Simmered Cranberry Sauce and Spicy Cranberry Relish

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.

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34 thoughts on “Simmered Cranberry Sauce and Spicy Cranberry Relish”

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  1. Oh no! I wish I saw this before I made my breakfast of turkey meatballs with cranberry sauce this morning. I sweetened my sauce slightly with stevia, but I actually liked the sauce better when it was sour! (as listed on this recipe). Now I know what to do for next time!

  2. Hmm! I love the idea of the first… but the second, cranberries and cilantro? What an interesting idea…

  3. Our favorite is 2 bags of cranberries, one sweet apple, and 2 oranges. Just pop in the food processor and then chill overnight. Sometime we add some honey but most of the time we don’t have to.

  4. I made a homemade, no sugar added cranberry sauce for my first Paleo Thanksgiving this year. I used a bag of thawed cranberries, one peeled orange, one peeled lemon, one peeled/cored apple, and one bag of unsweetened dates. I just threw it all in the food processor. It was sooo delicious! I went and bought extra cranberries for the freezer so I could make it all year. Now I have to fight my hubby for what little is left from Thursday!

  5. Both look so yummy.

    The cranberry sauce is similar. I use a combination frozen organic cranberries and blueberries – and also some whole orange, chopped up, and some fresh squeezed OJ too. That way, there was no need for additional sweetening.

  6. Since going primal I find I now enjoy food that I never could before without sweeteners. Raw cranberries and unsweetened chocolate are 2 such foods. Mark’s simmered cranberry sauce looks like a must-try recipe.

  7. A great trick I use to cut the tartness of cranberry sauce without over-sweetening is to add some calcium carbonate. Its the same active ingredient as in antacids and will neutralize the acidity of cranberry just as effectively. You can usually find it in powder or tablet form at any vitamin/supplement store. Just mix in a little at a time while simmering and taste it to get the right balance.

    1. @Jim,

      your baking soda trick works!
      a little salt + baking soda take the tart edge off so i can use less sugar/honey.


  8. Calcium carbonate — interesting idea.

    I make mine with stevia leaf. And basically, if you heat up fruit and sweetener, you are making jam, even if we call it cranberry sauce;)

    It’s still great with turkey.

  9. That’s one of my favorite things about this time of year, my home made, raw cranberry/orange relish. It’s so refreshing I can almost feel it going direct to the bloodstream! I’ll have to try adding pepper, though, sounds luscious, thanks.

  10. Great ideas. I am looking for a good cranberry recipe to post on my paleo food blog (tis the season for cranberries). I like how simple the cranberry, orange, and apple recipe is.

    Thanks for the inspiration everyone!

  11. Interesting new recipes! Gonna try em all. Doesn’t have to be the holidays to eat these, ya know! 🙂 Cheers!

    1. My favorite is from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food Great Food Fast cookbook (p. 329): Green Beans with Carmelized Shallots.

      Carmelize 6 shallots in butter (or fat of choice) over medium heat for 15-20 minutes and drizzle over 1 lb. of green beans (boiled in salted water for 4-6 minutes & drained). Toss with butter (or fat of choice), salt & pepper. I can’t tolerate butter so I use olive oil, liberally.

      Beautiful & Delicious!

  12. I did a cranberry sauce much like this for Thanksgiving and added a couple of small boxes of raisins to add some sweetness. I’ll be making this more than once a year.

  13. Awesome – I used to love Cranberry Juice, but it was always so hard to find stuff that wasn’t overloaded with sugar. It’s amazing how quickly your taste buds adapt to lower sugar foods when you let them do it – whilst the tart taste can be difficult at first, it gets better until you reach a point where adding sugar tastes just as bad as not having sugar did to begin with!

  14. Hrm I’m going to have to convince my hub to let me play with the family cranberry salsa recipe so hopefully I can sweeten it without sugar. Our recipe is:
    1 12 oz package of cranberries
    1 medium fresh jalapeño
    2 green onions chopped finely
    1 tsp dried or fresh cilantro
    1/2 tsp cumin
    1/2 cup sugar
    Coarsely chop cranberries and jalapeno in food processor (consistency of pico de gillo). Mix first five (5) ingredients. Add sugar. Store in a nonmetal bowl.
    Just an FYI, the original recipe called for a full cup of sugar but I only use 1/4 cup most of the time

  15. Here’s my absolute favorite – thanks to NPR…
    2 cups whole cranberries (1 bag)
    1 small onion
    (here the original recipe calls for 1/2 cup sugar – try honey or Stevia instead)
    3/4 cup sour cream
    2 Tablespoons prepared horseradish

    Chop onion and cranberries (don’t puree, it should be a bit chunky), add all the other ingredients and then pop it into the freezer. Take it out in the morning and let it thaw almost completely. It’s best if there are still slivers of ice when served. This relish is great with turkey, roast beef, and I love it on meatloaf!

  16. I made the sauce, and it’s pretty good. Intense though. I’d recommend it swirled in some Greek yogurt.

    1. Greek yogurt instead of the sour cream sounds delish… going to try that next time I make it. You might also want to play around with different horseradish – I used homegrown horseradish this year, instead of the prepared stuff, and it was much milder.

  17. I make raspberry jam with coconut water (which is naturally sweet-ish); I’m not sure if it would work with cranberries, though, but I like the CaCO3 idea

  18. The cranberry sauce came out great! I burned the cranberries a bit, because there wasn’t enough liquid in the pan (and I get distracted easily), but it didn’t effect the taste. I added chopped dried figs. Yum.

  19. This article inspired me to get some cranberries. I have a couple of bushels of Northern apples that I ordered from a friend–if you’ve ever eaten 1 of the 3 soft varieties the stores allow us to have in Florida, you’d know right quick why I order them from up North.
    So I juiced an apple and cooked the cranberries in that, added all those winter spices-cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and sweetened it with honey. It was fabulous! Better the next day because the natural bitter flavor from the cranberries went away. I ate it with a spoon the 1st day. Then I ate it in my homemade yogurt. I ate it on my homemade sausages. Finally, I mixed what was left into vinegar and mustard, more spices, and turned it into a BBQ sauce for the roast pork.

  20. the relish is going to go great w/ the tacos i’m making! has a very mexican flavor to it.

    1. just wanted to return and say that the relish was awesome w/ my bison tacos! added some baking soda and idk if that was the cause, but the relish wasn’t overly tart at all and i didn’t use any honey. (i did throw in a few dates insteads)

  21. Just tried the first recipe–the berries did not turn into a paste (maybe they have to be in water too?) but basically pan fried. I blended up two Fuyu persimmons and it is very sweet and delicious! Colorful, too, with the cranberries looking like raisins in the mix., or I suppose you could blend the whole thing if you wanted a spread. I can also imagine frying up some almond slices (or other nuts) in butter and adding it for a crunch. I’m so happy to find a way to not add sugar to cranberries!