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Have you always wondered what lurks inside of the jackfruit's tough, green hide?

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As an on-again off-again vegetarian, I have always been intrigued by ingredients used in a vegetarian diet. High in nutritional value, robust in color and fresh in flavor, vegetarian ingredients tend to play a daring role in cooking, often standing in for meat itself. In an effort to come up with new recipes daily, and ones which would satisfy my 6-foot-tall, protein-loving partner in crime, I have researched my fair share of vegetarian ingredients that can satisfy even the hungriest of cravings. Let's take a look at one which steals the show when it comes to vegetarian dishes, and where is the best place in Houston to score a farm-fresh dish starring this unique ingredient.

Star Ingredient of the Season: Jackfruit

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The jackfruit carnitas quesadillas, a favorite on the Ripe Cuisine menu.

Image: Megha Tejpal

Thought to have originated in India, jackfruit trees thrive best in warm weather and are at their peak season in the summer and fall. Growing to enormous sizes, the jackfruit is known as the largest tree-borne fruit in the world. The brightly colored fruit is high in protein, potassium and Vitamin B. Like other fruits, the jackfruit can be eaten raw, or incorporated into a variety of everyday dishes like jams, juices, and soups. While not so popular with farmers (a tree can take up to seven years to begin producing fruit), the jackfruit is a highly sought after ingredient in vegetarian cooking.

There are ingredients that are versatile in the sense that they are good with everything, on everything, in anything. And then there are those which are so multifaceted that you can eat them raw or use them as a meat substitute for your soft tacos. This is the star that is jackfruit. In my vegetarian phase, I discovered that a quick 20 minutes on the stove could result in a delicious meatless version of shredded pork carnitas. Seasoned with garlic, onions and spices, the fruit manages to maintain the consistency of the popular Mexican meat and pairs wonderfully with tortillas, avocado and cheese.

In a Starring Role at: Ripe Cuisine Food Truck

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The Ripe Cuisine truck is often stationed outside Inversion Coffee in Montrose for dinner.

Image: Megha Tejpal

Jackfruit may not be available at every turn, but if there is one place you can expect to see this out-of-the-box fruit, it is on the list of ingredients at the Ripe Cuisine food truck. Growing increasingly popular in Houston for their fresh, healthy selections, Ripe Cuisine often features jackfruit quesadillas and a smoked barbecue jackfruit sandwich made with cherry-smoked "pulled" jackfruit (think pulled pork, but a lot healthier!), house-made BBQ sauce, house-made dill pickles, Southern slaw and an onion ring. For this week's special, Ripe Cuisine is offering jackfruit carnitas topped with roasted corn, pickled red onions, cilantro and a spicy sauce.

Scrumptious as they are, food truck foods can be over the top and unrealistic to eat at on a regular basis. Ripe Cuisine's farm-to-truck style menu gives new meaning to the term fast food. The brightly colored truck can often be found outside Inversion Coffee in Montrose and New Living in Rice Village, but for a detailed list of its weekly whereabouts, check out ripe-cuisine.com or follow them on Instagram and Twitter @ripecuisine.

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