Fruit Caponata

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A while back I wrote a post on a young man who is a spice expert. His name is Lior Lev Sercarz, and he opened a spice store called La Boîte in New York City in 2007. I titled the blog post The Spice Companion, because that is the name of his first book, published in 2016. It’s a fascinating and hefty encyclopedia of spices.

La Boîte, the store, sells spices, but also has classes, dinners, and wonderful gift offerings.

If you can’t get to New York City, La Boîte has a beautiful website where one can purchase unique spices and spice blends. It’s like Penzey’s on crack.

Read my blog post if you want to be impressed by a young man on a world-wide mission to study spices. His journey from a kibbutz in Israel to New York City via France, working with notable chefs, is a great read.

I receive the monthly La Boîte newsletter, and it was in a recent issue where I discovered this fruit caponata recipe, created by Christian Leue.

In the newsletter, Mr. Leue describes his fondness of Sicily, and how in the town of Rosolini he was once served a caponata made of fruit, alongside a grilled veal ribeye. Traditional caponata is not made with fruit, but is instead a savory Sicilian eggplant dish.

Based on his dining experience, he created his own version of fruit caponata. From the newsletter: “It’s a supremely versatile condiment, bright and freshly acidic, with a deep but forgiving sweetness.”

He served his caponata with “a simply seared salmon and fluffy basmati rice topped with toasted almonds.” A sprinkle of Izak N37, a La Boîte spice blend, ties all the flavors together.” This is a photo of that meal from the newsletter.

Here is the spice blend Izak N37. It contains sweet chilies, garlic, cumin, salt, and spices.

Previously on the blog I’ve made a fruit compote As well as roasted fruit in parchment, and chutney, but this recipe is like none of those. See what you think.

Fruit Caponata
printable recipe below

1 cup whole red cherries, stems removed if you like (you can also leave them on as a reminder not to eat the pits)
2 firm nectarines, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 Vidalia onion, peeled, 1-inch dice
2 cups mixed whole grapes
2-3 Tbsp wine vinegar (either white or red is fine, amount will depend on acidity, some wine vinegars are above the standard 5%)
1 Tbsp olive oil
sweetener, to taste (I prefer chestnut honey)
salt, to taste

For the caponata, combine all ingredients except salt and sweetener in a sauce pot with a lid and cook, covered, over medium heat until everything has softened, about 25 minutes.

Adjust to taste with salt and sweetener of your choice, and additional vinegar, if desired. Instead of honey, I used maple syrup.

Leaving the fruit whole or in large chunks keeps it from getting mushy, and you’ll get a lovely red color from the cherry skins.

Depending on the season you can also try adding/substituting: strawberries, small plums, quince, figs, apple, or pear.

The only way I veered from the original recipe was to somewhat reduce the liquid remaining in the pot after cooking the caponata.

According to Mr. Leue, “The caponata goes really well with most anything you want to throw at it. Try it with brined pork chops, pan fried and served with spätzle. Or alongside farro pilaf and braised chicken thighs. I followed his suggestion and gently seared a salmon filet, but didn’t make rice.

And I used Izak N37 on the salmon.

This fruit caponata is definitely unique. If I have to compare it to a condiment, I guess it would mostly closely mimic a chutney, because of the sweet and savory components.


The caponata is pretty because the fruit isn’t chopped, but I found it more challenging to eat. But all in all it was an interesting and delicious condiment to prepare, and so many different fruit options are possible, much like a chutney.

And the Izak N37? Fabulous!

The 2nd book already published by Serarz is The Art of Blending: Stories and Recipes from La Boîte’s Spice Journey. His third book is available for pre-order on Amazon now.

 

 

 

 

Chutney

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I truly love condiments, especially those seasonally-based, like chutneys. And, because I love to “play” in the kitchen and use whatever ingredients I have on hand or am in the mood to use, I wanted to show how easy it is to make your own chutney sans recipe.

It’s about creating a chutney that you love, customizing the ingredients to your tastes, according to the seasons. Indulge. Chutneys are fabulous.

I have an actual recipe following this “primer” of chutney making below, but seriously once you make a chutney, you’ll see how creative you can be and how well they turn out. A recipe is not necessary.

Create Your Own Chutney

A chutney is about combining fruits – the sweet factor, and aromatics – the savory factor, and then adding seasoning and flavorings.

The sweet-savory ratio is important, however. I use about 2/3 fruit to 1/3 aromatics in my chutneys. You don’t want it all fruit, or it would be a jam.

I season the chutney according to my tastes and the time of year. There are spicy fall and winter chutneys, and there are light, vibrant chutneys you can make for spring and summer appearances as well. (Like my Strawberry Onion Chutney.) It’s all about seasonal ingredients.

Fruit:
You can use fresh fruit: apple, pear, mango, apricot, plum, cranberries, strawberries, peach, etc.
And you can use dried fruit: cranberries, cherries, figs, apricots, raisins, dates, blueberries, etc.
A combination of fresh and dried makes a nice consistency, like pear-dried fig, peach-raisin, apple-dried apricot. Using three fruits works really well, like apple-mango-dried cherry. Or cranberry-apple-date. You get the idea.

If you’re using dried fruits like raisins or cherries, you can soak them in port or fruit juice first to soften them and soak up the flavors, then use it all in the chutney-making process.

Aromatics:
I always use a combination of fresh onion, garlic, and sometimes shallots and fresh ginger. You definitely need onion; the rest is optional.

Sugar:
There is always a sweet component in chutney to balance the aromatics. If you’re using tart cranberries, you would definitely need more sugar than if you were using, say, ripe peaches or strawberries. You can use brown sugar, white sugar, turbinado sugar and so forth. Liquid forms of sugar don’t work well in chutney, because they’re too, well, liquid. A prepared chutney is soft, but not a pile of syrupy mush. But you can add a teaspoon of maple syrup or boiled cider.

Seasonings:
Except for salt, you don’t have to season a chutney at all, although I happen to love black pepper, white pepper, and cayenne.

For fall and winter chutneys, I like them full of flavor – especially when they’re going to be served alongside fairly bland meats. The choices are vast, depending what you want your chutney to taste like.

I, personally, love that what curry powder adds to a chutney. But separately, you can use cumin, cardamom, coriander, etc. A cinnamon stick adds flavor while the chutney is cooking, but ground cinnamon can be used as well. And nutmeg, cloves, and allspice are always yummy. Think of them in an apple-pear-dried fig chutney served with a pork loin. YUM.

Another fun ingredients are small pieces of crystallized ginger.

You can also add ground chile pepper, like ancho or even chipotle powders, to a chutney. And also adobo or adobo powder – especially if you’re making the chutney for a Southwestern-inspired meal.

Vinegar:
Any vinegar will work in a chutney. I love cider vinegar and red wine vinegar, but a white balsamic vinegar works well also. Nothing fancy is required.

Cranberry Apple Raisin Chutney

2 tablespoons grape seed oil
1 purple onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 – 12 ounce bag cranberries, rinsed, sorted
1 apple, peeled, cored, finely chopped
1 cup golden raisins, loosely packed
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cinnamon stick, optional
2 teaspoons vinegar

Add the oil to a hot stock pot and let it heat over medium. Add the onions and sauté for about 5 minutes, without allowing browning.

Give the garlic a stir into the onions, then add the cranberries, apple, and raisins. Stir together.

Allow to heat up, then add the sugar, cinnamon, curry powder, salt, and the cinnamon stick.


Stir well, then cover the pot, turn down the heat to a simmer, and let cook for at least 15 minutes. It will look like this.

Add a couple teaspoons of vinegar and stir in gently. Unless there’s excess liquid, remove the pot from the heat.

Let the chutney cool, remove the cinnamon stick, then store in sterilized jars.


It freezes well.

Not only does this chutney go beautifully with Thanksgiving turkey, but also with chicken and pork. Here I’ve served it with roasted pork and sweet potatoes.


As you can see, there’s a lot of leeway when creating a chutney. They can be simple or complicated from an ingredient standpoint, but they are very easy to prepare.

Chutney is also wonderful topping a baked Brie, and can be used in individual Brie and chutney bites.

Just remember to cook off any extra liquid over extremely low heat, and also don’t overstir. You want to see the beautiful pieces of fruit in your beautiful chutney!

Strawberry Onion Chutney

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Rarely do I come out of “retirement” to cater. If I do it’s only for good friends, but still these gigs are few and far between. I’m just not in the catering groove any longer.

A few years ago, however, I said yes to a friend who needed help with her staff party. I don’t remember the menu in its entirety, except that I made a sous vide pork loin.

Because it was springtime, I created a chutney using fresh strawberries to go with the pork.

Following is the sweet-spicy-tart condiment recipe that I’m so happy I wrote down. I must say it was superb and loved by all!

Strawberry Onion Chutney
printable recipe below

1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup ruby port
1/4 cup olive oil
4 white onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 – 1″ piece ginger, minced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup loosely packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cayenne
1 pound hulled strawberries, chopped into small pieces
Allspice, to taste

In a small bowl, soak raisins in the port. Set aside.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven. Add the onions and begin the sautéing process. It will take at least 30 minutes. A little browning is fine, but mostly I just wanted them nice and soft and cooked through.

Add the raisins and the port, along with the garlic and ginger, and cook the mixture for about 5 minutes.

Add the vinegar, brown sugar, salt, and cayenne, and cook for another 5 minutes.

Then stir in the strawberries and continue cooking the chutney, stirring occasionally, until the strawberry pieces have cooked, but still hold their shapes.


If I might say so, this chutney is spectacular. When I made it the second time, I used dark raisins, and served it with roasted chicken, which was equally delicious as previously with the pork loin.

And with cheese? It’s fabulous!!!

 

 

Mimi’s Chicken Salad

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Years ago, I visited a girlfriend in Texas to help with her daughter’s baby shower. She lives just outside of Austin, so it’s always fun to visit. (Think Texas Hill/Wine Country!)

One of the dishes planned for the shower luncheon was “Mimi’s Chicken Salad.” I had no idea what that was, but she told me that it was my recipe, thus the name!

Recently I was reflecting on my “namesake” chicken salad, but couldn’t remember what the heck was in it. I emailed my friend, and she sent me back a photograph of my recipe. In a cookbook.

The cookbook is “Cooking by the Bootstraps: A Taste of Oklahoma Heaven Cooked Up by the Junior Welfare League of Enid, Oklahoma, published in 2002.

So not only did I forget how to make my own chicken salad, I didn’t remember it was a recipe I created, nor did I remember that it is in this cookbook – which I own!

I’ll just chalk this up to (older) age.

Here’s the recipe, although somewhat adapted, because I can’t even leave my own recipes alone!

Mimi’s Chicken Salad, or Mango Chutney Chicken Salad

Chicken tenders, about 1.2 pounds
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped nuts, I used pistachios
1/2 cup chopped mangoes
1/3 cup mango chutney
3 green onions, sliced
1/2 teaspoon curry powder, I recommend Penzey’s sweet curry powder
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

Grill the chicken tenders in a skillet, with a little oil, seasoned first with salt and pepper. Grill the chicken just till barely pink so as to keep them tender. Set them aside to cool slightly.

Cut the chicken into small pieces and place in a medium bowl. Add the sour cream and mayonnaise and stir until the chicken is well incorporated.

You can adjust the volume of sour cream and mayo mixture to suit your taste. I prefer chicken salad just creamy enough, but not drowning in the mayo.

Add the remaining ingredients together in a bowl and stir gently.

Add the mixture to the chicken and combine them well.

Refrigerate the chicken salad if not serving immediately. Serve chilled or at room temperature on a platter of lettuce leaves; I prefer this salad at room temperature.

Alternatively, make chicken salad sandwiches with sliced croissants or your favorite soft bread.

I actually prefer making roll-ups with tender butter lettuce instead of sandwiches.


What’s fun about this recipe is that you can mix up the nuts and add fruits – even dried fruits. Think about chopped macadamias and dried cherries!

I’m really appreciative of the local Junior Welfare League of Enid, Oklahoma for including some of my recipes in this cookbook. It was an honor.

Onion Confit

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I could live on hors d’oeuvres year round, and most of them would involve cheese. Actually, if I’m being honest, they could be only cheese platters, and I would die happy.

It doesn’t matter if the weather is warming up outside, to me there’s nothing much better than warm, melted cheese. It doesn’t have to be snowing outside for me to bake a brie. I guess the only exceptions are fondue and raclette, which I do limit to the cold months, but only because the meals end up lasting so long and being so heavy.

When when I do prepare a baked brie, or some kind of hot cheese canapes, I sometimes pair the cheese with a fig jam, a strawberry chutney, or a citus curd. Of course, that depends on the kind of cheese, but this following recipe for onion confit would go with everything from goat to cow cheeses, soft to hard cheeses, melted or not!

The onion confit is also a good condiment to serve with chicken, duck, pork, and grilled sausages. It would be really lovely served with a beautifully seared lobe of foie gras, alongside pate, or as a condiment in a sandwich of short ribs and brie. It’s really versatile.

Onion confit is sort of like a chutney, in that the onions are sweetened slightly. But because the onions are cooked in olive oil, and not caramelized, I’m calling it a confit. I hope you enjoy it!

Onion Confit

1/4 cup olive oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup red wine
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon cherry syrup or ruby port

confit4

In a small saucepan, add the olive oil and heat it over medium heat. Add the onions, sugar, and salt and stir well. Cover the saucepan and turn the burner to the lowest setting. Cook the onions for 30 minutes.

confit6

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, place the red wine, balsamic vinegar, and the cherry syrup or port. The cherry syrup is fruity, the port adds flavor but also a subtle alcoholic component. You can play with just about any ingredient like grenadine, pomegranate juice, or maple syrup, adjusting amounts accordingly.

Pour this mixture into the onions, and cook, simmering the onions, for about 30 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally. The onions will end up a nice oily, sticky mess.

confit5

Cool the mixture completely, then place in a sterile jar. This recipe makes about 2 cups of confit. It can easily be doubled or tripled.

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I am guessing that this onion confit would freeze successfully, but that’s if there’s any left. It’s really that good.

confit

Onion confit topped on warm goat cheese, in the photo above, and on melted Fontina, in the photo below. It’s way better tasting than what it looks like, trust me.

confit2

note: this post was originally published 2 years ago.

Cranberry Braised Cabbage

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A while back when I made cabbage bundles, I only used 12 of the larger, outside leaves of the one green cabbage I purchased. And there was no way I was going to throw away the rest of the par-boiled cabbage. So what to do?

my par-boiled cabbage, sliced

my par-boiled cabbage, sliced

Even though it’s January, I’m still in a festive mood. And, I happen to love braised cabbage, especially because you never have to make it the same way twice. I especially love the look of purple cabbage. Last year I braised cabbage with chestnuts.

cab2
When I make braised cabbage, I typically start with butter and onions. But the fun part is choosing the braising liquids! There’s broth, wine, apple cider, and so forth. In fact, you can add sliced apples or pears along with the onions if you want that flavor as well. Jelly is traditionally added for a little sweetness, but I decided to use my cranberry-cherry chutsauce that I had left over. That made it a way more festive dish, and was a nice compliment to the green cabbage.
cranb1
So here’s what I did.

Braised Cabbage with Cranberry-Cherry Chutsauce

2 ounces butter
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 small cabbage, thinly sliced
White wine, I used a Riesling
Pinch of salt
Cranberry-cherry chutsauce*

Begin by melting the butter in a pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté them for about 5 minutes.
cab5
Add the sliced cabbage and sauté it for another 5 minutes, being careful that nothing gets close to burning.
cab6
Add about 1/4 of Riesling and the salt. If you’re using raw cabbage, use maybe 1/2 cup of wine; you can always reduce it later.


Bring to a light boil, then cover the pot and cook the cabbage for about 10-15 minutes, or until completely tender. It should be very wilted.

Remove the lid and reduce any remaining liquid in the bottom of the pot.

Add about 2 tablespoons of your choice of cranberry sauce or chutney and stir gently. Taste for sweetness and adjust accordingly.


Once heated through, serve alongside pork, ham, duck, or roasted chicken.

cranb2

* My chutsauce recipe is not required for this braised cabbage, and I’m not trying to make anybody use my recipe in order to follow this braised cabbage recipe. Any kind of chunky cranberry sauce, preferably, or chutney with cranberries would be fabulous to sweeten the cabbage and spice things up a little. Especially with the individual berries still intact, as you can see in the photos. That’s what I was after. Just know the sweetness of what you’re adding so you can adjust the taste. I personally enjoy a little sweetness, but I don’t want my braised cabbage to taste like dessert!

Cran-Cherry Chutsauce

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As you might deduce, this recipe is a cross between a traditional cranberry sauce and a chutney, using a combination of fresh cranberries and dried cherries. My husband voted for chutsauce over sauceney…

Every November I make small batches of at least two different kinds of both cranberry sauces and fruit chutneys, because I love them so much. Sadly, I’m the only one who really enjoys them in my family, so I can’t make large batches. But to me, they’re so much fun to make, fun to experiment with, and just a good festive thing to do in the kitchen – with Christmas carols playing, of course.
crancherry1
This chutney-sauce would be fabulous with turkey or pork or duck, but it would also be a pretty and delicious topping a slab of cream cheese.

The recipe that caught my eye was on Epicurious.com right here. I altered it quite a bit.
crancherry2
Cranberry Cherry Chutney Sauce

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 purple onion, finely chopped
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup brown sugar, not packed
1/4 cup white sugar
12 ounces clean, sorted cranberries

crancherry22]
7 ounces dried, pitted cherries*
3/4 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder
1/4 cup ruby port
1/4 cup water

Place the butter in a medium-sized enamel pot over medium heat. When the butter melts, add the onion and saute them for about 5 minutes, without any extreme browning.
crancherry11
Add the salt, brown sugar, and white sugar. Stir together and cook until the sugar dissolves.


Add the cranberries, cherries, and the Chinese 5-spice powder. Give everything a stir.

Then add the port and water. Let everything cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-low heat. It should take about 15 minutes until all of the cranberries have popped and the liquid is reduced.
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Remove from the stove and let cool completely.
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To store, place the chutney sauce in clean jars, cover, and refrigerate. Or, alternatively, freeze the chutsauce/sauceney until needed.
crancherry4
* I used dried Rainier cherries, which are extremely large. The original recipe listed 1 cup of dried cherries, but didn’t indicate the size or kind of dried cherries, so I weighed mine instead of measuring out 1 cup. You can adjust according to what kind of dried cherries you use; dried cranberries can be substituted as well.

note: Instead of port or just water, which was in the original recipe, consider using a liqueur, like an orange liqueur, or just orange juice or pomegranate juice. It all works to help plump up the cherries and cook the cranberries. Orange zest could be included in this recipe as well.