Forget new-fangled methods like freezing, pickling, salting, or vacuum packing. Drying fruit was the earliest form of food preservation-and it still works great today.
The oldest known recipes, written on clay tablets in Babylonia, detailed scrumptious dishes that included such as dates, figs, apples and pomegranates–all dried. In 3,000BC, Chinese nobles indulged themselves with plums and peaches in dried form. And the Romans rewarded their victorious athletes with jars of high-prized raisins.
Today, we value our dried fruits for the concentrated nutrition they provide, as well as for their mouth-watering goodness. From apricots to berries and plums to papaya, almost any fruit you can name is now available in this healthy and convenient form-dried fruit.
BURSTING WITH BENEFITS
Dried fruits are almost entirely free of fats and sodium, and are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. And because of their high polyphenol contents, they’re a vital source of antioxidants that contribute to heart health and cancer prevention.
Try apricots for their beta-carotene, figs for their potassium, mangoes for their omega-3′s and plums (prunes) for their fiber and iron, For high levels of antioxidants, go to blueberries, cherries, apples and papaya. And for vitamin A seek out goji berries and peaches.
In the winter months, this is an especially effective way to get your necessary servings of fruit without having to buy flavorless produce from far-away places. In fact, the National Cancer Institute specifies 1/4 cup of dried fruit as a proper single serving toward your daily requirement.
With that concentration of flavor and nutritionm, however, also comes a concentration of calories. According to the USDA, a 100-gram serving of fresh plums contains only 46 calories, whereas the same size portion of prundes contains more than five times that amount. So find creative ways to enjoy these sweet treats in reasonable quantities. Stir a few dried bludeberries into your morning oatmeal; include a handful of dried goji berries in a quinoa pilaf; add a few dried apple slices to a green salad; fold a few dried cherries into some fat-free yogurt–the possibilities are endless!
It’s especially important with dried fruit to know what’s in your food. Conventional commercial brands tend to add massive amounts of sugar–raisins and cranberries are the worst–and several fruits are often treated with sulfites to preserve their color, especially apricots and apples. Sulfites are known to create allergic reactions in about 10 percent of the population, so this is no small matter.
Read the labels, and as always, it’s best to buy organic–it ensures no sulfites or other chemical additives. No added sweeteners is best, but if you must, look for natural sweeteners such as apple juice concentrate as opposed to corn syrup.
TRY THESE RECIPES
Three-Mango Compote ~ Makes 2 cups
Lavish this tropical delight over grilled salmon, chicken or shrimp. Or mix it with brown rice and steamed vegetables for a satisfying meat-free supper. Add the sambal oelek if you like it spicy!
1 cup diced fresh mango
1/4 cup diced dried mango
1/3 cup mango nectar
1/2 tsp minced fresh peeled ginger
1/8 tsp minced kaffir lime leaf
1 tsp organic coconut milk
1 TBSP chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 TBS chopped scalion
1/4 tbsp sambal oelek, optional
1. combine fresh mango, dried mango, mango nectar, ginger, and lime leaf in small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until softened, about 5 minuters.
2. remove from heat, stir in coconut milk, cilantro, scallions, and sambal oelek, if using. Serve immediately.
Kaffir lime leaf and samabal oelek (a chili paste) are available at Asian specialty markets,
Per Serving: 33 cal,; 1g total fat; 8g carb; 0mg chol; 3mg sod; 1g fiber; 7g sugars
Cherry Goat Cheese Canapes ~ Makes about 30 pieces
Serve these tidbits along with a tart cranberry vodka cocktail, and watch your party soar!
1/3 cup roughly-chopped dried cheerries
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
10 oz fresh organic chevere (goat cheese), at room temperature
1/4 cup chopped marcona almonds
French baguette loaf, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
1. combine cherries and pomegranate juice in small bowl and microwave 30 seconds, or until hot. Set aside to allow cherries to absorb liquid and soften, about 20 minutes. Drain excess liquid.
2. Mash chevre lightly in medium bowl. Add cherries and chopped almonds, and stir to combine well. Refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to merge.
3. Bring chevre mixture back to room temperature. Spread on baguette slices, arrange canapes on platter and serve.
PER SERVING: 56 cal; 3g pro; 3g total fat (1g sat fat); 6g carb; 4mg chol; 84mg sod; 1g fiber; 1g sugars