The rambutan is a drupe related to lychees and longans, but much more vicious looking. Its skin is usually varying shades of red and covered in curving, vicious looking tentacles. However, moving through the bizarre looking outside you get to the translucent flesh clinging to the pit, the taste much less overwhelmingly sweet than a lychee and not as peculiar as the longan.

For my birthday this year Alexander took me to Saladang Song, a popular and very chic Thai restaurant in Pasadena. There is a great review of the restaurant at Foodie Universe’s Restaurant Reviews.

On the menu I noticed a rambutan salad that included ginger, toasted coconut flakes, and peanuts. Intrigued we ordered it.

The fruit was served skinned and pitted with the rest of the ingredients arranged around the plate. You put a little bit of everything in the rambutan, roll it in a lettuce leave and eat. What an astonishing burst of flavor and texture it was! I could not wait to get to Asia where rambutans are dime a dozen so I could try to recreate this dish and recently, I finally did.

It takes a bit of time to prepare, but I assure you, you will not be sorry.


For an appetizer for two people you will need:

8 rambutans, skinned and carefully pitted
½ tablespoon crushed peanuts
½ tablespoon lightly toasted coconut flakes
1 small red chili seeded and minced
8 very small pieces of lime, you can leave the skin on
½ tablespoon of minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon soft brown sugar
a little water
one or two large kale leaves, washed and sliced into long strips
8 toothpicks

Make:

Heat the sugar over medium heat in a saucepan and add a tiny bit of water. Remove from heat when the sugar is melted and becoming all sticky. Scrape it into a bowl so it can set and then crush it a little. It should have a hard yet crumbly consistency.

In your rambutans, put a little bit of all the ingredients so you get a mix of dry, crunchy, sweet, sour and spicy. Wrap it up in a strip of the kale leave, insert a toothpick to keep it all together and you’re ready to impress your dinner partner(s).

Suggestions for making filled rambutans:
– I’ve only ever seen fresh rambutans in Asia, if you cannot find them fresh, try using the canned variety, possibly available at Asian supermarkets, although this may be really sweet.
– removing the skin and pitting is tricky: slice the skin open from top to bottom on one side and slip out the fruit, make another incision from the top of the fruit to the bottom and gently pry the flesh away from the pit
– to save time, instead of the caramelized sugar you can use a drop of dark honey
– when serving, always keep a small dish handy for discarding the toothpicks