Cranberries for Hanukkah?

Thanksgiving 2009 has passed and with it went the cranberries. What a pity. While there is little evidence to suggest that this tart native berry was served at the first Thanksgiving feast, it has become a holiday staple, sauced alongside the traditional roast turkey in its sole annual appearance. I propose that we ditch American tradition and make this regal berry part of our festive Hanukkah meal. My reasons go well beyond the sauce.

For starters, consider the health aspects of cranberries. They are considered a nutritional power food, laden with antioxidants to inhibit the growth of cancer cells and photochemicals to help fight heart disease. They are also believed to prevent urinary tract infections and have been found to increase levels of good cholesterol. Rounding out their nutritional resume are the healthy doses of vitamin C, potassium and fiber that they provide.


Another reason to expand our enjoyment of cranberries is simply because they taste great. If you have only tasted cranberries that have been cooked to obscurity in a sauce, or have eaten the kind that wiggles its way out of a can in an intact mold, you haven’t experienced the real tangy, fruity flavor of cranberries. While I confess that a handful of unsweetened raw cranberries would make even a shark pucker up, adding a little bit of sugar, honey, or brown sugar transforms that handful into scarlet ambrosia.

And cranberries don’t only go well with roast turkey. Their flavor compliments other poultry, such as chicken and duck, and lamb or beef. Cranberries are great served with vegetables and are delicious in pies and puddings. And they can be eaten raw in salsas, relishes, and chutneys, and cooked as conserves and, of course, the familiar sauce. Their versatility makes them a great addition to baked breads, cakes, and muffins. You can mix them with savory ingredients such as onions, garlic, and herbs. You can use them to create a sauce for sweet and sour cabbage or roast brisket. And you can cook them with fresh beets for a unique borscht.

Though fresh cranberries are only available October through December, you can enjoy them year round. Purchase a couple of packages for use within a week and toss a few more packages into your freezer, where they can be stored for up to one year. There is no need to thaw the berries before using them in your favorite recipe. Cranberries should be rinsed before using. They can be cooked whole, or chopped in a food processor for recipes calling for raw berries.

Cranberries are the perfect addition to your Hanukkah meal. Their bright red color screams festive, and when cooked just until they pop, the berries will thicken without the addition of cornstarch or flour. For a delicious applesauce to top your latkes, add fresh cranberries to your pot of apples, sugar and spices for a yummy cranberry-apple sauce. Stir any leftover sauce into a bowl of plain yogurt and top with granola for a great breakfast or snack.

The addition of cranberries, along with a tablespoon or two of brown sugar, to the standard mixture of onions, carrots, tomato sauce and broth used to braise or roast your Hanukkah brisket imparts a fruity flavor. To elevate a simple roast chicken to superstar status, serve it with a dollop of fresh cranberry chutney on the side. And when it comes to filling your sufganyot (Hanukkah donuts) do so with homemade tart cranberry preserves.

I could go on and on, and I am certain you also can come up with exciting cranberry concoctions on your own. I have included a few recipes to get you started. Drop me an e-mail with your favorite cranberry recipe and I’ll try to include it in a later column.

Have a Happy Hanukkah and a delicious Hanukkah feast.

Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of two. A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is currently working on a project to preserve the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at [email protected]

Cranberried Squash Puree

(Recipe adapted from Greene on Greens)

2 medium acorn squash, halved and seeded

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons dry red wine

2 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine, at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup fresh cranberries, rinsed and finely chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place squash halves on pan, cut sides down. Bake squash until tender, 40-45 minutes.

Remove pan from oven, turn squash over, and let cool 15 minutes.

Scoop flesh out of shell and place in a food processor or blender. Puree until smooth.

In the top of a double boiler, or a smaller pan resting on top of a larger pan of boiling water, combine pureed squash, brown sugar, red wine, butter, cinnamon, allspice, and pinch of salt. Cook for 5 minutes. Add cranberries and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning by adding salt and freshly ground black pepper, as desired.

Makes 4-6 side servings.

Cranberry Coconut Crisp

1 pound fresh cranberries

1 teaspoon water

2 tablespoons honey

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup unsweetened dried coconut

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled

Whipped cream or ice cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter 8-inch square baking pan.

Place cranberries and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stirring occasionally, cook berries until they just pop. Remove pan from heat and stir in honey. Reserve.

In a medium bowl, combine oats, flour, coconut, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Using a pastry blender, a fork, or the tips of your fingers, cut butter into dry ingredients until crumbly.

Layer half of oat mixture in bottom of prepared pan. Spoon reserved cranberry mixture evenly over dry ingredients. Top with remaining oat mixture. Place pan in oven and bake until crisp, about 45 minutes.

Serve individual bowls topped with whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream. Makes 6-8 servings.

Cran-Apple Raspberry Chutney

(Recipe adapted from The Whole Foods Market Cookbook)

1 pound fresh cranberries, finely chopped

2 Pippin or Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and finely chopped

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup apricot preserves

1- 10 ounce package frozen raspberries, thawed and drained in a colander

1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh mint

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine cranberries, apples, sugar, preserves, raspberries, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a glass or plastic mixing bowl. Using a wooden spoon, gently toss ingredients together until evenly combined. Refrigerate mixture for up to one hour.

Just before serving, fold in mint and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Use as a condiment for roast chicken or beef. Makes 6 cups.