Trying to figure out what do with that chicken breast or pork chop? Take a look in your fruit bowl. The sweet flavors of fresh and dried fruits liven up a meaty main dish or even a veggie side.
Get recipes for Stuffed Pork Loin, Braised Red Cabbage With Pears (above), Mostarda Di Frutta, and Lamb Tagine below.
My first memorable experience with fruit in a savory dish was my mother's chicken curry. She served it with bowls of diced bananas, pineapple, raisins, mango chutney and segments of orange for toppings. The flavors of the fruit stood up to the robust spiciness of the curry and offered a wonderfully sweet note that really made the meal. It was a dish I could eat until I could eat no more.
I also recall pork chops with cinnamon-spiced applesauce on the side, and my grandmother sometimes gave us pickled pears, which we savored alongside fried chicken or macaroni and cheese.
Today, many Americans eschew combining sweet and savory flavors and typically reserve the sweet taste of fruit for dessert. This isn't true everywhere, though. Southeast Asian cuisines make great use of tropical fruit in savory dishes, adding mango, papaya and bananas to many dishes. Fruit such as figs, dates and apricots are common additions to Middle Eastern and North African main dishes.
Yet, I have a friend in Texas who is utterly opposed to the idea of cooking savory dishes with fruit. For her, sweet and savory simply don't belong together. Then again, she also insists on adding a bit of sugar to bitter greens such as collards and turnips ? something I consider antithetical to the idea of bitter greens. They should be bitter. So I question the purity of her prejudice.
But even our ancestral cuisines made great use of the combination. In the Middle Ages, sweet and savory were often combined, and the most common sweet was fruit. Minced meat pie is an example.
Although modern versions of mincemeat typically don't include meat, the original versions did. According to a recipe in the 16th-century English cookbook A Propre New Booke of Cokery, "Pyes of mutton or beif must be fyne mynced & seasoned with pepper and salte and a lytel saffron to colour it / suet or marrow a good quantitie / a lytell vynegre / pruynes / great [raisins] / and dates."
A 15th-century English manuscript offers a recipe for a fruit pie composed of figs, raisins and dates topped with salmon or eel. Another pie from the same collection combines pork, raisins, currants and prunes (main dish pies were hugely popular at that time). A German recipe from around 1350 stews chicken with quinces or pears.
Fruit hasn't completely disappeared from savory dishes in the West, and may even be staging a comeback. A Google search for "meat and fruit recipes" turns up nectarine sole, steak with apricot glaze; and meatloaf with mustard and dried fruit. Although I don't particularly like it, I have a good friend who adores Hawaiian pizza ? with Canadian bacon and pineapple.
Think about it: What can improve a perfect pear? Blue cheese. Or a perfect apple? Cheddar. The savory cheese complements and enhances the sweetness of the fruit. Spoon apple sauce on your latkes or make a blackberry gastrique (French sweet and sour sauce) and drizzle it over smoked turkey. I find fruit is best combined with pork or poultry (the slightly metallic taste of red meat doesn't always match fruit).There are, however, exceptions, such as lamb tagine with dried fruit or a grilled steak with mango salsa.
Savory doesn't necessarily mean meat. Add some dried fruit to a rice pilaf or couscous. Take a tip from the Greeks and roast potatoes with lemon juice. Add diced apples or pears to mashed turnips or rutabaga. Or garnish roasted Brussels sprouts with segments of tangerine.
During the summer months, fresh fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, cherries and apricots appear on my dinner plates as gastriques, salsas, purees and simply grilled fruit such as peaches and pineapple. When fall arrives, I turn to figs, apples and pears. In winter, the oranges, lemons and limes come in season ? supplemented by the dried fruits of earlier seasons.
The next time you're trying to figure out what do with that chicken breast or pork chop, take a look in your fruit bowl. That apple that's getting a bit long in the tooth may be just the thing to turn a boring turkey cutlet into something bright and new.
Stuffed Pork Loin
by Kevin D. Weeks
With the star of stuffing at the center of the roast, this is a truly elegant meal for company or some other special occasion. The stuffing features raisins and dried apples ? dried because they are more intensely flavored than fresh apple ? combined with fresh chorizo. The cream sauce does use fresh apples. For a bit more apple boost, add a splash of Calvados or apple brandy at the end. Use half of a whole pork loin (not a tenderloin) for this recipe.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1/2 cup Madeira
1/2 cup dried apples
1 link (4 ounces) fresh chorizo sausage, skinned and crumbled
1/2 small onion, finely diced
3 tablespoons raisins
1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons fresh, minced rosemary
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
3 to 3 1/2 pound pork loin
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
Heat oven to 275 degrees and position a rack in the center.
Heat Madeira just to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat, add dried apples and rehydrate for 30 minutes. Drain (reserving Madeira) and chop.
Brown sausage over medium heat and drain on a paper towel. Add diced onion to skillet and cook for about 2 minutes, scraping up browned bits.
Combine sausage, onion, apples, raisins, breadcrumbs, rosemary and parsley. Stir. Add reserved Madeira and mix well.
Tie pork loin halves of roast together to form a cylindrical roast (or have your butcher do it). Use a sharp carving knife to cut matching slits about 1-inch deep in top and bottom halves so that an X shape is formed. Using your fingers and a wooden spoon, force stuffing into the center of the roast.
Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add roast and brown on all sides and the ends ? about 2 minutes per side. Transfer roast to a rack in a roasting pan and place in oven. Roast for 60 to 80 minutes, until an instant read thermometer registers 145 degrees in the center for medium. Remove from pan to a cutting board and tent with foil for 15 minutes.
Slice and serve topped with Apple-Cream Sauce (below).
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large cooking apple (I prefer Braeburn), peeled and cut into 12 slices
1 medium shallot, sliced thinly
1/3 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons Madeira
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
2/3 cup heavy cream
Salt and Pepper
Splash of Calvados (optional)
Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat until it just begins to brown. Add apples and shallots. Cook until apples are golden brown on one side, then flip them over and brown other side. Remove to a plate.
Add chicken broth, Madeira, mustard and rosemary to skillet and reduce over medium-high heat by half. Add heavy cream, warm through, add salt and pepper to taste and Calvados if desired.
Braised Red Cabbage With Pears
by Kevin D. Weeks
Braised red cabbage is a wonderful side dish, delightfully matched with the flavor of pears. In this dish the pears are quickly sauteed in bacon grease. Fresh ginger, vermouth, coriander and pine nuts all complement the pears. The pears cooked with the cabbage will fall apart, so additional pears are added as a garnish and to provide a fresher taste. This dish is particularly good with pork, ranging from simple grilled chops to a loin roast.
Makes 6 servings
2 pears (slightly under-ripe)
2 tablespoons butter
3 strips bacon
1/2 large onion, peeled, halved and sliced into half-rounds
1 1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsley chopped
1/4 cup sweet vermouth (or other sweet red wine)
2 tablespoons pear (or cider) vinegar
5 teaspoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 small cabbage, sliced and cored (about 3 cups or 1 pound)
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Roasted pine nuts (optional garnish)
Peel, quarter and core both pears. Cut 4 quarters into 3 wedges. Dice the remaining pear. Keep separate.
Heat a saute pan or covered skillet over medium-high heat. Add butter and swirl to melt. Lay pear wedges in skillet and saute until lightly browned ? about 1 minute. Flip pears and cook another minute. Reserve pears.
Add bacon to pan and cook over medium heat to desired crispness. Drain bacon on a paper towel (keeping bacon fat in pan) and chop coarsley.
Add onions and ginger and saute until onions begin to brown, about 5 minutes.
Add vermouth and vinegar and deglaze pan. Stir in brown sugar and coriander. Add cabbage and diced pear and sprinkle with salt. Stir to mix ingredients. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
Serve garnished with bacon, sliced pears and optional pine nuts.
Mostarda Di Frutta
by Kevin D. Weeks
Mostarda di Frutta is a sort of sweet fruit relish from Italy ? a chutney, if you will. Although the word mostarda does derive from mustard seed, the connection is indirect because the original name referred to "fiery must" which was grape must cooked with mustard seed. At any rate, this condiment is traditionally served on boiled meats, white meats and sometimes dried sausages and cheese. It will keep for up to 10 days in the refrigerator.
Makes 2 cups
2 navel oranges
1 large lemon
2/3 cup honey
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 fresh rosemary sprig
1 1/2 tablespoons dry mustard
1 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 tablespoon dry vermouth
Wash fruit thoroughly.
Trim 1/2 inch from each end of the orange, exposing the flesh. Then score, top to bottom, just through the skin and pith to the fruit at 1/4-inch intervals. Peel skin and pith from flesh (reserving fruit for another use). Repeat with lemon. Cut strips of peel in half-inch lengths.
Bring 3 cups of water to a boil, add peels, return to a boil and cook 1 minute. Drain into a fine-mesh sieve and run under cold water to cool. Pat dry with paper towel.
Bring honey and 1/4 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add peels and reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 50 minutes until peels are semi-translucent and liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup.
Drain peels in a sieve, reserving liquid. Spread peels on a sheet of parchment or foil and cool.
Combine 1/2 cup cold water, sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is clear and slightly reduced. Add rosemary, remove from heat, cool for 15 minutes then discard rosemary. Stir in honey mixture.
Whisk together vermouth, dry mustard and mustard seed in a very small saucepan and cook until mixture is thick and smooth ? stirring constantly ? about 2 minutes. Whisk into syrup mixture.
Put peels in a 2-cup, heat-proof lidded jar. Pour in syrup (discarding any not needed). Seal jar and refrigerate for at least 6 hours and up to 10 days.
by Kevin D. Weeks
Tagine refers both to a cooking vessel and to the dishes cooked in it. Both originate in North Africa (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) and involve braising meats in a terra cotta, cone-shaped cooker, traditionally over a charcoal fire. The cone shape of the tagine top captures evaporating juices and returns it to the pot, enhancing flavors. Fruit is a frequent component of savory dishes in this area, and dried fruits, because of durability and portability, are often used. Because not everyone has a tagine, this recipe uses the more common Dutch oven.
Makes 6 servings
2 cups plain, whole-milk yogurt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon ground sumac (available in ethnic sections of the supermarket)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground, dried ginger
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 1/2 pounds lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and diced
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup chopped dried figs
1/2 cup pitted prunes
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1 thinly sliced lemon
1/2 cup pitted, halved Kalamata olives
Cooked couscous or rice
Thoroughly combine marinade ingredients in a large zippered bag. Add lamb and refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours. Turn over every now and then to redistribute marinade.
Heat oven to 275 degrees. Drain marinade from lamb and reserve. Pat lamb dry with paper towels.
Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add half the lamb and brown on all sides. Reserve to a plate and brown remaining lamb. Also reserve.
Reduce heat to medium and saute onion until translucent. Add remaining ingredients and 1/2 cup of reserved marinade. Combine chicken broth with 1/2 cup marinade. Add enough broth/marinade to come halfway up the meat (about 1/2 inch).
Cover and place in oven. Cook 1 hour. Stir mixture and cook another hour. Repeat once more for a total cooking time of 3 hours.
Serve over couscous or rice.
About The Author
After working as editor of various computer magazines, Kevin D. Weeks is now a personal chef in Knoxville, Tenn. Weeks also teaches cooking classes, is the guide to Cooking for Two at About.com, and blogs at Seriously Good.