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(Credit: John Ross)

As a chef who has featured local produce for many years, it feels strange to cook with imported and sometimes exotic ingredients. But January is the time to use the fruits and vegetables from warmer climates while the North Fork is in hibernation.

Thanks to our neighbors who come from Mexico and Central and South America, our supermarkets are well stocked with many fruits and vegetables that we might never have seen without them. And it turns out that many of these once-exotic foods are healthy and full of new flavors and aromas for us to try. Here are some recipes to enjoy in January:

Pomegranate, Papaya, Kiwi and Avocado Salsa

Trim the base from a pomegranate and cut out the stem with a paring knife. Score the outside from top to bottom into quarters. Break apart the quarters over a bowl of cold water and, using your fingers, separate the red seeds from the white pulp. The seeds will sink to the bottom while the pulp will float to the surface. Discard the pulp and drain the seeds.

Peel the papaya with a paring knife and split it in two lengthwise. Scrape out the black seeds and cut it into small dice, about 1/2-inch square.

Cut 1 ripe avocado in half and remove the pit. Score the flesh with a paring knife and scoop it out with a spoon. Squeeze the juice of 1 lime over the avocado to prevent browning.

Peel 3 kiwi fruit and dice into 1/4-inch pieces.

Split a jalapeño pepper in half and scrape out the seeds. Mince the pepper and set aside.

Finely mince 1 clove of garlic and 3 green onions.

Chop 1/2 cup of fresh cilantro.

Combine in a bowl 1 cup pomegranate seeds, 2 cups papaya, the avocado and the kiwi.

Season with half (or more) of the jalapeño, the garlic, green onions and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the cilantro. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving.

(I served this salsa with deep-fried Peconic Bay scallops and homemade french fries, but it would go very well with broiled or oven-roasted fish.)

Skewered Chicken with Pineapple, Peppers and Mushrooms

Purchase 2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and cut them into 2-inch pieces.

Make a marinade by combining 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 teaspoons curry powder, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup pineapple juice, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, the juice and zest of 1 lime and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Toss the chicken pieces in the marinade and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Trim the ends off a fresh pineapple and peel the skin with a paring knife. Cut the pineapple into quarters and cut out the core. Cut the quarters into 2-inch chunks.

Split a red bell pepper and remove the seeds. Cut it into 2-inch pieces and set aside.

Remove the stems from 8 mushrooms.

Using four metal or wooden skewers, thread a mushroom cap onto each skewer, followed by red pepper, pineapple and chicken. Repeat with the pepper, pineapple and chicken, finishing with another mushroom cap.

Place the skewers on a foil-lined broiler pan and brush with the marinade. Cook under the broiler setting of your oven about 5 minutes per side, or until the chicken is cooked and the vegetables are beginning to color.

Serve over basmati or other rice.

Serves 4.

Skirt Steak with Fried Plantains, Refried Black Beans and Avocado/Tomatillo/Tequila Sauce

Season 1 1/2 pounds of skirt steak with kosher salt and pepper and refrigerate.

Empty 2 cans of black beans (with juice) into a large, shallow saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon oregano, 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 3 minced green onions.

Using a potato masher, mash the beans and seasonings together and place the pan on medium heat. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring, until the mixture thickens, about 15 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons minced red onion and 1/4 cup chopped cilantro and keep warm.

For the sauce, bring 2 cups water to a boil, remove the husks from 3 tomatillos and plunge them into the boiling water. After 2 minutes, drain the tomatillos and rinse under cold water.

Remove the cores, cut into quarters and place in a food processor. Add the flesh of 1 avocado; the juice and zest of 1 lime; 2 tablespoons tequila; half of a jalapeno pepper, minced; 1/4 cup chopped cilantro; and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Process until smooth and transfer to a bowl.

Cut the ends off of 4 green plantains and make a slit on each from one end to the other. Peel off the skin, using a paring knife if necessary. Slice the plantains into 1-inch-thick rounds.

Heat 2 cups of canola oil in a Dutch oven to 350 degrees. Fry the plantains for 3 minutes and remove to a paper towel-lined sheet pan.

Take each plantain slice and place it on a cutting board and squash it down gently with a small frying pan to form rounds about 1/4-inch thick. Place these rounds back in the deep fryer and cook another 4 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove and drain on another paper towel-lined sheet pan.

At service time, grill the skirt steaks on a stove-top grill pan and serve with the refried beans, tomatillo sauce and fried plantains. Rice is a nice accompaniment along with some grilled tomatillos for garnish.

Serves 4.

John Ross