compote in black tea. The slight bitterness of the tea
and the perfume of orange balances the sweetness and
ANGELES — I knew dried fruit had an image problem, but I
had no idea how bad it had gotten.
I can kind of understand how prunes, er, "dried
plums," might have an issue — let’s face it, any
time your marketing solution involves changing your product’s
name entirely, well, things are tough.
the other day, I was talking to Roxana Jullapat of Cooks
County restaurant in Los Angeles, and she told me that in
her restaurant, merely putting the word "raisin"
on the menu was enough to kill sales for a dish completely.
Interestingly, actually adding the raisins had no effect
whatsoever. People seem to like them, just so long as they’re
added on the down-low.
dried fruit has become the ingredient that dare not speak
weirdest about that is all the really good cooks I know love
dried fruit. On Facebook recently, cookbook author Maria
Speck (her "Ancient Grains" is terrific) polled
colleagues about which dried fruits they had in their
pantries. I was feeling pretty proud: dark and golden
raisins, currants, apricots, cranberries, sour cherries,
figs and prunes (yes, I call them prunes, and proudly!).
when other cooks chimed in, there were so many others
mentioned that I felt like a piker. How could I have
overlooked apples, mangoes, bananas, blueberries,
raspberries, strawberries, barberries …? The list goes on
do others hate them?
wasn’t so very long ago that even raisins were regarded as
exotic ingredients, reserved for special occasions only.
Until the 1870s, almost all raisins had to be imported from
Europe. It wasn’t until the birth of the gigantic
vineyards of the Central Valley (located smack in the middle
of one of the finest natural dehydrators known to man) that
they began to become commonplace.
Santa Clara Valley south of San Francisco proved to be just
as hospitable for prunes. In the 1850s, a visitor brought
over cuttings of the famed Agen prune trees from
southwestern France; 50 years later there were more than
90,000 acres, almost all of them of that variety.
before the Napa Valley became vinified, it was far better
known for its prune orchards, and that’s much more recent
history. In 1960, Napa’s prunes were more valuable than
take raisins, prunes and their like for granted today
because they’ve become so familiar?
certainly don’t. Dried fruit tastes too good to ignore
just because of some silly fashion. Particularly at this
time of year when there’s not a lot of sweetness to be had
(produce-wise), dried fruit can come to the rescue in both
savory dishes and desserts.
like a Sicilian and combine raisins with salty or pungent
flavors. I made a pasta the other day with broccoli, salted
anchovies, raisins and pine nuts. Or toss a handful of
raisins into a kale and wild rice salad to offset the dark
greens’ slight bitterness. (Steep them in warm water or
brandy to soften a little before cooking.) Raisins or prunes
are great with braised meats; just add them close to the end
so they soften but don’t fall apart.
Besides the obvious — scattering raisins in just about
anything possible: cookies, cakes, puddings and even pie
fillings — I always have a jar of prune compote in the
refrigerator during the winter. Make a strong brew by
cooking black tea in a simple syrup with spices and orange
zest, and poach the prunes just long enough to soften them
slightly. The slight bitterness of the tea and the perfume
of orange balances the sweetness and warm spice.
the prunes and their syrup with a spoonful of yogurt and you’ve
got a terrific dessert that’s always on hand.
you love dried fruit as much as I do, you might even have
them for breakfast.
AND WILD RICE SALAD WITH RAISINS AND WALNUTS
hour, 10 minutes, plus cooling time. Serves 4 to 6
dried sour cherries
cup orange juice, divided
tablespoon minced shallot
teaspoons orange zest
stemmed and coarsely chopped kale
teaspoons olive oil
toasted walnuts, chopped
Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add 1
teaspoon salt and the wild rice. Reduce heat to medium-low,
partially cover and simmer until the rice is tender but
still chewy, 45 to 50 minutes.
While the rice is cooking, place the raisins and dried sour
cherries in a bowl and add one-fourth cup orange juice and
just enough hot tap water to cover, and set aside to soften.
When the rice is cooked, add the minced shallot and the
orange zest, cover the pan and remove it from the heat to
stand 5 minutes to absorb any remaining water. Remove the
lid, drain any leftover water and cool to room temperature.
Place the kale in a large mixing bowl, sprinkle with
one-fourth teaspoon salt and drizzle over the olive oil.
Massage the kale roughly with your hands, crushing the
leaves and turning them over until they are tender and
lightly covered with oil.
Combine the kale and the wild rice. Drain the dried fruit
and add it to the rice mixture along with the walnuts. Toss
to mix thoroughly and season to taste with a little more
salt, if necessary, freshly ground black pepper and the
remaining orange juice. This makes about 5 cups salad.
OF 6 SERVINGS
fat: 1 gram
This is a sturdy salad that can be prepared and left at room
temperature up to an hour before serving.
COMPOTE IN BLACK TEA
minutes, plus cooling time. Makes 3 cups compote
(3-inch) stick cinnamon
teaspoon grated orange zest
the water, sugar, cloves, allspice, cinnamon and black tea
bags to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the orange zest and
prunes, then remove from the heat and let stand until cool.
Discard tea bags and refrigerate until ready to use.