Crenberries - nutritional gems for the holidays

The little red gems, Cranberries, are often associated with the holiday season. They are a nutritional powerhouse with a tangy taste that's great in baked goods, savory dishes, or by the glassful. Cranberries are something to relish all year long!

Cranberries are low in fat, high in fibre, and rich in antioxidants. Research shows cranberries help fight cancer, heart disease and are packed with vitamin C. Cranberry juice has been proven to be beneficial for urinary tract health.

Cranberries are a unique fruit. They can only grow and survive under a very special combination of factors: they require an acid peat soil, an adequate fresh water supply, and sand. If well cared for, cranberry vines can continue to produce indefinitely. There are cranberry marshes that have been producing crops for more than 100 years!

Fresh cranberries are more plentiful in November through January and are usually sold in bags. Since they're firm, rather than soft like most other berries, they're most often in good condition. Always check the bag for firmness and good red color before buying. The bag could contain few pale berries and bits of debris.

Before cooking the fresh cranberries, it is important to clean and pick over cranberries by placing them in a basin or sink-full of cold water. Twigs, leaves and unripe berries should float to the surface. Any cranberries that are discolored or shriveled should also be discarded. This process should be done quickly however, as you don't want to soak the berries.

I typically buy fresh cranberries and store them in the refrigerator for up to 2 months in an airtight container. Cranberries also freeze well for up to a year. Frozen berries can be used in cooking without thawing.

Cranberries are too tart for most tastes to be eaten on their own, but pair wonderfully with other fruit such as apples. Besides being a must alongside roast turkey, cranberries are most often used in muffins and other baked goods, compotes, relishes, chutneys and fruit desserts such as cobblers.

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Cranberry Chutney

1 package fresh cranberries
½ cup water
2 tablespoon peanuts (unsalted and roasted)
1 teaspoon garam masala (store bought or homemade)
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. chili powder (optional)
Salt as per taste

In a thick-bottomed pan, place the cranberries, ½ cup water and brown sugar to boil on low heat. In a spice grinder (coffee grinder for spices only) or a blender, make a coarse mix of coriander seeds and peanuts. Add this mix to the boiling cranberries. Let it boil for five minutes on medium heat. Lastly add garam masala, chili powder and salt. The cranberry chutney thickens as it cools down.

Makes 2 cups of chutney

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Garam Masala

1 Tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 cardamom pods (whole)
10 black pepper (whole)
6 cloves
2 one-inch cinnamon sticks

Heat a frying pan and place all the spices in it. Roast for three- four minutes till a fragrant aroma is released. Let it cool for five-seven minutes. Make a fine powder in a coffee grinder or spice grinder (a coffee grinder used only for spices). This spice blend can be used in any recipe that calls for an assortment of spices.

Makes 4 tablespoons of spice.

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Aromatic Cranberry relish

1 cup cranberry juice
1 cup brown sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
½ cup dried cranberries
1 cup fresh cranberries
2 oranges ( peeled and chopped)
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon nutmeg

In a thick bottom pan add juice, brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, dried and fresh cranberries and bring it to boil. Simmer on low heat for 10 minutes. Add chopped oranges, salt, and nutmeg. Simmer for 10 minutes and cool it completely before storing

Hema's Hints:

Serve this relish on toasted english muffins or bagels or serve it as a dip with crackers

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Potatoes with cranberry masala

5 potatoes ( baked, peeled, and diced)
1 teaspoon oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 inch ginger ( peeled and minced)
2 onions
1 cup cranberries ( fresh)
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon salt ( or as per taste)

Heat oil in a pan. Add cumin seeds and minced ginger. Sauté for a minute.

Add onions and cranberries and cook on medium heat for 10 minutes. Add chopped potatoes, garam masala, and salt. Stir well and remove from heat. Serve piping hot with pita bread or chapattis.

Hema's Hints:

Do not substitute dried cranberries for fresh cranberries in this recipe.

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