Friday, 8 August 2014

Recipe: Dressing up the Fruit Salad

A checkerboard of blueberries, strawberries and
blackberries this week at Steve & Dan's market stall

berries at the market
Much ado has been made about berries at the market recently... and for good reason! The fruit vendors' tables are brimming with baskets of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries. Often arranged in a checkerboard, they are a feast for the eyes, an explosion for the tastebuds, and an enticing beauty to behold.

Fresh apricots, like these from AIG, are wonderfully sweet
 and so very unlike their taste and texture once dried.
Then there are the wonderful summer fruits that are coming in now... those cherries, nectarines, plums, peaches, apricots and melons. Put any combination of these together and you have the fixings for some downright delicious, very beautiful and extremely healthy, no-cook (a.k.a. no-heating-up-the-kitchen) summertime desserts.

the humble fruit salad
Nectarines, like these from Red Apple, are one of my
 favourite summer fruits. Use them firm and they are tart
and crunchy. Let them ripen up and soften up and they are
 sweet, juicy flavour bombs!
For a few years, my Great, Great Aunt Gertie lived with us in my childhood home. My grandfather's aunt, she grew up on a farm near Stayner, in southwestern Ontario, and one of the traditions that she stuck to like glue over the years was her desire to end every meal with "a little something sweet." Clearly, the fact that she lived a very l-o-n-g life shows that this little indulgence didn't do her in! I mean, really! Who lives to see themselves the great, great aunt of a teenaged descendent!?

Little, being the operative word, mom would often cut up oranges and bananas and put them in a small ramekin, add a splash of orange juice and a sprinkle of sugar and voilĂ ! Fruit Salad was ready very quickly, and it fit the bill. When she wanted to make it fancy, she'd add a sprig of mint leaves on the side as a garnish.

why are fruits healthy?

Steve & Dan's stall is piled with gorgeous fresh fruit.
Fruits are, by and large, deeply hued and vibrantly coloured foods. Generally speaking, in nature, when it comes to foods, the brighter the colour, the more antioxidants, vitamins, phytonutrients and flavonoids they contain. Chock-full of nutrition, they are low in calories by weight and high in fibre. And you can find some excellent BC and local fruits up at the market.

Many fruits make The 150 Healthiest Food on Earth list in Jonny Bowden's book of the same name. The fruits that make his list that are available at our market are apples, apricots, blueberries, cantaloupes, cherries, grapes, honeydew melons, peaches, raspberries, pears, and watermelon.

Cherries are cancer fighters. A cherry is "loaded with anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, anticancer compounds that don't show up on your average nutrition facts label. The cancer-fighting agents in cherries include a flavonoid called quercetin, as well as ellagic acid and perillyl alcohol."
Blueberries at Red Apple

Raspberries are fibre powerhouses.
Raspberries have the ellagic acid as well and they are, per calorie, one of the most high fibre foods on the planet! Apparently, "you have to eat more than 100 calories' worth of black beans to get the same amount of fibre." Raspberries also contain anthocyanins that help to minimize pain and inflammation with arthritis.

Blueberries are brain food.
Containing "compounds like anthocyanin that are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory," they help to reduce the effects of Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes, heart disease and conditions of aging like arthritis. They help reduce eye strain and improve night vision. Bowden emphasizes, "These compounds by themselves would be enough to land blueberries on anyone's list of super foods. But blueberries do even more. They actually help neurons in the brain communicate with one another more effectively." Enhancing your brain's "signalling" ability, blueberries are the "ultimate memory food."

Melon's are a dieter's best friend.
Watermelons and Cantaloupes are coming in from the fields
Many fruits also contain a lot of water. Foods with a high volume, but low calorie count, like the cantaloupe and honeydew melon, with 90% of their volume coming from water, really do help to keep you satiated, feeling full and not deprived, in any weight loss endeavour. Bowden writes, "research study after research study [has shown] that water in melon goes a long way toward filling you up...water in foods seems to do this more than water that you drink alongside foods. Hence melons and soups do a better job of controlling appetite than solid food plus a glass of water." Cantaloupe also lowers your risk of high blood pressure and stroke and its vitamin A helps you to boost your immune system and ward off infections. Honeydew is a potassium superstar which really helps to lower rates of heart disease and stroke.

dressing up the fruit salad
Uninspired by a simple mint leaf garnish? There are many, many ways to dress up a fruit salad. You can:
  • add a dusting of icing sugar and an edible flower garnish (like pansies or nasturtiums) 
  • put the berries over a scoop of gelatto, sorbet or ice-cream
  • top with a wonderfully tart and refreshing lemon sauce (see the recipe below)
  • nestle the berries in a bed of "fruit soup" (essentially a smoothie, made without ice, served in a bowl)
  • nestle the berries in a bed of "fruit gazpacho"(essentially a smoothie made with ice, served in a bowl)
  • fill a half melon (like a small cantaloupe) with fruit salad and you have fruit salad in a natural & beautiful edible bowl
  • top with a dollop of your favourite yogurt and drizzle with a scant pour of caramel sauce
  • arrange bite sized pieces of fruit on a platter and serve with a fruit dip, like a favourite yogurt, on the side
  • then, let's just say you have a batch of jam that doesn't gel properly (yup, it happens to the best of us!)... drizzle it on top of a dollop of yogurt to cap your salad off with a beautiful crown
  • take a mortar and pestle and squash a few mint leaves into a little fruit sugar and sprinkle sparingly on top of your berries
  • bake a meringue nest and fill it with a combination of your favourite chopped market fruit and whole berries, lightly toss with lemon sauce (see recipe below), and top with yogurt (or decadent whip cream)
lemon syrup for a fresh fruit salad
The key to making a great fruit salad is that you don't mess with the inherent beauty of a berry: you don't mess with its structure (it needs to remain firm and not mushy), you don't mess with its colourful beauty (you still need to see its intense colour and distinctive geometrical shape) and you enhance (not disguise) its deliciously sweet or tart flavour. And this recipe does just that.

1/3 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 c. water
2 tablespoons sugar

Combine the lemon juice, water and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Drizzle your fruit salad with syrup and toss gently. Chill in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours. This syrup will work with approximately 8 cups of fruit.

Use any fruit you'd like, from berries through to stone and cored fruits. Don't remove the skins, as many of the nutrients are contained there. The key to serving a healthful and nutrition-filled dessert is to use any sugar enhanced item sparingly.

where can you find ingredients at our market?
  • Steve & Dan's Fresh BC Fruit, Red Apple BC Fruit and AIG all have wonderful fruit 
  • Cravings, Gelato has iced gelato in an amazing array of flavours, many of which go really well with a fruit salad. My personal favourite is their lemon-mint.
Syrup Recipe from Healthy Desserts, by Culinary Notebooks
Nutritional information from The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, by Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., C.N.S.
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Contributed by Sheri Hendsbee

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