Add a Healthy Twang to Your Holidays with Cranberry Cuisine

Holiday Cranberry Cuisine - Cranberry Salad Dressing RecipeOne of three commercially grown fruits unique to North America (the others being blueberries and Concord grapes), cranberries are today gaining in popularity as a healthy and versatile culinary fruit. Once only found in the wild, today they are cultivate in the northern U.S. and bordering regions of Canada, and are widely available fresh, dried, or processed. The culinary uses of cranberries are many. Cranberries, which are perhaps a little under-appreciated as a fruit, contain a superior source of nutrition and vitamins, and are now used in a myriad of products such as cereal, energy bars, soft drinks, muffins, salsas, sauces, and yogurt.

Cranberries were an important staple among the indigenous peoples of North America long before the Europeans set foot on this continent, and were assigned various names such as sassamanash, ibimi, and atoqua. The native people believed in the medicinal value of cranberries and used them as a healing agent for numerous diseases and as poultices for wounds, as well as employing their juice as a natural dye for rugs, blankets, and clothing. Also, they ate cranberries raw, made them into a sweetened sauce using maple sugar, and added them to pemmican – the famous food of the pre-Columbus natives in North America.

The Pilgrims gave them the name ‘crane berry’ because their small, pink blossoms resembled the head and bill of a Sandhill crane – through usage eventually they came to be called cranberry as these newcomers adopted the indigenous uses for the fruit. Cranberries became a vital source of vitamin C to prevent scurvy for whalers as well, and served as a food and an enhancer for other food. It is believed that that the Pilgrims served cranberries along with wild turkey and succotash at the first Thanksgiving Dinner – a tradition that has continued until our times.

Cranberries are primarily grown in five U.S. states: Massachusetts, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington. In Canada, British Columbia and Quebec are the biggest producers, but cranberries are also grown in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Ontario. Bala, a small village in the Precambrian area, is known as the Cranberry Capital of Ontario but production is small in the province. Only 114 acres are used for cranberry production and, hence, close to 10 million dollars worth of cranberry products are annually imported.

In the wild, cranberries come in numerous varieties and grow on long-running vines in sandy bogs and marshes. At the beginning of the 19th century people began farming cranberries. At first growers would pick the cranberries by hand, but later mechanical harvesting devices were invented. For growers, cultivating this fruit on their farms has always been a profitable enterprise. The vines come to life in spring and flower at the beginning of summer, then are harvested from September to early November. Vines survive almost indefinitely – some are known to have survived for more than 150 years.

Cranberries have a long history of health benefits from the time of the indigenous peoples to today. For a long time, many of these benefits were considered folklore medicine but through the years a great deal of lab work has been done and much of the folklore has become established fact.

As a rule, a cup of raw cranberries contains 46 calories but rises to some 155 calories when sugar is added to make them palatable. Without sugar the cup of raw cranberries also contains 18% of the RDA for vitamin C, 11 grams of carbohydrates, 1.5 grams of dietary fibre, 1 gram of fat, 5 grams of protein, and 71 mg of potassium. It is a food powerhouse, packed full of natural compounds that promote a healthy body.

Men and women in Canada and the U.S. have been drinking cranberry juice cocktail for years to help prevent bladder and urinary tract infections. Research has indicated that drinking cranberry juice every day helps promote the health of the urinary tract. Recent research has also indicated that cranberries are an excellent source of potent antioxidants that help cleanse and purify the body as well as protect it to some degree against cancer, heart disease, and a number of other diseases. On the other hand, even if some of the healthy claims attributed to cranberries might be overemphasized, the juice is delicious and satisfying as a drink.

Cranberry juice is equivalent to red wine in its polyphenol content and vasodilator activity. Also, cranberries contain a number of plant chemicals called flavonoids that include proanthocyanidins, flavonols, and anthocyanins – the chemical that gives cranberries their deep red color. These chemicals may play a role in preventing certain types of cancers.

COOKING WITH CRANBERRIES

Many people only know cranberries in the form of canned cranberry sauce and have no idea that cranberries are at their best when eaten or used in cooking during autumn as a fresh fruit. Furthermore, they can be enjoyed fresh as a juice year-round. Over 90% of all the cranberries harvested each year are used for juice and juice blends.  These tart fresh berries are excellent in homemade jellies, sauces, and as savoury ingredients in dishes from appetizers, salads, and soups, to entrées and desserts.

When it comes to seasonings the cranberry is one of the most accommodating fruits. It goes well with almost every spice and sweetener. The usual sweetener is white refined sugar, but brown and icing sugar or honey will do fine. Also, lemons and oranges, tangerines, candied ginger, and nuts such as almonds, pecans, and walnuts all go well with cranberries. Even hot peppers are excellent in enhancing many cranberry dishes.

Another fine feature of the cranberry its excellent storage attributes, staying fresh from three to four weeks in the refrigerator and up to one year in the freezer. In addition, cranberries can be purchased dry and if a recipe calls for fresh cranberries, the dry can be soaked overnight becoming almost as good as fresh in the next day’s use

The popularity of cranberries is today widespread and growing. Their tart taste, versatility, and healthful qualities make them truly a kitchen treat.

The following dishes are only a grain of sand in an ocean of cranberry recipes:

CRANBERRY FACTS

1) Cranberries bounce! Small pockets of air inside the fruit cause the fresh fruit to bounce. It is also what makes berries float in water, which is how many cranberries are harvested.
2) Americans consume some 400 million pounds of cranberries a year, 20 percent during Thanksgiving week.
3) The popularity of the cranberry is growing not only in North America but also internationally.
4) American recipes containing cranberries date from the early 18th Century.


Cranberry Punch RecipeTaste before taking punch off the fire and if not sweet enough add more honey.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups fresh cranberries, washed
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped candied ginger
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves

1) Place cranberries and water in a pot and bring to boil. Cover and cook over medium/high heat for 5 minutes then allow to cool.

2) Place pot content in a blender then blend until pureéd. Return to pot then stir in remaining ingredients and bring to boil. Lower heat to low and simmer covered for 5 minutes. Serve hot.


Cranberry Relish RecipeDelicious when served with all types of meat.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups fresh cranberries, washed
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp prepared horseradish
  • 1 Tbsp prepared mustard

1) Place cranberries and onion in a food processor and process for just a few moments, leaving mixture somewhat coarse. Transfer to a mixing bowl.

2) Combine the remaining ingredients then stir into the cranberries. Transfer to glass or ceramic bowl then refrigerate overnight before serving.


Tastes great on toast or crackers.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dried cranberries, soaked overnight and drained
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves

1) Chop cranberries in food processor for a few moments – until coarsely chopped then transfer into a serving bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients and serve.


Holiday Cranberry Cuisine - Cranberry Salad Dressing RecipeThis dressing, sufficient for roughly four salads, adds a refreshing touch to a bowl of salad greens.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh cranberries, washed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1-1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 garlic cloves crushed
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup olive oil

1) Place all ingredients, except oil, in a blender then blend for 1 minute or until cranberries are well puréed. With blender still running, slowly add oil until mixture thickens. Store in a covered jar in a refrigerator for up to a week and use as needed.


Cranberry Sauce RecipeIngredients:

  • 2 cups fresh cranberries, washed
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp grated lemon rind
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

1) Place cranberries, orange juice, and sugar in a pot then thoroughly mix and bring to boil, stirring a number of times. Turn heat to medium/low then simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in remaining ingredients. Chill and serve.


Serves about 10

Ingredients:

  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb beef or lamb, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1/2 cup lentils, washed and soaked overnight
  • 1/4 tsp chilli powder
  • 8 cups water
  • 1-1/2 cups fresh cranberries, washed

1) Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat, then sauté meat cubes until they begin to brown. Stir in onion, coriander leaves and garlic, then stir-fry for a further 5 minutes.

 


Books by Habeeb Salloum:


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