Healing Kitchen

Fresh from the Market: Strawberries
In strawberry-growing language, there are three basic types of strawberry "cultivars": June-bearers (plants that fruit only in late May and June), ever-bearers (those that produce in June and then again in late summer), and Day-neutrals, plants that produce all summer long, starting in June. So, although it is entirely possible to get local strawberries all summer long (and imported strawberries the rest of the year), the time to find domestically grown strawberries in the greatest abundance-and thus at the best prices--is June, when all three of the cultivar types are producing.

Although price and availability are two pretty good reasons to seek these delicious berries out, this is also a good time of year to take advantage of the fruit's health benefits: Strawberries have only 43 calories a cup but lots of dietary fiber, vitamin C (more than any other berry), and manganese, as well as some folate (folic acid) and potassium. Strawberries also rank very high on the list of fruits with antioxidant power (they are second only to blueberries) and are an excellent source of ellagic acid, a phytochemical that helps combat carcinogens.

Strawberry Tips
One thing that most people neglect to do when they've bought strawberries is to store them properly. The first thing you should do is to take them out of their cramped store container. Then they should be stored without washing (storing wet strawberries promotes mold and rot), with their caps still on, in a single layer, in the refrigerator. Don't rinse them until just before using.

If you're just going to serve the strawberries as is, whole, you don't need to remove the caps. Just rinse the strawberries, drain well, and serve. You can put out little dipping bowls of maple sugar or honey, and people can dip the strawberries into the sweetener at the table. A nice (if indulgent) thing to own is an old-fashioned strawberry bowl, which is basically a porcelain (or other ceramic) colander; look in nice cookware stores or maybe flea markets to find them. You rinse the strawberries in the bowl, drain them, and serve straight from the bowl.

If you're preparing strawberries for cooking, on the other hand, you have to remove the cap and the hull, which is the cone-shaped, not especially flavorful, part of the strawberry inside the berry, attached to the cap. There are special little gadgets called "hullers" you can use to remove the hull, or you can use the tip of a vegetable peeler or a sharp paring knife to sort of carve it out. You can certainly leave it in, but it's kind of like cooking with unripe strawberries: It takes up space and adds no flavor.

If you have access to a good, relatively cheap source of strawberries, you could always buy a lot and freeze some for later. The frozen berries won't be much to look at when they're thawed, so you won't want to serve them on their own, but they'll be fine in prepared dishes. To freeze strawberries, cap and hull them, then place them in a bowl of mostly ice and some water for about 15 minutes. This lowers their temperature so the freezing will go faster. Then drain them well and spread them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet. When they're frozen solid, pack them into airtight freezer containers.

The Recipes
If you're at all familiar with The Healing Kitchen, you probably know by now that we don't like to do anything "expected." So when we started thinking about strawberries, we wanted to steer away from desserts and try something a little more unusual, a little more challenging.

This led us to the idea of using strawberries in a salad: We would use the sweetness of the fruit as a counterpoint to the acid of a salad dressing. The result was Strawberry, Mango & Lentil Salad with Balsamic Dressing. Savory and smooth-tasting ingredients, such as lentils and avocado, were matched with sweet-acid ingredients, like strawberries, mango, and tomatoes (we opted for grape tomatoes, because they have a very fruit-like sweetness). The sweet-tart of a balsamic dressing pulled it all together.

The strawberries really worked so well in a savory environment that we decided to push the envelope. Next up was a Fresh Strawberry-Ginger Chutney. Bell peppers and onions pair up with strawberries, corn, and raisins in a honey-cider sauce seasoned with fresh ginger and sweet spices. Some of the strawberries are crushed and cooked with the sauce, but the majority are cut up and added without cooking (by the way, this preserves their vitamin C content, which is diminished by heat). The fresh chutney will keep in the refrigerator and should be used within a week or two.

Finally, we caved in and decided to do a dessert...but we just couldn't bear to do a strawberry shortcake. Instead we came up with a Strawberry Long Cake. The cake itself is a jelly-roll style cake, but chocolate (we were thinking how nicely chocolate and strawberry flavors go together). The cake is spread with melted strawberry jelly and honey-sweetened ricotta cheese, which is in turn sprinkled with sliced fresh strawberries and rolled up. (Although the rest of the staff here appreciated our savory strawberry efforts, we're pretty sure we heard them breathe a sigh of relief when we finally delivered a dessert.)

Please view the recipe database to find the above recipes.

Author: the Healing Kitchen staff
Date Published: 06/19/2000
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