Cranberries…Not Just with Thanksgiving Dinner

With Turkey Day fast approaching, I have all the sides on my mind.  I used to bring half a dozen dishes to my in-laws’ house so that I could enjoy all the sides I loved as a kid.  However, in recent years I’ve finally realized I DO NOT HAVE TIME to make all of them, especially with the Turk-EA Trot and now a kiddo taking up most of my time and energy these days.  So, I usually just end up bringing sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, which might be my all-time favorite Thanksgiving side. 

Unlike my sugar-topped sweet potato dish, cranberries are something my family enjoys all year round.  My daughter loves to have them as a snack, ideally paired with a protein source (like nuts or cheese) but often with cheese crackers.  C’est la vie.

Cranberries can be eaten dried or prepared from fresh, and I’ve used both types in multiple recipes over the years. 

Dried cranberries are most commonly sold sweetened, which is unfortunate but also delicious.  While you can find unsweetened, dried cranberries, it’s difficult and they are often expensive.  I’ve decided it’s not worth the hassle, and instead try to teach my daughter about portion control with items like dried fruit. 

One-quarter cup of dried sweetened cranberries has about 120 calories, 2 grams fiber and a whopping 29 grams sugar.  Like I said, portion control!  We like to snack on these paired with something else, or toss them into muffins or a rice dish. 

Raw (or fresh) cranberries are easy to find this time of year, and are usually in the produce section of grocery stores.   Conversely, a whole CUP of fresh cranberries has only 46 calories, 4 grams fiber and 4 grams sugar.  Much lower in calories and sugar than the dried variety.

Cranberries are high in Vitamins C and E, as well as manganese and copper.  They also have Vitamin K1, which helps with blood clotting.  They are also high in bioactive plant compounds, such as antioxidants.  One in particular, A-type proanthocyanidins, is the compound that helps prevent urinary tract infections, by keeping bacteria from attaching to the walls of the bladder and urinary tract.   Additionally, some studies show cranberries may help prevent some types of cancers and lower your risk of heart disease.

But what can you do with fresh cranberries, other than make cranberry sauce?  A great many things!  You can eat them raw in a cranberry relish by chopping them up in a food processor, usually with some apple and spices.  Try the relish over cream cheese as a dip for crackers, or in a sandwich with deli turkey and sliced cheese.  They can also be thrown into muffins and quick breads, and will cook much like a blueberry would.  They are a bit tart, so keep that in mind when cooking or baking with them.  Cranberries make excellent cobblers, crumbles, and other desserts. 

One of my favorite dishes is a braised cranberry brisket, made with fresh cranberries, molasses, red wine and pearl onions.  Find the recipe at the Martha Stewart website and search “braised brisket with cranberries.”  It’s sweet and tart and rich all at the same time.  It’s perfect for a holiday meal with friends or family.  I find cranberries go surprisingly well with beef, and we tend to have a traditional cranberry sauce as a side dish at Christmas with roast beef. 

Hope your holidays are CRAN-tastic!

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