Starring: Starfruit

Images by John Hook

Starfruit, unlike its poor companions ‘ulu and jackfruit, is a beauty. A quick chop through its waxy, crisp skin, and you have a perfectly shaped star, light yellow and full of nectar. The fruit, however, is easily bruised and quick to turn, and the bagfuls delivered by generous neighbors or family too often end up, still half-full, garbage-side. But no longer! Chef John Memering of Cactus Bistro in Kailua has the answer: a spicy escabeche (“pickled,” in Spanish) starring starfruit.

Memering gets his starfruit nearly the same way as most residents of the islands. “You need some of this?” he says, summing up a typical text from the Grandes, a couple that farms a small parcel of land in Waimānalo called Kakalina Farms. Farmers and friends unload the fruit throughout the season that runs from September through April, when it also can be found at Chinatown stands and in grocers’ produce sections.

“It used to be that starfruit was one of those bourgeois garnish fruits that French chefs would put on top of a fruit cart,” Memering says. But it deserves so much more—it is rich in antioxidants, Vitamin C, and potassium, and low in sugar. Originating in Southeast Asia, where it’s often stewed with cloves and sugar, the fruit can also be eaten fresh, sautéed, dried, tossed into a salad, or juiced. In the case of Memering’s quick-pickled* creation, the brine can even be used as the acidic element of a vinaigrette. His creation pairs well with everything from seared ahi to a chicken sandwich. “I like this because you get the flavor and also the beauty of it too,” he says.

*Most commercial pickles use fermentation, with end results that can last years on a shelf if sealed. On the other hand, a quick pickle creates a similar vinegary taste but can be eaten in as soon as 24 hours. However, its end product only lasts four to six months.


YIELDS: 1/2 gallon

1 64-ounce canning jar with lid and band that have been washed and sterilized
Plastic wrap

3 lbs. fresh starfruit, washed and cut into 1/4” slices (seeds can be left in)
1 large red Fresno chili pepper, thinly sliced, with seeds intact
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced and placed in ice water to cover
3 Tbsp. Kosher salt
2 Tbsp. Agave nectar or local honey

Pickling brine:
1 c. fresh lime juice
1 c. cider vinegar
1 c. water
2 Tbsp. Kosher salt
1/2 c. + 2 tbsp. Agave nectar or local honey
3 Tbsp. Chipotle chili in adobo, finely chopped (found in most Mexican sections of grocery stores)
2. Tsp. cumin seed, toasted and ground
1 Tsp. coriander seed, toasted and ground
1 Tsp. dried oregano, preferably Mexican variety
1/2 Tsp. ground allspice
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Toss sliced starfruit and chili with salt and agave nectar. (This is considered “curing,” removing excess moisture and sealing the outer flesh so that it stays crunchy). Refrigerate for 30–45 minutes.

Next, combine all pickling brine ingredients, except for the water, in a bowl. Put water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Carefully pour boiling water over brine ingredients and stir until salt has dissolved. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes.

1. Strain the onion thoroughly and combine with starfruit mixture. Working in batches, carefully add mixture to the canning jar until full, making sure not to pack too tightly. Add any remaining liquid to pickling brine.
2. Pour pickling brine into jar until fruit mixture is covered. Close jar and turn upside-down and sideways several times. This releases any air pockets.
3. Remove lid and pour in remaining brine until it reaches the bottom thread of the jar’s mouth. Tent a single piece of plastic wrap over mouth of jar and screw lid on tightly.
4. Place jar in a dark, somewhat cool place for 24 hours, then refrigerate. Replace plastic wrap every time the jar is opened to keep lid from corroding.
5. The brine recipe should result in almost a cup extra. Keep this and continue to add to the jar as you remove the mixture.

This escabeche lasts four to six months if properly stored. To do so, keep starfruit mixture submerged in the brine, or mold may develop and ruin the batch. The brine recipe should result in almost a cup extra. Keep this and continue to add to the jar as you remove the mixture.

Also, try making this simple caipirinha cocktail.

Cactus is located in Kailua at 767 Kailua Rd. For more information, visit

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