Dragon fruit, also called pitaya, is actually the fruit of a cactus pear plant that traces its background to Central America. Today this exotic tropical fruit is produced by growers in both Florida and California. The look of this fruit's red and purplish pink scales, interlaced with green leaves, makes it actually resemble the mythical dragon from which it takes its name. But, unlike the fire-breathing dragon, dragon fruit is very sweet and has a juicy flavor with a crisp texture that blends tones of kiwifruit, Asian pear and watermelon all rolled into one. Inside the dragon fruit, the black seeded flesh runs from white to iridescent bluish-white in color when cut open.
Search for dragon fruit at Asian specialty markets or the exotic fresh produce section of your local supermarket, with peak availability during spring and autumn months. Examine the exterior surface of the fruit for any signs of cuts or mold. Dragon fruit should have a nice fruity aroma that smells fresh and inviting, and the colors of the exterior should be vibrant and clear.
To the touch, a ripe dragon fruit will give in to slight thumb pressure when pushed lightly. Avoid choosing a dragon fruit that smells moldy or feels mushy when pressed. If the dragon fruit has not yet ripened, you can continue the ripening process at home by placing the whole uncut fruit away from direct sunlight on a kitchen countertop at room temperature until the fruit gives in to slight pressure when pressed.
Once your dragon fruit has completely ripened, you can extend its shelf life by refrigerating it for as much as four or five days. Prior to consuming dragon fruit, you need to trim away the exterior rind (which is not edible), exposing the soft white seeded flesh. This has the texture and aroma of a ripe melon.
Dragon fruit is best served chilled - this will give you the best flavor. The taste and texture of dragon fruit makes it an excellent and surprising addition to fruit cocktail salads. The ripe flesh can also be added to breakfast yogurt smoothies. For an especially dramatic appetizer for parties, cut each dragon fruit in half, leaving the colorful rind in place. Give each guest a demitasse spoon to scoop out the fragrant white flesh.
You can also blend dragon fruit into any cocktail requiring fruit or cut a whole dragon fruit into wedges to festively garnish blended drinks. Whole dragon fruit makes an interesting conversation piece when displayed whole in fruit bowls to decorate buffets and Sunday brunch tables.