Cooking Up a Blue Streak: Blueberries

You want fast, easy way to get more fresh, nutrient-pack foods into your kids’ diets. Blueberries may be the path of least resistance.

When I was a kid, my favorite game was called Hide the Wheat Germ. I played it every morning with my brother. The best hiding spots were those where my mother might just have put the wheat germ by mistake – tucked in a corner behind the tea canister, for instance. The worst hiding places were those that were purely the province of children – say, the dollhouse or the mitten box. If we hid the wheat germ in the dollhouse, then Mom would know that we were actively hiding the wheat germ, and we’d get an endless lecture entitled, “The Health Benefits of Wheat Germ,” and, “Furthermore, You Should Be Glad Your Grandmother Isn’t Here; She’d Make You Eat Cod Liver Oil.”

Do I tell you this so that you will feel bad for me? Perhaps. Do I tell you this so that you can laugh and point and slap your thighs if you ever swing by my place and find me at my customary breakfast, which includes two fish-oil capsules and a couple of spoonfuls of ground millet in my yogurt? Certainly. Do I tell you this because you, yourself, might find it enjoyable to start every day discussing the benefits of wheat germ with a 6-year-old? Yes, and please: Go for it. But mainly I tell you this because you need to know how good kids have it today.

At the very same time that my brother and I were playing Hide the Wheat Germ, there would often be a container of blueberries in the refrigerator, a container that we were ordered to “Keep Our Hands Out Of, That’s Dessert.” But today, scientists have discovered that blueberries are one of nature’s most perfect superfoods, full of antioxidants, fiber and polyphenols, and that eating them is linked to reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, age-related dementia, diabetes and retinal disease (in Japan, blueberries are called “vision-fruit”), better urinary-tract health, lower cholesterol, and healthier skin.

Getting a few cups of blueberries into your weekly diet, or into your kids’ weekly diets, is one of the healthiest gifts you can give. Of course, your kids won’t care about that: All they care about is that they’re blueberries, and they taste good.

Still, if you want to successfully incorporate blueberries into your life on a near-daily basis, you’d better have some idea of what to do with them besides eat them raw or on top of cereal. Luckily, Linda Dannenberg, a longtime food and travel writer, has just brought out a brand-new cookbook on the dark little superfruits, called True Blueberry: Delicious Recipes for Every Meal (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2005).

“I grew up loving blueberries,” Linda told me, when I asked her what had inspired this most recent work. “They were always a treat, and whenever they were in season, my mother cooked lots of blueberry muffins and desserts. Lately though, I’d begun reading more and more about the health benefits of blueberries, about all the new scientific discoveries and how amazingly good and nutritious they are. It took a year to convince my publisher that this was a good idea, but I think that as more and more people try to incorporate blueberries into their lives, they’re going to be interested in creative, great-tasting ways to do it.”

Linda tested more than 300 recipes to come up with the 80 that made it into her book, and after testing a number of these recipes myself, I have to report that eating superhealthy has never been so much fun. A morning wake-up cocktail of frozen orange juice and blueberries is so lively I could swear that drinking one leaves me feeling more alert. The blueberry-cured gravlax, a recipe Linda got from the chef at New York City’s Jane restaurant, combines the omega-3s of salmon with the antioxidants of blueberries – to delicious effect. The pineapple-blueberry Jell-O mold fruit salad is the kind of crowd pleaser that would get antioxidants and polyphenols into even the most whole-food-phobic troop of Cub Scouts.

Linda even has recipes enabling you to get the antioxidant magic of blueberries into hamburgers (freeze-dried!), as well as into soup, iced tea, gingerbread – and, of course, both blueberry muffins and pie.

Still, the best part is that you can cook freely, knowing that if your little one is playing Hide the Blueberries, those blueberries are probably not in the dollhouse, the mitten box or even behind the tea canister. They’re probably just in your darling’s very own purple-stained mouth.

Dara Moskowitz is a Twin Cities–based food critic.

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