egg together. Gradually add the flour until the batter thickens to the consistency of drinkable yogurt. Season with salt and refrigerate for half an hour.

Cut the fish into rectangular strips and place them in the batter. Stir gently and let sit for 10 minutes. Heat the oil in the deep fryer to 170 degrees Celsius. Pick up the fish pieces one by one, letting the excess batter drip off, and place them in the hot oil. Fry until golden. Place the fried fish on paper towels to absorb the excess oil, then put the fish in a pan and place in the oven, preheated to 100 degrees Celsius, to keep warm.

Rinse the spinach well under running water, then leave it in a bowl of water for 10 minutes. Pour out the water and the grit that has sunk to the bottom, then rinse the spinach once more.

Heat the oil in a wide pot. Slice the garlic and add it to the pot, followed immediately by the moist spinach. Stir with a wooden spoon and cook just until the leaves are coated with oil and have softened a little but still retain their green color. Remove the spinach from the pot and place in a large bowl.

Slice the onion into thin rings and add to the spinach. Peel the pomelo and trim the white pith, then cut into small chunks and add to the bowl. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper, and toss gently. To serve, place some of the salad on a plate and arrange a few pieces of the fried fish on top. Serve with a cold glass of grapefruit juice or spicy tomato juice. A wonderful lunch for a sunny winter day.

Broccoli and pomelo salad with spicy tofu

In putting together this salad, we tried to include flavors that surrounded the pomelo in its country of origin – the sweet, mild saltiness of the tofu in soy sauce and coconut, the hotness of the chili pepper, the crispness of the broccoli and the freshness of the pomelo. You could also enhance the greenness by including herbs or scallions or cilantro, or take it in another direction by adding orange juice and grated lemon peel to accentuate the fruity taste.

Whatever you do, be sure not to mix the ingredients together until they meet in the serving bowl. This way, the balance of flavors and textures will be best maintained.

300 gr tofu

3 tbsp (45 ml) corn oil

1 scant tsp chili pepper

2 tbsp soy sauce

1/3 cup (80 ml) coconut milk

3 fresh broccoli stalks

1 cup water

juice of ½ lemon

½ pomelo

1 fresh hot red pepper

(optional)

 

Cut the tofu into 1-cm cubes. Heat the oil in a wok or cast-iron skillet and when sizzling hot, add the tofu and sauté it until golden on all sides. Add the chili pepper and stir until well-saturated with the oil. Add the soy sauce and stir well until it is absorbed by the tofu.

Now add the coconut milk and stir until it forms a thick, golden-brown coating on the tofu. Remove the pot from the fire. Meanwhile, break the broccoli into florets and steam in a steamer with the water and lemon juice for five minutes until it softens a little but is still crisp and bright green. Remove from the fire and transfer the broccoli to a bowl of ice water to prevent further cooking.

Arrange the salad: Drain the broccoli florets and place them in a bowl. Tear the pomelo into pieces and sprinkle on top. Add the hot tofu. Slice the hot pepper very thin and add it to the bowl. Gently toss everything together, along with a little of the sauce remaining from the pan. Serve in individual bowls, with or without white rice.