This year, consider forgoing canned cranberry sauce in favor of the real thing. You’ll give your body a powerful dose of nutrients and discover a flexible new culinary delight.
Native to North America, cranberries grow in northern swampy areas from New England to the Midwest. Deep red with a spicy aroma, fresh cranberries are available in season from October to December, but can be purchased frozen year-round (frozen berries are a great choice because they’re frozen immediately after harvest, which preserves most of the healthful nutrients). Avoid canned berries because they generally contain too much sugar and have poor texture. When buying fresh berries, check the box or bag for dampness or stains, indications that the fruit may be decaying. All berries should be plump, dry, firm, well-shaped and of uniform color. One 12-ounce bag of cranberries equals 3 cups.
Numerous studies have shown that cranberries help prevent urinary tract infections. That’s because cranberries — which contain hippuric acid (an antibacterial agent) and proanthocyanidins (powerful free-radical scavengers and antioxidants that give the berries their red color) — inhibit E. coli from adhering to the walls of the urinary tract. These berries are one of our best sources of antioxidants; they can help prevent cancer, tooth decay, kidney stones and macular degeneration. In addition, they improve gastrointestinal health, as well as blood-vessel function. On top of all that, they’re rich in vitamin C.
Cranberries are delicious added to breakfast cereals, granola, biscuits, scones, fruit strudels and many desserts. They’re also great in savory dishes.
- Before adding cranberries to a dish, coarsely chop them — fresh or frozen — with a knife or by pulsing them in a food processor. These small bites of cranberry are less tart than the whole berry, which reduces the need for added sugar.
- To make fresh cranberry sauce, cover 1 pound of berries with water in a saucepan. Add 1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda to help neutralize the acid and to reduce the amount of sweetener needed to balance tartness. Add 1⁄4 cup of honey or maple syrup to taste, or sweeten with your choice of fruit juice. You might also try adding orange or lemon zest, diced orange, pineapple, apple, or pear. Cook over low-to-medium heat until softened.
- Add diced or puréed cranberries to your favorite salsa recipe to create a zippy topping for grilled seafood or poultry entrées.
- Toss sliced raw cranberries in salad greens along with extra-virgin olive oil. There’s no need for vinegar or lemon, since the cranberries will balance out the flavors with a burst of tartness and crunchy texture.
- After purchasing fresh cranberries, discard any that are shriveled or discolored.
- Because of their high acidity and antimicrobial properties, cranberries store well — about a month in the refrigerator and up to a year when frozen.
- To freeze fresh berries, lay them flat on baking sheet, place in freezer for two to three hours, then store in freezer bags. This ensures that the berries freeze thoroughly and quickly without sticking together.
- Reconstitute dried cranberries by soaking them in hot water for 15 to 20 minutes.
Cranberry Orange Relish
Makes 3 1/2 cups
- 1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries (about 3 cups)
- 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
- 1 cup unsweetened orange juice
- 1/2 cup diced dried or fresh apricots
- 2 tbs. orange zest
- 1/2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
- 1 tbs. honey
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the cranberries and apples and cook until cranberries begin to pop, about three minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer until cranberries have broken down and relish is thick, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for one hour before serving. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for four or five days.
Cranberry Sausage Stuffing
Makes 15 servings
- 1 1/2 cups cubed whole-wheat bread
- 3 3/4 cups cubed day-old cornbread
- 1/4 pound ground turkey sausage
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 3/4 cup chopped celery
- 2 1/2 tsp. dried sage
- 1 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
- 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
- 1 Golden Delicious apple, cored and chopped
- 3/4 cup dried cranberries
- 1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
- 1 1/4 cup turkey stock or chicken
- 2 tbs. unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Spread the whole wheat and cornbread cubes in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake for five to seven minutes until evenly toasted. Transfer toasted bread cubes to a large bowl.
In a large skillet, cook the sausage and onions over medium heat, stirring and breaking up the lumps until evenly browned. Add the celery, sage, rosemary and thyme; cook, stirring, for two minutes to blend flavors.
Pour sausage mixture over bread in bowl. Mix in chopped apples, dried cranberries and parsley. Drizzle with turkey stock and melted butter, and mix lightly.
Bake in a casserole dish at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes or until heated to 160 degrees.
Chef’s note: Frozen cranberries (not thawed) or fresh cranberries can be used in place of dried cranberries. Pulse the cranberries in a food processor to chop, then measure to 3/4 cup and add stuffing mix.
Makes three servings
- 1/2 cup frozen or fresh cranberries
- 1/2 cup frozen or fresh strawberries
- 1/2 cup frozen or fresh raspberries
- 3/4 cup low-fat milk or soy milk
- 1/2 cup low-fat plain yogurt
- 2 tbs. maple syrup
Combine all the ingredients in a blender. Process until smooth.
Chef’s note: If using all fresh berries, add 1/4 cup ice to blender.