Lychees are a member of the sapindaceae family and are related to the similarly fleshed rambutan and longan. The trees are native to Southern China but will grow in most hot, humid and tropical frost-free climes. Also known as litchi, the fruit has an illustrious history in China. It was loved by emperors and their concubines, poems were written of it, its image was symbolic and captured in art and ceramics, and it was even the subject of the first monograph of any fruit tree by a Chinese author.
The first lychee I remember eating as a child was the canned variety served with vanilla ice cream at a Chinese restaurant in Adelaide. Although delicious at the time, the flavour of tinned too-sweet lychees is a world apart from the fresh fruit with their appealing smooth stone. The fruit is translucent and jelly-like, similar to the flesh of a grape but with more texture, and the flavour is sweet with subtle floral undertones. Lychees are cooked into curries in South East Asia, are good in a salad with fresh Asian herbs and go excellently with duck. They match well with other tropical fruits and love vanilla and cream. My preference though is to eat them cold, fresh and unadorned using teeth to pierce the brittle reptilian red skin, feeling the flesh wanting to burst out with juiciness and popping the fruit straight into your mouth.
Make O Tama's lychee recipes
Inspired by the idea of Turkish delight, but with more subtle flavours, this is a simple and delicate dessert that highlights the floral flavour of the fruit. The silky jelly contains jewel-like pieces of lychee, with a slightly savoury and textural pistachio crumb.
This is a very refreshing salad, crunchy with texture, hot with chilli and laden with herbs. The lychee gives small hints of sweetness that seems to bring everything together. It is a perfect dish for lunch on a hot summer day.
This is an easy frozen dessert for summer that needs no ice cream machine or churning. The creamy coconut flavour is perfect with a lychee and there is something deeply appealing about eating the fruit semi-frozen. Sesame praline adds a final sweet salty crunch.
These are lovely little rolls, easily portable and ideal for a sunny summer’s picnic lunch. They are fresh, light and juicy enough that they need no dipping in any extra sauce. The sweet lychee is a perfect foil for the rich roast duck flavour.
Photography by Benito Martin. Food styling by O Tama Carey. Prop styling by Lynsey Fryers. Food preparation by Nick Banbury.
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