Pick-Your-Own: a Guide to Dried Fruit

by Lisa Thompson




Dried Fruit

If your dried fruit repertoire begins and ends with oatmeal raisin cookies, this guide is for you. I have appreciated a myriad of dried fruits all my life, long before I got married and changed my last name to one that’s shared with a variety of raisin.

Dried fruit is a great way to add a little sophistication to simple meals and, unlike fresh fruit, has a long shelf-life, which makes it easy and economical to stock your pantry with a few varieties. Some of the most delicious world cuisines, such as Persian, North African, and Indian, are packed with bold spices and dried fruits. And the world of divine patisserie also frequently calls on dried fruit, dates in English sticky toffee pudding, apricots or dates in Middle Eastern baklava, figs in French mendiants, and even Polish kompot, a sweet drink made with any combination of dried fruit you have available. 

There is a reason sommeliers often use dried fruit to describe tasting notes, they are familiar and inviting. I have provided a few suggestions on how to incorporate some of these little gems into your life (sweet and savory!), aside from packing them into your kid’s lunchbox.

When it comes to dried fruit, inspiration is ripe for the picking. 

Raisins. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned raisins are a very polarizing ingredient. There are a few varieties of these dried grapes available on shelves these days, and the difference between them often depends on the process by which they were dried. Golden raisins are made from green grapes and maintain their golden color with the help of an antioxidant agent. Dark purple raisins can be made from both purple or green grapes, but are not treated with antioxidants and are dried over a longer period of time. Whichever color you choose, you can tuck them into a buttery rice pilaf, Sicilian eggplant caponata, or a hearty raisin bread.

Apricots. Dried apricots come in several shades of coral-y orange, based on whether or not you choose sweetened or unsweetened, sulphured or unsulphured. Not all markets carry floral, fresh apricots, so the dried version is a perfect way to access them. Apricots pair beautifully with vanilla, pistachios, and bold spices. One of my favorite ways to prepare dried apricots is to make a simple stovetop chutney, simmered with water, a little honey, and sherry vinegar until soft and jammy, which is a perfect addition to any cheese and cracker board.
Dates. A modern success story if there ever was one. Dates have been grown for centuries (there are references of dates in the bible and the Quran) and touted for their nutritional benefits. Dates grow in the dry climates of Southern California and the Middle East and are more often consumed dried than fresh. These days, people are singing their praises and getting creative with these nutritional little giants. I love to infuse store-bought date syrup with toasted cardamom to jazz up my afternoon coffee. Or gussy up plump medjool dates with goat cheese and wrap in prosciutto. 
Cranberries. These ruby red morsels usually shine around the winter holidays, popping up in everything from crisp-topped stuffing on Thanksgiving tables, in baked goods scented with orange zest, or sprinkled atop seasonal salads. One thing to remember is that fresh cranberries are extremely tart and astringent, meaning the dried varieties often contain a lot of added sugar. Look for ones sweetened with apple juice as an alternative.
Figs. These earthy beauties have crunchy little seeds that add texture and sweetness to upgrade the classic chicken marbella, spiked with briny olives and capers. Skip the snack aisle and create a batch of wholesome homemade granola bars, using a paste made from dried figs to act as a binding agent and natural sweetener.
Prunes. Hear me out: prunes are not just for your grandparents. These regal dried Damson plums maintain a juicy quality and pair perfectly with chocolate in a cake, and frequently appear in tagine, a heady spiced stew traditionally made with chicken, roasted almonds, and cinnamon. Prunes are so influential, they even have a color named after them (which was the Sherwin-Williams paint color of the year in 2014, by the way).
Ready to try something new? 
Dried Raspberries. These are great because they typically have more tartness than raisins, and maintain a deliciously chewy bite when used in place of dried cranberries or raisins in baking recipes such as bread pudding and oatmeal cookies. Try adding a handful to your morning yogurt with honey.

Goji Berries. While these antioxidant-packed dried berries are a stalwart in health-food stores, many people love them simply for snacking out of hand. They can also contribute their vibrant pinkish-orange color and tartness to a batch of these superfood bars.

Barberries. Intensely sour and a stunning shade of vermillion, these small dried berries are a staple in Persian cooking and add an addictively tart bite to herby grain salads and stewed chicken dishes.

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