Thanksgiving dinner was good and now we’re already in December and the holidays are upon us, surrounding us! It becomes evident by walking up 5th Avenue in New York City with all the golden and silver holiday decoration, wreaths, Santa sleds and holiday carols trumpeting across streets. In my mind December is synonymous with dried fruit. Many of our favorite or traditional holiday candy and bread include dried fruit pastes covered with chocolate, dates stuffed with marzipan, and on \e of my favorites is the Germanic version of fruit cake called Stollen, a yeast bread with raisins, apricots and orange rind. We loved it as kids growing up in Austria.
And now as our farmer’s market is thinning out every week as the local farms are going into their dormitory stage, dried fruits are ideal for cooking. Dried fruits are dehydrated during their peak ripeness stage in Spring or Summer so we can enjoy them juicy and sweet all year round. Cooking with dried fruits is efficient as they won’t dilute your recipe (they do not add water content unlike fresh fruits) and they make for rather quick cooking, if necessary.
Prunes & Cream: Indeed people don’t think of dried plums or in other words prunes as desirable because of their reputation for promoting “digestive regularity.” But, stigma aside, thinly sliced prunes layered between shaved potatoes, cream and spiced with mace or nutmeg makes a delicious baked gratin dish.
(organic sliced figs)
Fennel & Figs: A favorite dish of mine that makes it on a holiday menu every year -- dark-roasted fennel wedges tossed with dried fig segments with a touch of orange juice, spiced with star anise.
Dried Grapes & Cauliflower: Raisins star in roasted cauliflower spiced with curry. It’s a safe bet to put on the table on a cold, wintery night.
Winter greens: Dried, chopped cranberries or cherries are a terrific addition to cold dishes such as salads or desserts. The little sweet nuggets make a thinly shaved raw red cabbage or Brussels sprouts salad shine. The concentrated sweetness in dehydrated fruits make it ideal to balance the bitterness of greens such as endive, radicchio or dandelion greens. The following recipe is a perfect dish for the holidays:
1 celery root or 2 cups chopped
2 Parsley root or 2 cups chopped
2 Carrots or 2 cups chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
2 Yukon gold potatoes or 2 cups chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil such as grape seed or canola
1 teaspoon sea salt
10 black pepper mill grindings
8 seeded dates such as Medjool, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon thyme, chopped
1 bay leaf, chopped
3 tablespoons vinegar such as apple cider
- Rinse vegetables and cut top off then cut into 3/4-inch cubes.
- Keep potatoes in a separate bowl from the other vegetables.
- In a skillet heat oil and add cook vegetables but not potatoes on low heat setting for 25 minutes stirring every 5-8 minutes with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add potatoes, chopped thyme, dates, vinegar and 1 cup water. Continue to cook for 10 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
Chef’s Tip: Add 1 tablespoon of butter or olive oil to the vegetable stew for a heartier casserole.