You can ripen a not-quite-there papaya overnight simply by scoring the skin a millimetre or two deep from top to bottom in several lines. The next day, it will be orange, ripe and ready to eat. If you have the opposite problem and your papaya is over-ripe, it may be best to cook it, cutting out any mould spots along with the skin. The seeds can be used as a spice and the flesh to make jam or halwa.
To make papaya seed “black pepper”, toast the seeds for five to 10 minutes in the oven (ideally while it is warming up for another use or alongside another dish) until they’re completely dry, then grind to make a fruity, mild peppery seasoning.
The skin isn’t edible, sadly, but it can be used for its cosmetic and healing properties: my grandma, bless her soul, had ulcers on her legs for 15 years and got some comfort from laying papaya skin on them to help them soothe.
To learn more about papaya, I called my fellow chef Anahita Dhondy in Delhi, who told me that the fruit’s puree is used to tenderise meat in India and advised me on today’s recipe.
Papaya halwa with ground papaya seeds
This is my take on halwa, an Indian sweet usually made with milk, ghee, nuts and fruit. I first came across it at a Fairtrade event I helped organise last year with Asma Khan, who made a beautiful semolina halwa topped with rose petals. Both she and Anahita Dhondy agree that it is important to cook the papaya in ghee and to reduce the milk separately before combining, to avoid the mixture splitting. This dish will work with both under- and over-ripe papaya, but I like it best with the bright orange over-ripe fruit for its strong, sweet flavour.
150ml whole milk
1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp freshly crushed cardamom seeds
50g jaggery (crushed), or unrefined sugar
400g ripe papaya, peeled and flesh cubed (save the seeds to make “pepper” – see above)
2 tbsp ghee, or clarified butter
3 tbsp ground almonds
Dried papaya seeds, to serve, optional
Sliced almonds, to serve, optional
In a pan, gently boil 150ml whole milk with the nutmeg, cardamom and jaggery until it is reduced by half.
In a separate pan, and on a low heat, cook 400g cubed ripe papaya in two tablespoons of ghee or clarified butter, stirring regularly, for 10-15 minutes, until cooked down into a rich puree.
Add the thickened milk and ground almonds to the fruit mix, and continue cooking and stirring for a few minutes more, until well homogenised. Serve warm in bowls topped with roasted papaya seeds and/or sliced almonds, or leave to cool, then roll into balls and eat like sweets.