Making A Longan Story Short

Jerry Ornellas: ‘If you eat, you are involved in agriculture. Daniel Lane photos

Jerry Ornellas grows produce on more than seven acres in the lush mountains of Kapa’a Homesteads. The lifelong farmer, and proponent of local food says, “We depend on farmers to feed us. If you eat, you’re involved in agriculture.” Selling off island is profitable, but Ornellas prefers to sell only on Kaua’i to support the local economy.

What’s growing: Breadfruit, longan, lychee.

LONGAN

Closely related to lychee and rambutan, the longan is native to southern China, in the provinces of Kwangtung, Kwangsi, Schezwan and Fukien. The flesh is white, with a dark seed inside giving it the appearance of an eye, hence its nickname, dragon’s eye.

Season: Midfall to midwinter. Ornellas induces flowering, so he grows longan year round.

What to look for: The skin is golden brown, and should be firm and blemish-free. When harvesting, Ornellas leaves the fruit on the branch, known as a panicle, with a few leaves. This not only indicates freshness, but the panicle continues to feed the fruit.

Storage: When I asked Ornellas how best to store longan, he said, “I don’t know, I don’t store it, I eat it!” After a good chuckle, he said it stores best on the counter, for several days.

Longan aka dragon’s eye

I have found it stores well uncovered in the refrigerator for 10 days. Enjoy them frozen for a cool summertime treat. It is not necessary to peel the fruit to freeze it, and they will keep about a year in the freezer. They also can be cooked, canned and dehydrated.

Tip: The seeds contain saponin, and when crushed produce foam, which is used for shampoo.

Preparation: Longan is mostly eaten raw, right out of hand. I like to crack the crisp shell open with my teeth; gentle pressure applied around the circumference pops it right open. The aromatic flesh is a little spicy, sweet and juicy. Longans have been a favorite in Southeast Asia for centuries.

Hawaii’s ‘Kohola’ longan

Health benefits: According to Purdue University, the flesh of the fruit improves stomach functioning, increases appetite, reduces fever and expels intestinal worms. It is regarded as an antidote for poison. A decoction of the dried flesh is taken as a tonic and treatment for insomnia and neurasthenic neurosis. In Vietnam, the “eye” of the longan seed is pressed against a snakebite in the belief that it will absorb the venom.

Jerry’s Farm produce can be found at: Farmers Markets: Glory Farms sells Ornellas’ produce at the Kapa’a market, (Wednesdays at 3 p.m), and at the Kaua’i Community College market, (Saturday at 9:30).

Mayette Loseto also sells his produce at the KCC market. For more information, call 639-6044.

CHICKEN AND MAC NUT SALAD

This recipe is adapted from TropicalFruitGrowers.com. Juicy, sweet longans, crunchy macadamia nuts and crisp sprouts make this a delicious salad. Grilled chicken makes it a meal. If you are vegetarian, feel free to omit the chicken.

The fruit is harvested by hand

Longan flower clusters

* 1/4 cup macadamia nuts
* 2 chicken breast fillets, grilled or seared and sliced
* 1 head lettuce, washed, dried and torn into bite-sized pieces
* 2 cups longans, peeled, halved and seeds removed
* 2 cups sprouts
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
* 3 teaspoons sliced fresh mint leaves
* 1/8 teaspoon sugar

Place the oil, lemon juice, mint and sugar into a screw-top jar and shake until blended. Combine lettuce, longans and sprouts in a bowl and pour dressing over. Toss to combine.

Divide among four plates; add chicken and sprinkle with macadamia nuts.

Makes four servings.

The longan shell is easy to crack. Daniel Lane photos

 
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