Why is it that fresh cranberries are rarely seen beyond Thanksgiving? Their gorgeous color and wonderfully tart flavor are always welcome on my plate. Freeze them now (they hold up beautifully) and use them all year long in ways both familiar and unexpected.
Read on for step-by-step instructions for my Crisp Cranberry and Fennel Relish for Thanksgiving:
Photography by Laura Silverman for Gardenista.
Above: The cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) grows wild in North America and is also the major source of cultivated cranberries. There are 16th century accounts of Europeans coming ashore and being met by Native Americans bearing bark cups full of cranberries. Of course wild turkeys were not far behind.
Above: The astringency of cranberries is offset nicely by sweet red berries, like strawberries and raspberries. Try cooking these together with a little brandy and orange zest for an easy sauce to accompany roast pork, chicken or beef, not to mention turkey.
Above: Cranberries also have an affinity for more complex and robust spices. I make a roasted sauce infused with all my favorite flavors: fresh ginger and turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, red chile flakes, and jalapeño.
Above: Combine this with a little olive oil and apple cider vinegar, spread it on a parchment-lined pan and roast it quickly in a very hot oven. The cranberries swell and pop, the juices caramelize, and everything takes on an exotic, sultry sweetness.
Above: As different from a fresh cranberry as a raisin is from a grape, dried “craisins” have a delightfully chewy tang all their own. I combine them with toasted pecans, fresh popcorn and a hot mess of butter, cayenne, and maple syrup for a crunchy, gooey snack that is so addictive I call it simply “Crack.”
Above: If you find yourself with leftover fresh cranberries after Thanksgiving, drop a handful in to braise with your next pot roast or in a roasting pan of shredded purple cabbage spiked with balsamic vinegar. Or try baking them into a batch of oatmeal cookies to offset the richness of walnuts and bittersweet chocolate chips.
Above: For the big day itself (and the sandwiches that follow), a raw cranberry relish defies tradition but still manages to be a delicious Thanksgiving crowd-pleaser. Use a food processor to chop the unwieldy round berries along with crisp chunks of fennel and apple. Maple syrup, orange zest and pomegranate make this fresh mixture dance in your mouth. Visions of sugarplums to follow.
Crisp Cranberry and Fennel Relish
Makes about 6 cups
- 4 cups whole fresh cranberries
- 1 large fennel bulb, stalks removed
- 2 Fuji apples, peeled, cored and quartered
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- ¾ cup maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon piment d’Espelette
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 1 cup pomegranate seeds
Place cranberries in a large bowl. Quarter and core fennel, then thickly slice and add to bowl. Add apples, lemon juice, maple syrup, piment d’Espelette, and salt, and toss to combine.
Pulse the mixture in a food processor (in batches, if needed) until roughly chopped, stopping and scraping down sides to make sure pieces are the same size. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in orange zest and pomegranate seeds. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least two hours. Serve cold.
(The relish can be held in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for up to three days. Drain off excess liquid before serving.)
For more recipes and Thanksgiving suggestions, visit Laura’s blog, Glutton for Life.