Tasty, healthy dried fruits in winter (Who knew?) | The Jewish Star

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By Joni Schockett

It is winter and my doctor just told me to concentrate my fruit eating on blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries for the best nutritional value with the fewest calories. Wow — blueberries in January!

Years ago, fresh fruits were not as readily available as they are now. We could never get strawberries or fresh blueberries in January when I was a kid — unless someone mortgaged the house. So we went without most fresh fruits, except oranges and grapefruits and, of course, bananas.

When we could not get fresh fruits, my mother substituted dried fruits. I was probably the only kid in third grade who got prunes, figs and dates on the rare occasions when we ate lunch in school. We went home for most lunchtimes and so I got to bear the shame of having to eat a dried fig all alone, while I envisioned my friends happily eating cookies or other “normal” kid food! I longed to be in their homes and would have gladly given my dried figs and prunes to anyone who would dare take them.

But kids grow up and, eventually, I found myself liking dried figs and prunes and apricots and incorporating them into my cooking. I added dried prunes and red plums with apricots to a chicken dish. I added dried raisins to chocolate chip cookies and snipped apricots into oatmeal cookies. I made a recipe with apricots and prunes in a coffee cake and then added snipped figs and even tiny pieces of candied ginger. It was a hit.

I never thought about the nutritional value of dried fruits. In fact, I learned just the opposite, that they were very high in calories and sugar. So, instead of eating one of my favorite snacks of dried, chopped apricots, dried cherries, and slivered almonds, I substituted crackers and peanut butter! Bad move both calorically and nutritionally.

Today, we know better and we know much more about nutrition. Dried fruits are powerhouses of nutrition and contain lots of phytonutrients, vitamins and fiber. People say dried fruit has too much sugar, but two dried apricot halves have the same amount of sugar as a fresh one. The serving size, however, is much smaller, so people tend to eat more than the two halves, which increases calories and sugar content. While you may not eat 3 or 4 apricots, you may very well eat 5 or 6 dried apricot halves; thus, the calorie/sugar problem.

A way around the high calories, besides watching portions, is to choose dried fruits that do not have any added sugar. Apricots are pears are fairly low sugar, as are apples, goji berries and blueberries. Cherries are also fairly low in sugar and are loaded with nutrients, and prunes have lots of antioxidants and are more effective at relieving constipation than laxatives.

Some of the best dried fruits are really exceptionally healthful. Goji berries are said to help fight flu, and they have strong antibacterial properties. Raisins are high in potassium and may help improve blood glucose. It has been shown that dates may help in late pregnancy to reduce the need for labor induction. Cherries are have tons of quercetin and anthocyanins which help prevent cancer and some inflammatory diseases. Tart cherries help prevent bone loss. They are great in a sweet dessert like cookies. Wild blueberries are great in muffins and even waffles.

All in all, dried fruits were a great substitute for unavailable fresh fruits decades ago. Now they are a delicious and healthful addition to our diets and great snacks for kids. 

Chicken with Dried Winter Fruits (Meat) 

You can add any dried fruits to this including figs, pineapple, cherries and more. In addition, you can add other spices and savory ingredients like olives, potatoes, green and red peppers and more. This is a basic dish that can easily become your signature dish with your own additions.

1 chicken, cut into eighths or 4 chicken breasts or 8 thighs

1 box dried apricots, about 10 to 12 ounces

1 box dried prunes about 10 to 12 ounces

1 box dried plums about 10 to 12 ounces

1 cup orange juice

1 to 2 cups chicken stock

1 head garlic, cloves peeled and minced about 8 to 10 cloves garlic

2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar

4 Tbsp. canola oil

1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced

Additional 3 Tbsp. canola oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the fruit and orange juice and let sit for about 15 minutes in a large bowl. Stir every so often. Mix the chicken stock, brown sugar, and garlic in a small bowl. Pour into the larger bowl. Mix. Combine the fruit and juice, the garlic, brown sugar, salt and pepper and canola oil in a large bowl.

Slice the onion and toss with the canola oil. Place in a layer in the bottom of a roasting pan. Place the fruit over the onions, using a slotted spoon. Place the chicken over the fruit and then drizzle the additional oil over the chicken pieces. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Pour the liquid around the chicken.

Bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for an hour. Place the chicken pieces on a platter and pour the pan juices into a serving bowl. Skim off the fat and serve with the fruit. Serves 4.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Apricots and Prunes (Dairy) 

This is a delicious cake that is warm and comforting. A friend gave it to me many years ago and, over the years, I added the topping and more fruit. 

CRUMB TOPPING:

3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 Tbsp. white sugar

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

2 Tbsp. melted butter

BATTER:

3/4 cup snipped dried apricots (gently packed)

3/4 cup snipped pitted prunes (gently packed)

2 Tbsp. flour

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/4 cup vegetable shortening (you can use all butter and omit this)

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1 cup sour cream 

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

2-1/4 cups unbleached flour

3 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

pinch salt

Combine topping ingredients and set aside.

Combine the snipped apricots (I use a pair of small kitchen scissors for this and snip each apricot or prune into about 3 or 4 pieces) and prunes with the 2 tablespoons of flour. Toss well and set aside.

Combine the flour, salt, baking powder and soda and set aside.

Cream the butter and the shortening with an electric mixer. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each. Add the flour mixture alternating with the sour cream beginning and ending with the flour. Add the vanilla and beat well. Remove the bowl from the stand and fold in the fruit, distributing evenly.

Grease and flour a tube pan, line the sides with waxed paper and grease the waxed paper. Pour half the batter into the pan. Spoon half the crumb mixture onto the batter and spoon the remaining batter over the crumbs. Spoon the rest of the crumbs over the top and gently press into place.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes, or until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs. Sprinkle a little powdered sugar over the top, if desired. Serves 10 to 12.

Date-Nut Mini Cakes (Pareve)

This is a favorite of my son who likes to eat “healthy. He asked that I leave out the sugar, but it needs some, so use as much as you like. Very simple to make; just use a small spoon to fill the mini-cups.

6 extra large eggs

1/4 to 1 cup sugar

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 Tbsp. finely grated orange zest

18 ounces dates, chopped (you can buy chopped dates or brick packed, chopped fresh dates)

3 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a mini-muffin tin with pareve margarine or non-stick spray and set aside.

In a food processor, chop the dates and nuts to a uniform, small size, about one-sixteenth to one-eighth inch in size. Set aside.

Place the eggs and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until light. Add the vanilla and the orange zest. Beat just to blend completely. 

Remove the bowl from the stand and add the dates and nuts. Mix well with a spoon. Spoon the mixture into the mini tins, filling each three-quarters full. Bake at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes.

Cool, remove from the tins, place in a plastic bag and freeze some for later. This will make about 5 to 6 dozen mini-cakes.

NOTE: You can add lots of dried fruits to this. Chopped figs, chopped, dried sour cherries, chopped dried apples, dried currants, and more, add delicious flavors of to these. You can also add things like sesame seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and more.

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