Wednesday, April 9, 2008

For Pili Lovers Only

The pili tree (Canarium ovatum Engl.) is indigenous to the Philippine archipelago and grows primarily in the bicol region. It is an extremely hardy tree and its fruit is somewhat jurassic in appearance. pili fruitThe fruit (often called a nut but is technically a drupe, according to Doreen Fernandez in Fruits of the Philippines) is about 5-6 centimeters long and has a think black skin when ripe. Under the skin is a fibrous (hairy!)greenish pulp. The very hard pointed shell houses the oily and yummy nut within. It is the nut within that most Filipinos think of when you say Pili Nut.

According to Alan Davidson, pili nuts possess the highest fat content of all nuts in the world (even more fat than the macadamia!), Pili has the flavor of pumpkin seed when raw but is even more delicious when roasted. Some think the nut has a texture and flavor that surpasses the more common almond. Pili trees generally grow wild rather than in organized plantations so the supply of nuts is limited and erratic. Fruits are at their peak around July through September, assuming some huge typhoon hasn’t blown them all off the trees. The fruits spoil relatively quickly due to the high-fat content, so that explains why they are rapidly preserved with salt or tons of sugar.

Finding fresh pili fruit in Manila is truly a needle in a haystack proposition unless you have a tree growing in your neighborhood. pili nutYesterday at the market I was thrilled to find a small basket of fresh pili and I eagerly picked some out so I could write about them here. The fresh nuts were just P1 each though they were not the finest quality… If you find fresh and ripe nuts, Bicolanos like to boil the fruit briefly, carefully peel the thin black skin, then dip the hairy pulp in fish sauce (guinamos) or patis and eat this straight away. It is an acquired taste, I kid you not, but delicious if you have acquired the taste. And few foods would be more native than pili prepared this way.

At the Bicol fair at Mega Mall in mid-October, I picked up fresh kernels and nuts within for just P35 for a 1/2 kilo (middle photo above) and I also purchased three types of pili snacks - sugar coated, caramel coated and salted. pili snacksAll were very fresh and delicious. Little packets of the snacks were P20, a tad on the pricey side but if you ever had to crack open a nut, extract a whole kernel inside, then preserve and sell it before it spoils, you would charge that much too. (From Market Manila Blogsite)

Pili Nut Pesto

  • 2 cups basil leaves
  • 1 – 2 cloves garlic (depends on your taste, start with one clove…you can always add more later)
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup whole pili nuts (you may blanch and peel them first)
  • 1/3 – 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

- Place all ingredients, except for the oil, in a food processor. Process while slowly adding the oil in…start with 1/3 cup, then keep adding if you want it thinner.
- Place pesto in a clean jar and top with a layer of olive oil. Store in the fridge. Makes about 1 cup of pesto.

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