Cooking With Cranberries

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A Most Versatile Berry

A friend recently commented on what she calls my obsession with cranberries. I prefer to think of it as fascination, since the more you experiment with this charmingly plump little fruit, the more it recommends itself to the cook. I am not fond of the sugar-infused dry cranberries found in so many baked goods, but substituting raw cranberries for dried ones can transform an overly-sweet, hum-drum dish into a sparkler.

As it happens, raw cranberries are delicious roasted, since the heat awakens their own intrinsic sweetness without any cloying overtones. Roast them with almost any partner; carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, leeks, Brussels sprouts, parsnips, turnips, green beans, asparagus…I have not found any unhappy matches yet. Raw cranberries also add a lovely, bright tang to vegetable and chicken soups, and are even delightful in salads when finely shredded, especially when combined with chunks of crisp, sweet apples and fine ribbons of Black Tuscan kale.

Roasted Cranberries and Brussels Sprouts

2 cups firm, ripe cranberries
1 pound Brussels sprouts
1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Rinse and drain cranberries, set aside. Trim sprouts, slice them in half lengthwise, soak them in cold water for 10 minutes, drain well. Pout oil into a rimmed baking sheet and gently toss the sprouts, placing them cut-side down. Add the cranberries, toss gently with oil and sprinkle the whole with salt. Roast at 400 F until well browned (30-40 minutes). Serve warm. Serves 4.

Russian Cranberries?

Borscht comes in many varieties, some rich with meat, others, like this one, vegetable-based. This version of the Russian classic gets extra sparkle from the addition of raw cranberries. To keep it fat-free (or vegan), eliminate the yogurt or substitute a swirl of pureed cashews (blitz them with a little water to make a creamy topping).

Cranberry Beet Borscht

1 small head red cabbage, chopped
1-1/2 cups firm, ripe cranberries
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 cups chopped cooked, peeled beets
(3-4 beets)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Combine cabbage, cranberries, onion, garlic, beets, salt and paprika in a pan with water to cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover pan and simmer until all is tender (10-15 minutes). Serve hot or cold, garnished with yogurt and dill. Serves 4.

Raw Cranberry Relishes

There is nothing much new about raw cranberry relish, yet a little free experimenting yields more variety than might be suspected. All are lovely as sides for grilled or smoked fish or poultry and are also pleasant companions for roasted vegetables. Here are a few of the most successful variations I’ve come up with so far:

New England Cranberry Relish

2 cups firm, ripe cranberries
1 organic juice orange
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup maple syrup

Rinse cranberries well. Cut orange into 8 pieces, removing seeds. Combine fruit in a food processor or blender and grind to a coarse paste. Season to taste with salt and maple syrup and refrigerate for 1-2 days to meld the flavors.

Cranberry Apricot Relish

1/2 cup dried apricots
2 cups firm, ripe cranberries
1-2 tablespoons sugar (any)

Put apricots in a glass measuring cup and add boiling water to make 1 cup. Let soak until well plumped, then drain and chop coarsely. Rinse cranberries well. Combine fruit in a food processor or blender and grind to a coarse paste. Season to taste with sugar and refrigerate for 1-2 days to meld the flavors.

What To Do With Leftover Cranberry Relish

I often make more cranberry relish than anybody could use in the ordinary way, but happily, any leftovers can be incorporated into quick breads that are all the more flavorful for their main ingredient having mellowed for a few days. Versions that involve cranberry orange relish are especially tasty, especially when toasted so the edges become lightly caramelized.

Cranberry Orange Quick Bread

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup safflower oil
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups raw cranberry orange relish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  and butter a bread pan. Sift together dry ingredients, set aside. Whisk the oil and eggs together, then stir in buttermilk and relish. Blend with dry ingredients just until moistened and bake until a toothpick comes out clean (180 degrees internal temperature, about 1 hour). Makes 1 loaf.

Happy New Year!

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