Behold the cranberry, a beautiful little berry that beckons with its deep red color, petite shape and merry, seasonal presence. It’s hard not to end up with a bag of cranberries in your cart when they’re displayed on every corner of the supermarket. But once you get fresh cranberries home, what the heck do you do with them?
Cranberries  are a challenging fruit. On one hand, they’re loaded with antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin K and manganese and are good for urinary tract and gastrointestinal health. On the other hand, the word “tart” is an understatement. But instead of considering this a drawback, think of cranberries as the ultimate palate cleanser. The tangy, tart flavor is a refreshing break when you’re eating heavy holiday food. If you accept cranberries for what they are and stop trying to change them by dumping tons sugar  on top, you might be surprised by how addictive they become.
Whether you opt for a cooked sauce or raw relish, cranberries can be served with dishes like pork or poultry or mixed into yogurt for dessert. While cranberries don’t need as much sugar as most recipes call for, you’ll probably want to add just a hint of sweetness to smooth out the tangy bite. This can be done with a drizzle of raw honey or by blending in a sweeter fruit like strawberry, orange, pear or mango.
When heated, cranberries pop open and become soft quickly. The texture is like a chunky jam and you can tilt the flavor in either a sweet or savory direction. Try adding black pepper or cinnamon or fresh herbs like basil and mint.
Raw cranberries can be chopped into a crunchy, zippy relish. A simple blend of raw cranberries and a whole orange is one option, but if you really want to wallop your taste buds with flavor, try a cranberry relish with an intense combination of flavors: spicy pepper, sweet orange and honey, aromatic cilantro and savory red onion. This relish is amazing with pork or turkey, either served on the side or tossed into a salad together.
These tart and sassy dishes are not for the timid, so make a decision to be bold this holiday season. Ditch the canned cranberries, say no to overly sweet sauces and celebrate the true flavor of cranberries.
Simmered Cranberry Sauce
- 3 cups fresh cranberries (12 ounces)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- sea salt to taste
- optional: raw honey or fruit and other flavors (see below)
In a saucepan over medium-high heat, simmer berries and butter for 8-10 minutes and then turn the heat down to medium or medium-low and simmer another 10-15 minutes. The cranberries will be soft and turn into a thick sauce. Add a pinch of sea salt to taste.
Sweeten the sauce by adding 1-2 tablespoons of raw honey, or add a small amount of pureed strawberries, pear, papaya or other fruit. Flavor with sauce with black pepper, cinnamon, vanilla or fresh herbs.
Spicy Cranberry Relish
- 2 cups fresh cranberries
- juice from 1 orange
- 1 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 jalapeno pepper or other hot pepper, roughly chopped
- 1/2 red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1-2 tablespoons raw honey
- pinch of sea salt
Blend all ingredients in the food processor until desired consistency is reached.
The relish seems to taste best when it’s left slightly chunky. Immediately after making it the flavor will be quite tart, but don’t add extra sweetener. Chill for several hours or over night and then taste again. The tartness will have mellowed. Add additional honey or orange juice to taste if needed.