This week's look at what's new, bountiful or mysterious in the produce aisles.
Commonly referred to as Buddha's hand, the unusually shaped Citrus medica is named for its long, gangly protuberances or, more poetically put, for its reputed resemblance to the outreached fingers of a prayerful Buddha.
It is said to be the most ancient citrus known to man, having originated in India many thousands of years ago.
Not all Buddha's hands, however, have slender projections that extend gracefully in the same direction. Less tame specimens more closely resemble Medusa's tresses; they're set aside for their fragrance, not their looks.
Unlike more common citrus fruits, the canary yellow Buddha's hand (also known as fingered citron) is barren of juice, seeds and all but a smidgen of pulp (which tends to be highly acidic). It is cultivated for its fragrant rind, which is used to flavor dishes, or is candied or turned into marmalade.
HOW TO SELECT: Choose a hand that is firm and fragrant and pass by any that bear signs of shriveling, moldiness or mushiness.
The plant blossoms year-round, though the fruit can commonly be found locally in stores from late fall through mid-winter. (We've seen them at Asian markets, Dean & DeLuca, Harris Teeter, Sutton Place Gourmet and Whole Foods Markets.) Prepare to pay up to $8 per pound, with few fruits fetching less than $11.
HOW TO STORE: Buddha's hand can keep for up to several days at cool room temperature and up to several weeks in the refrigerator.
HOW TO PREPARE: Buddha's hand is typically candied as with any other citrus rind. It can be grated as a potent substitute for other citrus zest and is also a fashionable ingredient added to vodka.
Another alternative? Plunk it in the center of the table and wait for the curious glances and astounded stares.
-- Renee Schettler