Even though you can get fresh veggies and fruits in China all year round, they’re at their cheapest and tastiest when they’re in season. This is the time of year when, at least in the northern half of China, you can get fresh strawberries, pineapple, coconut, mulberries and asparagus. In my area (a few hours south of Beijing) this season runs from March to mid-May. After that, you may or may not be able to find these
I always get the smaller strawberries, which range from 5-10 yuan per jin (500 grams/just over a pound), since they’re sweeter and not just plumped up with water. Pineapples are great because the sellers will cut the skin off with a knife and nifty tool. Expect to pay a little more for this service; it will save you tons of time and scratched hands. We soak the pineapple in a bowl of salt water for 10-15 minutes to make it less acidic. A pineapple will cost 5-15 yuan depending on the weight and if they remove the skin. You can often find pineapple sticks being sold on the street for 1-2 yuan per stick.
Coconuts are tons of fun since you can drink the water and then crack them open to get out the meat. Eat it as is or chop it up to put in granola bars, shred it and dry it or blend into coconut milk. When I make coconut milk I save the meat and toast it in the oven. Due to the high fat content, the result tastes and smells a lot like fried hash browns. So yummy! Coconuts are 5 yuan/jin right now, though sometimes they’re sold by the piece, and I’ve paid 8-10 yuan for each one.
Coconuts aren’t very popular in my town so you can’t buy them already opened with a straw to drink the water, but it’s not too hard to open them. Remove the little tuft of hair (as I think of it as) and then you’ll see the three eyes. One of them is easier to open than the others. Open it with the tip of a small knife and then insert a straw or invert it over a large glass for the water to drain into. The water tastes best when it’s chilled.
To crack open the coconut, the easiest way I’ve found it to take it outside and just slam it onto the ground a few times. Collect the pieces and go home to wash them off. Then scrape the meat off with a spoon. For granola bars I’ll chop the coconut meat with a big knife or toss it in the blender.
For coconut milk, I use about 1 cup of coconut meat to 4 cups of room temperature water. Blend it together, add sweetener if you need it, and then strain it through cheesecloth. Cover and refrigerate the milk; it’s best used within 24 hours. Then use the shredded coconut in cookies, granola bars or toast and eat fresh out of the oven!
Asparagus is expensive; 12 yuan/jin or more. It’s not always good and I always have to remove an inch or two at the bottom, but it makes for a nice treat. I roast it in the oven with some olive oil, sea salt and chopped garlic or garlic powder. Cook it for about 40 minutes at a medium heat to get it tender with a crispy outside.