For a short time during high school, I was an addict.
A fruit leather addict.
An apricot fruit leather addict.
After tennis practice, on my way home from school, I'd dig into my backpack and pull out a roll. Every bite tickled the back of my mouth, and I couldn't get enough of it.
My addiction to apricot leather lasted only a few months, but I loved -- and still love -- almost every type of dried fruit, and I always have raisins, craisins (Ocean Spray's clever name for dried cranberries), dried cherries, prunes, figs and apricots in The Perfect Pantry.
Dried fruits are available all year round, not just in fruit season, and drying concentrates the flavor and natural sugars in the fruit. Since high concentrations of sugar ward off bacteria, dried fruit can last up to a year without refrigeration.
Sulfur (or sulphur) dioxide is sometimes added to fruit to improve its shelf life and color. If you're allergic to sulfites, or if they give you a bit of the rooty-toot-toot, be sure to read ingredient labels carefully. Look for unsulfured dried fruit at health food stores, at Trader Joe's, and sometimes in the organic product aisle of your local supermarket. Or, try boiling dried fruit for a minute or so, then draining off the liquid, to mitigate the strength of the sulfur.
Dried fruits lend their concentrated sweetness to both sweet and savory recipes.
Sweet potato, lentil and raisin stew
A wonderful vegan main dish, this recipe, which also can be made with butternut squash and chickpeas, serves 6.
1/2 cup brown lentils
1 onion, finely chopped
1-1/2 cups water
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp harissa, or more to taste (I use lots more -- up to 2 Tbsp)
1 tsp paprika
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp honey or agave nectar, or more to taste
1 tsp kosher salt, or more to taste
3/4 tsp black pepper, or more to taste
2 sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup golden raisins
Grated zest of one lemon, or rind of one preserved lemon, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon, if needed
4 tsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Rinse the lentils in a sieve. Place in a Dutch oven with onion and 1 cup water. Cover and bring to a simmer over low heat, and cook for 20 minutes.
In the meantime, in a small nonstick frying pan, heat the oil over low heat. Add garlic, saute for 15 seconds, then add cumin, turmeric, harissa, paprika, tomato paste and sugar, and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes until it forms a dark, aromatic paste. Add the spice paste to the lentils, along with salt and pepper.
After the lentils have cooked for 15 minutes, add the sweet potatoes and raisins, plus an additional half cup of water. Continue cooking for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the potatoes from sticking. Add the lemon zest and half of the parsley. Cook until lentils and sweet potatoes are done (add more water if necessary). Taste and adjust seasoning with lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper as needed. Garnish with remaining parsley, and serve over couscous.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Lentils with spinach and preserved lemon
Tagine of chicken with prunes and almonds
Split pea, sausage and preserved lemon soup
One-of-everything lentil soup
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