Bunya nut fruit salad
The Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, with its mixture of established hardwood trees and tree fern undergrowth, resembles in parts Jurassic Park. Subtropical vines flesh out the mid-canopy in our big scrub that once dominated the region.
The weird and wonderful fruits and foods that grow in the vibrant volcanic soil are often from ancient plants that are truly part of our oldest landscapes. The bunya nut comes from a conifer that dates back to the Jurassic era. These trees are most prolific in south-eastern Queensland and grow a cone that can weigh up to 10 kilograms. Each cone can contain up to 80 nuts, but these cones grow only every two or three years.
Bunya nuts have been an important traditional food for Indigenous Australians for thousands of years, which in my mind makes it a little bizarre to be viewing them as an exotic ingredient. This year has been a very fruitful season with bunya nuts lying on the ground under mature trees all over the place.
These nuts are nutrient dense with similar starchy qualities to a chestnut. They are extremely compatible with other recipes involving chestnuts and the like, and a friend of mine even subs out the potato for bunya to make gnocchi. Finding bunya nuts in the food stores of major cities may still be a little tricky, but we are starting to see them in wholefood stores in this region. And with them reaching maturity at the same time as other tropical fruits, it begins to make sense to use them in complementary combinations.
This is a fancy fruit salad to be sure but, with the addition of the beneficial fats, it works two ways to become a meal: first, in texture to hold the acidity and sweetness of the fruit, and second, by the nutrition of the nut.
Bunya is effectively a massive pine nut so treat it as such. Just beware of a 40-metre-high tree dropping a 10-kilogram cone on your head. It would be way more dangerous than Isaac Newton’s apple.
Time: 1 hour preparation + 20 minutes assembly
- 500g bunya nuts (peeled)
- 180g sugar
- 1 dragon fruit
- 1 finger lime
- 200g grapes
- mint or Thai basil
- Peel off the bunya nut’s external skin and split it down the middle to remove the central shoot as you would the green shoot of a garlic clove. Blanch the bunya nuts in boiling water for two minutes then refresh in iced water. Blend the bunya nut with one litre of chilled water and 80 grams of the sugar for about three minutes in a food processor or until it is completely smooth. Adjust the water level so it becomes a paste similar in texture to yoghurt.
- Peel and slice the dragon fruit into thin rounds. Retain the scraps and place them in a pan with the remaining 100 grams of sugar and 100 millilitres water. Bring to boil and simmer for three minutes, then let this steep in the pot for a further 10 minutes. Strain the syrup into a separate bowl. Clean the finger lime by cutting in half and squeezing the pulp onto a chopping board. Separate the seeds out with the tip of a knife, then scrape the pearls into the dragon fruit syrup.
- Lay the dragon fruit slices around the base of a bowl. Top with a big spoonful of the bunya cream in the centre and spread out flat to nearly the edge of the dragon fruit. Slice the grapes in rounds and place into a bowl, dress with the finger lime and dragon fruit syrup, then scatter over the top of the bunya cream and dragon fruit. Finish with fresh mint or Thai basil.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 19, 2022 as "The lovely cones".
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