Two weekends ago I traveled to Samut Songkhram, the smallest of Thailand’s 77 provinces, located about ninety minutes to the southwest of Bangkok. There I had lunch with Ajarn Yai (literally, “big teacher”), the retired director of the rural school where I previously volunteered as an English teacher. This being lychee season, Ajarn Yai insisted that we take several big bunches of freshly-harvested lychees. Once home, I decided to try something new: a lychee-rhubarb pie.
Lychee are the fruit of an evergreen tree that grows in tropical and subtropical climates. The fruit is round, about one inch (two to three centimeters) in diameter, and is covered in a leathery rind. Peeling is easy, if slightly tedious.
The interior flesh has a grape-like texture – firm but slightly squishy. Most lychee have a large, inedible pit but some trees produce seedless fruit informally called khathoey (or ladyboy) lychee by the Thais. The flavor of lychee is sweet and perfumey, not overpowering but slightly astringent – especially in not-quite-ripe fruit.
It is this astringency that made me think of rhubarb. Since the lychee were sweet and astringent and the rhubarb is tart, I thought they might make a refreshing dessert – kind of in the same way that a lemon sorbet can cleanse your palate between courses in a meal. I peeled the lychee, chopped the rhubarb, and mixed in some sugar and corn starch as a thickener.
Trying something different for my pie crust, I cut rounds (in honor of the shape of the lychee) to form the top crust. It then went into the oven for about 40 minutes until the crust was golden and the filling cooked through.
The end result: The filling was a little dryer than I would have liked and quite tart, too. That’s probably because I added only a half-cup of sugar. I liked the flavor, though, and it worked very nicely as a refreshing dessert after a richly flavored meal, cutting through the flavors of the meal better than a heavier, sweeter dessert would. Next time, though, I think a bit more sugar is called for and also a few minutes of pre-cooking the filling to extract more juices.