by Cassie I. Story, RDN
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Growing up in the Midwest had its perks. Some of my fondest memories involve playing outside, picking various fruits and vegetables from our garden or neighboring woods. One of my favorite activities was running to the nearby bushes outside our family home to select berries for my mother to use in the morning breakfasts. Now that I’m living in the desert, I’m not awarded that same luxury. Sure we have gorgeous mountains to climb, and horizons that never end – but pluck-worthy produce is nonexistent.
Luckily, shipping has been perfected over the past several decades and for most of us, we are granted whatever produce we desire at any time of year. However, there is nothing quite like the taste of just-picked berries.
Berries are arguably the fruits that can be used in the widest variety of ways. Their use goes far beyond a simple side dish, and they can be incorporated seamlessly into any meal of the day. Most members of the family adore them, and regardless of what type of food preference or diet you are following, berries oftentimes get the green light.
They also come in a variety of forms. Dried, dehydrated or frozen, and they can be found on your shelf, in your refrigerator and even in your freezer all at once! Let’s explore the world of berries, and I hope this inspires you to try them in new ways.
The jewel of the berry family, these berries are one of the most popular fruits, and are available year-round in most areas. However, you have not lived until you have tried the small ones from your local farmers’ market when they are in season in your hometown.
Typically one good whiff of a fruit will let you know if it is ripe and ready to eat, but this is not the case with these favorite berries. Rely on the color — they should be bright red throughout and any green tips should be avoided as they will not continue to ripen after picked. Strawberries should be firm and have a slight shine to them, with fresh-looking green caps. Also, avoid any that look slimy or moldy as they are past their prime.
Keep them in the refrigerator with their green caps on. Just before you are ready to eat, place them in a colander and give them a good rinse, using your hands to slightly scrub any surface dirt off each berry. If you are using them in a recipe, let them dry on a paper towel. If not, simply remove the stems and get to eatin’!
• Add them to chopped baby greens, pecans,
feta and balsamic vinaigrette, then top with
mint or basil.
Sweetened-up side dish
• Cut in half and brush with oil; slightly sauté or grill and add a splash of fresh lemon juice to enhance their sweetness and add as a side to chicken or fish.
Second runner-up in the berry popularity contest is blueberries. These little guys can be used in a variety of ways, and they require no peeling or chopping! They have been used for centuries for their believed medicinal qualities, and to this day they are one of the most widely-studied foods. Headlines run almost weekly on their acclaimed health benefits.
Blueberries should follow their namesake and be bright blue. Avoid any packages that appear stained or damp. The size of the berry will vary based on what type of bush it comes from. Highbush (cultivated) and lowbush (wild) blueberries differ in taste. The larger berries are from the cultivated bush and tend to have a milder flavor than their smaller and more tart lowbush cousins.
Oftentimes, you can leave them in the refrigerator for several weeks in the plastic covered container they come in as long as they are firm and dry. Wash just before using and make sure to gently pat them dry if you are using them in a recipe.
Sauce for fish or chicken
• In a small sauce pan over medium heat add 1 tsp. of olive oil and sauté half of a minced shallot until see-through.
• Add 1 cup of fresh blueberries and cook for 3-4 minutes until the berries begin to break down and become fragrant.
• Add 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and reduce heat to medium-low, let simmer for an additional minute.
• Pour over cooked fish or chicken.
A Twist on Chocolate Dipped Berries
• Rinse 1/2 cup of fresh blueberries and pat dry (they should be slightly w et), then set aside.
• In a small plastic baggie add 1/2 tablespoon of dark cocoa powder; add blueberries, seal the bag and shake well until the berries are evenly coated.
• Place parchment paper on a large plate. Dump berries on the plate, but make sure they aren’t touching.
• Place in the freezer for about 30 minutes, remove and enjoy!
Often, blackberries are synonymous with pies, muffins or jams. These sometimes-overlooked berries are so much more than just pastry-filler. Sweet and tart blackberries are a delicious snack on their own, or you can pair them with cheese if you want your world to be rocked!
Blackberries are ready to eat when they are plump and almost black – they will also smell sweet and aromatic. Avoid packages with moldy or bruised fruit.
Their soft skin can lead these berries to bruise easily, so protect them by giving them plenty of space, and don’t stack other foods on top of them. Refrigerate them in their containers since they are sensitive to moisture, and do not store in plastic bags. Wash the blackberries just before use.
Blackberry pizza (No, I’m not kidding!)
• Choose your “pizza” base, either a whole-wheat tortilla or “flatout” bread (or pre-baked pizza dough – if using this, bake first before following the directions below).
• Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
• Brush the “pizza” base with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and evenly sprinkle 2 ounces of goat cheese, 1/3 cup chopped pistachios and 1/2 cup fresh blackberries on top.
• Place on baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes until cheese is slightly melted. Remove from oven and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of honey.
Tangy and Sweet Dessert
• Marinate 1/2 cup freshly rinsed blackberries with 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and 1 teaspoon of honey for 30 minutes at room temperature.
These little beauties contain almost triple the amount of fiber per serving as strawberries! If you are up for trying new foods, look for golden or black varieties, which differ in taste than the common red raspberries.
These tart berries should be bright red and plump, and they should also be fragrant and free of their hulls.
Store uncovered in the refrigerator, if possible in a single layer on a plate or tray. As with the other berries, wash just before eating. To get the most flavor out of these mini berries allow them to come to room temperature before eating.
• Add fresh raspberries to cooked whole oats and let sit for 5 minutes.
• Mix well. The heat from the oats will gently break the berries apart allowing naturally sweet and tart flavors to blend into each bite.
• Blend 1 cup of frozen raspberries with 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt (vanilla or coconut) and 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice until completely smooth.
• Transfer to a freezable container with lid, freeze for at least 4 hours and enjoy!
Family Recipe: Greek Yogurt
This recipe is a twist on two family favorites — popsicles and frozen yogurt!
1. Wash strawberries and let them dry, removing the stems.
2. Assemble your creation station. Fill a bowl with vanilla Greek yogurt.
3. Choose your toppings (get creative) – fill individual bowls of any number of the following items: chopped almonds, chopped dark chocolate covered espresso beans, mini semi-sweet chocolate chips, cereal, cocoa powder and/or cinnamon.
4. Gently insert cake pop sticks (found at a local craft store) into the base of the strawberry.
5. Spread greek yogurt onto the strawberry with a small spatula or butter knife.
6. Roll or sprinkle toppings onto each strawberry.
7. Place on a wax-lined plate or baking sheet (depending on how many you make).
8. Freeze for 1-3 hours. You want the yogurt to be firm before removing from freezer.
About the Author:
Cassie I. Story, RDN, is a dietitian who has been working with bariatric patients for the past 11 years. She also has her own food blog, www.WLSDailyPlate.com, to help inspire healthy eating following bariatric surgery. She enjoys cooking, hiking and spending time with her two daughters in Arizona.Ms. Story will also be presenting at the 5th Annual Your Weight Matters National Convention in the session “A Hands-on Approach to Nutrition.”