Technically not a melon, the sweet, mild-flavored pepino is a member of the nightshade plant family, related to the tomato, potato and eggplant. When ripe, pepinos are aromatic and have a delicate, lightly sweet flavor with notes of cucumber, honeydew melon and cantaloupe. A versatile fruit, pepinos may be eaten fresh or used in a range of dishes.
Fresh and Ripe, Plain and Simple
Ripe pepinos are typically yellow, with purplish stripes or, in some varieties, freckles. Some types ripen to a deep, almost orange-yellow. An aromatic fruit, fragrance is more an indication of ripeness than color. The scent should be light and sweet, not at all heavy or cloying, with hints of crisp cucumber and ripe melon. The skin should be smooth and, when pressed gently, the flesh should feel similar to a ripe, but not overripe, nectarine. Sweet, juicy pepinos are often pared, cut and served plain for dessert. To prepare, wash a pepino well and cut it in half. Scoop out the seeds. Place the halves face down on a clean surface and cut each in half or into slices. Although edible, by the time pepinos are fully ripe, the peel is usually too tough to eat, so trim it away before serving.
Fresh In Salads and Salsas
Juicy, with a flavor that highlights and complements other flavors, but never overwhelms, pepinos work well in a fruit salad. The ascorbic acid in the pepino juice helps prevent the flesh of apples, bananas and similar fruits from discoloring after cutting. Pepinos are also used in traditional tossed salads, as one of many ingredients or just a few. Try a fast, simple salad with a gourmet touch. Tear washed fresh spinach into salad bowls and top with diced pepino and crumbled feta cheese. Add a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lime, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and a touch of fresh, coarse ground black pepper. If you're feeling really adventurous, add a couple of anchovies and a sprinkle of finely sliced green onion. When making fresh salsa, stir in some diced pepino for extra bulk and flavor.
In Savory Dishes
Many types of savory dishes use the clean, light sweetness of pepinos to highlight or serve as a counterbalance to warmer, spicier flavors. In Indian cuisine, pepinos may appear in curried lentil dishes, chutneys and spicy mixed pickles. Pepinos can show up in meat dishes to cool spices or meld flavors. They may be served along side of roasted meat in a sweet side dish or or a spicy relish. In Peru, pepinos may be grilled to serve with a spicy dish. Pepinos can also complement seafood, and can be used in a number of seafood sauces and marinades.
Like a Vegetable When Green
Pepinos can also be eaten well before they are ripe, when still green. The skin is thinner, more tender and the texture of the flesh is firmer, feeling more like a vegetable than a fruit. Without the sweetness that comes with ripening, the flavor is more like a cucumber when eaten raw. Try it diced finely in a salad or grated on a sandwich, pita or wrap. Green pepinos can be cooked and used like summer squash. Try green pepinos diced and added to soups and stews, sliced or diced and sauteed in olive oil, or steamed in its delicate green skin.