Legend says the Pilgrims served cranberries at the first Thanksgiving, and these tangy, scarlet gems have appeared on holiday tables ever since. But researchers say they deserve year-round attention.
Some of the natural plant chemicals in them pack health perks that are "pretty unique," says Catherine Neto, PhD, co-director of the Cranberry Health Research Center at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
One of these chemicals can prevent bacteria from sticking to cells in the urinary tract. Another fights inflammation. Cranberries also offer eye-protective lutein and wound-healing vitamin C. And early research by Neto suggests the berries may play a role in colon cancer prevention.
Eat the whole fruit and skin in foods such as cranberry sauce or sweetened dried cranberries, she says.
But don't get bogged down in the same old recipes -- see our creative ideas on the next few pages.
A clafouti is a French dessert with a custard-like texture. The creamy sweetness pairs well with cranberry and orange, creating a festive end to a holiday meal.
Cranberry Orange Clafouti
Makes 6 servings
1¼ cup whole milk
1 cup sugar, divided
3 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
⅛ tsp salt
½ cup flour
2 cups fresh cranberries, chopped
2 tsp finely grated orange zest
powdered sugar and whipped cream for garnish (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a blender or food processor, combine milk, ½ cup sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, and flour. Coat an 8-cup glass baking dish with cooking spray. Pour about half the egg mixture into the pan and bake 7-10 minutes.
3. Remove pan from oven and sprinkle cranberries, orange zest, and remaining sugar on top of the custard. Pour remaining egg mixture over the first layer. Bake 45 minutes until firm. Do not over-bake; this will make the dish chewy. Serve warm or at room temperature topped with powdered sugar and whipped cream if desired.
Per serving (does not include whipped cream and powdered sugar) 255 calories, 6 g protein, 48 g carbohydrate, 4 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 111 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 38 g sugar, 105 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 15%
This scrumptious side dish may outshine the turkey (and convert a few Brussels-sprout skeptics). It features a combo of beloved holiday ingredients -- cranberries, pecans, and maple syrup -- and offers plenty of fiber with the caramelized flavor.
Cranberry Brussels Sprouts With Pecans
Makes 6 servings
2 lbs Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup finely minced shallots
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 cup fresh cranberries
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 oz pecan halves, toasted
¼ tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray a rimmed baking sheet pan with cooking spray.
2. In a large bowl, combine Brussels sprouts with olive oil; toss. Place sprouts on baking sheet and roast 15-20 minutes.
3. Remove sheet from oven. Sprinkle shallots, maple syrup, and cranberries over sprouts and return to oven for an additional 10 minutes or until sprouts are golden brown and cranberries are soft.
4. Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl. Add vinegar, pecans, salt, and pepper, and toss to combine. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 186 calories, 6 g protein, 23 g carbohydrate, 10 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 7 g fiber, 10 g sugar, 138 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 43%
The Right Stuff
Cranberries and apples provide color and flavor in this tasty alternative to traditional stuffing.
Cranberry Apple Stuffing
Makes 8 servings
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
6 celery stalks, chopped
3 cups low-sodium chicken stock, divided
8 slices whole wheat bread, toasted and cubed
4 slices white bread, toasted and cubed
½ cup apple juice
2 apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
1½ cups fresh cranberries, chopped
⅛ tsp sea salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
2 tbsp chopped fresh sage
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
2. In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter and olive oil. Add onions and cook 10 minutes; remove from pan. Add celery to pan with ¼ cup chicken stock and cook until soft.
3. Beat eggs in a large mixing bowl. Add bread, apple juice, and 1-2 cups chicken stock; stir to combine and let sit about 10 minutes or until bread softens. Add onion, celery, apples, cranberries, and spices. Toss to combine. Add more chicken stock if needed.
4. Place stuffing in a roasting pan coated with cooking spray. Bake 60-90 minutes, covered with aluminum foil for the first 20 minutes, then uncovered for the remaining time, turning pan every 20-30 minutes until golden brown. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 281 calories, 10 g protein, 34 g carbohydrate, 13 g fat (5 g saturated fat), 68 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 11 g sugar, 335 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 40%
--Recipes by Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD