Have you tried jackfruit yet? It is probably the best vegan food you’re not eating but should be. If you have never heard of jackfruit, it is a tropical fruit that you can use in savory dishes. It is related to figs, mulberry and breadfruit and grows on the largest trees in the world. Jackfruit looks like a durian on steroids; it’s huge. When it’s cracked open, there are pods that are often called “seeds.” However, there is a fleshy coating around the actual seeds and this is the part that we want to eat. When jackfruit is ripe, it has a sweet taste and can be used in desserts but when it’s unripe, the flavor is savory.
You can buy jackfruit whole and do the work of breaking it down yourself or you can buy it with all the work done for you. Jackfruit can be purchased frozen, dried or canned either in brine (for savory dishes) or in syrup (for sweet dishes). The texture of jackfruit is similar to chicken and pork and it has been commonly used as a meat substitute throughout Asia for many years. The jackfruit in brine is often called “vegetarian meat.” The seeds are also edible and can be boiled or roasted.
Jackfruit isn’t just delicious, it’s super-healthy. It is low in calories and is rich is dietary fiber. Jackfruit contains many vitamins and minerals and offers numerous health benefits. The fruit’s isoflavones, antioxidants, and phytonutrients mean that jackfruit has cancer-fighting properties. It is also known to help blood pressure, eye, and bone health, ulcers, and indigestion.
It’s also easy to cook with. Jackfruit should definitely be on your “to do” list. If you’re not sure what to do with it, here are some ideas to get you started.
1. Jackfruit Philly Cheesesteak
The first time I got a few cans of jackfruit, I wondered what to make with it. I decided to make my favorite sandwich: the Philly Cheesesteak. I had previously made my vegan version of this sandwich with Portobello mushrooms. I covered the jackfruit with a spice rub and toasted it in a pan for a few minutes before adding some oil to cook them in. Then I added in some caramelized onions and made gravy for the jackfruit to simmer in. That made it soft and tender and easily pulled apart.
I wanted my jackfruit to be chewy and meaty though so I put it on a baking sheet and roasted it for 15 minutes. Then I piled it high on heroes, topped it with vegan cheddar and broiled the heroes just long enough to melt the cheese. The heroes were so delicious. It’s amazing how meaty this tropical fruit is. Other than a slightly sweet taste, almost like pineapple, the jackfruit is pretty much a blank canvas so you can use whatever spice and flavor panels you like best – Indian, Mexican, Chinese, whatever. Get the recipe for my Jackfruit Philly Cheesesteak here.
2. Jackfruit Ropa Vieja
Another dish I had made a vegan version of using mushrooms was my Ropa Vieja, a popular Spanish dish. This dish has jackfruit that is cooked until browned and then added to a flavor-packed pan of sofrito, onion, celery, carrots and peppers. It all simmers in a savory tomato sauce and salty olives.
The slight sweetness of the jackfruit is a perfect balance for the spicy and salty flavors of the dish. It’s not only delicious but it’s a colorful dish that is as fun to look at as it is to eat. Get the recipe for my Jackfruit Ropa Vieja here.
3. Jamaican (Ital) Curried Jackfruit
I love Jamaican (Ital) food more than any other cuisine. Since I don’t live near any Ital restaurants any more, I had to learn to make my own and wrote How to Make Your Own Jamaican (Ital) Food at Home. Of all the Jamaican dishes I make, curried stews are the ones I cook most. The flavors are so rich and intense and the stew is very versatile.
Each time I make it a bit differently using tofu, tempeh, and different vegetables. Here is how to make my Jamaican (Ital) Curried Jackfruit with Chickpeas: open 2 cans of jackfruit in brine. Drain and rinse them well and then pat it dry. Cut the jackfruit into bite-sized pieces and place them in a bowl. Toss the pieces with 2 tsp. arrowroot powder, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. kosher salt, ½ tsp. black pepper, and ½ tsp. ground allspice. In a deep skillet or saucepan, heat 2 Tbs. coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add the jackfruit to the pan in a single layer. You may have to cook it in batches depending on the size of your pan.
Allow the jackfruit to cook until it browns, about 6 minutes, before flipping. Flip the jackfruit and cook until browned and crisp on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer the jackfruit to a bowl and set aside. In the same skillet or saucepan, heat 2 Tbs. coconut oil over medium-high heat. Saute 1 diced onion, 4 minced cloves of garlic and 1 seeded and minced chile pepper until the onions are softened, about 4 minutes.
Add 4 chopped red potatoes and 2 chopped carrots and mix in 2 Tbs. Jamaican curry powder, 2 tsp. dried thyme, ½ tsp. ground allspice, ½ tsp. red pepper flakes and ½ tsp. kosher salt. Toss to coat the veggies with the spices and let the potatoes cook for 5 minutes. Mix in 2 cups cooked chickpeas and cook for another 5 minutes. Add 2 – 3 cups of water; there should be enough to just cover the vegetables. Cook until the potatoes are fork-tender and the mixture has thickened. Mix the crispy jackfruit into the stew and warm through. Garnish with 2 Tbs. fresh chopped parsley. Serve while hot.
4. Pan-Fried Jackfruit over Pasta with Lemon Coconut Cream Sauce
The only thing better than having pasta in a rich, creamy, lemony coconut sauce is having something crispy sitting on top of it. Usually, when I make pasta in my lemon cream sauce, I also make Tofu Scallops or pan-fried tofu to eat with it. By swapping out the tofu for jackfruit, the dish gets a hint of sweetness to cut through the richness and the dish becomes soy-free.
To make my Pan-Fried Jackfruit over Pasta with Lemon Coconut Cream Sauce: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add kosher salt and 1 lb. dried pasta and cook until just shy of al dente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water. Drain pasta and set aside. While the pasta is cooking, prepare the jackfruit. Drain and rinse 2 cans of jackfruit in brine and cut each piece in half. Pat the jackfruit dry and toss in a bowl with a few tablespoons of flour seasoned with garlic powder, dried oregano, paprika, kosher salt and black pepper.
Heat 2 Tbs. vegetable oil in a skillet and pan-fry the jackfruit until crisp on both sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer the jackfruit to a paper towel-lined dish and set aside. In a large saucepan or skillet, melt 4 Tbs. vegan butter. Add 2 cups coconut milk and the juice of one lemon. Mix in 2 Tbs. vegan grated parmesan and a pinch of ground nutmeg. Cook until the sauce is thick.
Add the cooked pasta and half of the reserved pasta water. Toss to coat all the pasta. Cook until everything is hot and the sauce is to your desired consistency and the pasta is heated through. If the sauce is too thick, add more reserved pasta cooking water. Turn off the heat. Add the lemon zest and season with salt and pepper to taste. Top with grated parmesan and fresh basil leaves. Serve the pasta with the pan-fried jackfruit on top.
5. Moo Shu Jackfruit
The texture and slightly sweet taste of jackfruit make it a good substitute for pork and chicken in cooked dishes. A favorite Chinese dish that I used to order was Moo Shu Chicken. The dish was a bunch of shredded veggies and chicken in a flavorful sauce and it came with thin pancakes to roll the veggies in. When I became vegan, it was one of the first dishes I veganized.
I used mushrooms and a good variety of veggies. Sometimes I make it with tofu or a chicken substitute. It seemed like the perfect place to use jackfruit and I was right. My Moo Shu Jackfruit is so delicious. Sometimes I wrap it in 5-spice pancakes (chickpea crepes) and other times, in lettuce wraps. Here’s how to make it: drain and rinse 2 cans of jackfruit and cut the pieces in half. Pat them dry. Heat 2 Tbs. vegetable oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add 2 minced cloves of garlic and 1 Tbs. grated fresh ginger and let cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the jackfruit and let cook until browned, about 4-5 minutes.
Add 1 cup of thinly sliced mushrooms and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Mix in 1 head of shredded savoy cabbage and cook until the cabbage breaks down and starts to get tender, about 5 minutes. Add 1 thinly sliced bell pepper and 2 thinly sliced carrots and cook about 2 minutes.
Add 6 thinly sliced scallions and cook for 2 minutes. Add 3 Tbs. brown rice vinegar, 2 Tbs. mirin, 2 Tbs. tamari and 2 Tbs. hoisin sauce to the skillet or wok and cook for another 2 minutes. Let the sauce thicken a bit. Serve with lettuce wraps or 5-Spice Pancakes.
6. Other Ideas
These are just five of the unlimited recipes you can make with jackfruit. Try using jackfruit anywhere you would normally use tofu, tempeh, seitan or mushrooms. Use them to make Vegetable Lo Mein, Sloppy Joes or Pulled “Pork” Sandwiches. Put jackfruit into your tacos and burritos. Jackfruit can also stand in for fish. Try using this tropical fruit the next time you make Vegan “Crab” Cakes or “Tuna” Salad. Put jackfruit on toasted rye with sauerkraut and vegan Russian dressing for a delicious vegan Reuben sandwich.
Since jackfruit is a fruit and tastes sweet, you can also use it in desserts such as fruit salads, tarts and custards. Jackfruit works wonderfully as a meat substitute or as an addition to the veggies in any recipe. It’s perfect for both sweet and savory dishes. If you haven’t tried jackfruit yet, do it soon. What’s your favorite way to cook with jackfruit? Tell us in the comments.
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