Oranges and grapefruits, tangerines and clementines are ever present to brighten up our dreary winter months. But by January, I find that I’m getting bored with a surfeit of citrus and am looking around to try something new to perk up those 4 – 5 servings of fruit that nutritionists tell us we must have every day. This year I have determined to try some dried fruit. So here are some (pretty dry) facts about dried fruits:
- Dried fruit has had a long history. The ancient Egyptians dried grapes into raisins and the Phoenicians spread them around the Mediterranean basin. Figs and dates became staples of the Tigris-Euphrates civilizations and still are today. The portability and nutritious qualities of dried fruits contributed to the widespread popularity of the foodstuffs all over the world and, even today, astronauts and wilderness walkers still rely on dried fruits as convenient and healthy snacks.
- Most descriptions of the benefits of dried fruits linger on the antioxidant qualities of the skins and the fact that they are high in fiber and, thus, good for digestion. Dried fruits also contain all of the nutrients of fresh fruit, but are handily enclosed in a smaller package.
However — the first thing you may notice is that dried fruit doesn’t exactly fall under the category of eye candy. Most of it is pretty ugly, in fact, wizened and discoloured and wrinkly, with all of the depressing connotations of that description. (Am I the only person who thinks that dried apricots look like ears?) And, moreover, dried fruit has had some very bad press, suggesting that it is both high in calories and high in glycemic index, as well as being coated with and infiltrated with all sorts of dastardly chemicals and additives.
So, first of all, the good news. Dried fruit is a healthy snack or addition to salads or sauces, yogurt, muffins or breads. It is a much more nutritious snack than, say, Doritos or chocolate bars or gummy bears. The fruit remains high in nutrients, although the vitamin C sometimes deteriorates when exposed to the dry heat necessary for dehydration. And as for calories and sugar, they are pretty much equivalent to those in fresh fruit.
The reason that dried fruit is not considered a low calorie treat is simply because the actual drying of the fruit, the removing of its water content, causes the portion size to shrink by about three quarters so that one serving of dried fruit is much smaller in size than one serving of fresh. So, if you’re worried about calories, don’t grab a bag of raisins or prunes or dried apricots and start scoffing them down — one or two will do, as a treat. And be aware that some dried fruits such as cranberries or cherries or strawberries contain added sugar in the form of sucrose syrup. (Who could eat cranberries without sugar, anyway?)
As to additives, some dried fruit is treated with sulphur dioxide before drying in order to allow the fruit to retain its bright colour — golden raisins, for instance, and apricots. The sulphur dioxide can trigger asthma-like reactions in some people. And avoid dried fruit that looks impossible shiny — it will have had edible fats or oils added to make it appear glossy and succulent.
The glycemic index is a scale that rates foods from 1 – 100. Foods with a high glycemic index rating cause blood sugar to surge, making you feel quickly energized. But what goes up must come down, and after hitting the energy peak, your blood sugar quickly sags and you may experience a sugar crash or sudden fatigue. Raisins, for instance, are somewhat high on the glycemic index scale having a rating of 64 according to the Harvard Medical School. Dates are right in the middle. Prunes actually have a low glycemic index of 29. If you are worried about the glycemic index, there are many places on the Internet where you can check out the rating for each individual fruit.
Dried fruit is great to eat out of hand and is, of course, a natural to add to recipes for granola or muesli. It also adds a pleasant tang or sweetness to bland foods such as rice or bread pudding. But if you really like to cook, you may want to try an entrée that incorporates the fruit. This is one of my favorites, adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook.
adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook by blogger Jenn Segal, http://www.onceuponachef.com
2 chickens, 2 – 21/2 lbs each, quartered, bone-in, skin on
1/2 head garlic, peeled and finely purٞéed (about 8 cloves minced)
2 tbsp dried oregano
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup pitted prunes
1/4 cup Spanish green olives
1/4 cup capers with a bit of juice
3 bay leaves
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup white wine
2 tbsp. freshly chopped Italian parsley
1) In a large bowl combine garlic, oregano, salt and pepper, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers with juice and bay leaves. Add the chicken pieces and coat completely with the marinade. (Use your hands to rub marinade all over and under the skin.) Cover and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
2) Preheat the oven to 350 F.
3) Arrange the chicken in a single layer in two 9″ by 13″ baking dishes and spoon marinade over evenly. Sprinkle the chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.
4) Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting occasionally with pan juices. Chicken is done when thigh pieces, pricked with a fork, yield clear yellow juice (not pink).
5) With a slotted spoon transfer the chicken, prunes, olives and capers to a serving platter. Add some of the pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Makes 5 to 6 servings.
Chicken Marbella was created for the Silver Palate Cookbook in the 1980’s and inspired by a trip to Spain and Morocco. It became very popular in New York, particularly in the Jewish community where it remains a staple for dinner parties and Seders. The combination of flavours — sweet, salty, spicy and aromatic — are complex and delicious.