Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cherries - Sweet & Savory

My sons and I went cherry picking the first weekend in June at Stover's Farm in Berrien Springs, Michigan with friends.  We actually intended just to go strawberry picking.  But since cherries were ready too (incredibly early because of this crazy spring weather we've been having), we figured why not...

It was a picture perfect few hours.  I knew my kids loved strawberries, so it was not at all surprising to watch them eagerly eating them right off the plants.  Cherries, however, are not a household staple of ours.  In fact, Aleks (age 9 and the "picky one") stated, "I don't like cherries" as we approached the orchard (not that he had ever tasted one, to my knowledge).  Jake (age 12 and the more adventurous one) tried a cherry pretty quickly and decided they weren't his favorite.  Aleks was enthusiastically harvesting, but a little more trepidatious when it came to tasting.  I knew that actively trying to get him to eat a cherry wasn't going to help.  So instead, I starting eating them and seeing how far I could spit the pits.  Not very lady like, I'll admit, but very enticing for a 9 year old boy!  Aleks tried a cherry and wouldn't stop eating them for the rest of the weekend.

Aleks picking cherries
Photo by Jacob Marre
Since we had about 15 pounds of cherries and I was scheduled to do a cooking demo at Printers' Row Lit Fest exactly a week later with Aleks as my assistant, cherry dishes seemed like a natural fit.  This Cherry Chard Quinoa Salad came into being because I wanted to show that sweet cherries can shine in savory dishes.  I couldn't resist pairing it with a dessert - a delicious Cherry Crisp, that is unique (think raw quinoa and ground flaxseed) and vegan (with canola oil subbing in for the traditional melted butter).

Cherry Chard Quinoa Salad

I went with swiss chard because it will not wilt easily, so this salad can be made ahead of time.  The red swiss chard really makes the cherries pop, but green or rainbow chard would work just as well.  The addition of protein-packed quinoa makes the salad a nutritionally complete meal.  I chose feta as the cheese, but crumbled gorgonzola would also be delicious.  The toasted sunflower seeds add crunch along with extra protein and omegas.  Toasted walnuts or pecans would also work well if nut allergies are not a concern.  To really up your omega intake, try substituting flaxseed oil for the olive oil in the dressing.  Flaxseed oil is usually too strong to dress salads, in my opinion.  But in a balsamic vinaigrette, the strength and sweetness of the balsamic vinegar mellows and complements the oil's nuttiness.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/8 tsp salt
Few pinches ground black pepper
3-4 leaves red swiss chard, stems discarded and leaves thinly sliced
1 cup sweet cherries, halved and pitted
1/2 small shallot, thinly sliced
1 cup cooked quinoa*
2 oz feta cheese
3 tablespoons toasted sunflower seeds**

In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.  Add 1 cup packed sliced swiss chard and toss well to coat.  Add cherries, sliced shallot and quinoa and stir gently to combine.  Crumble feta over salad and add toasted sunflower seeds.  Toss gently again, season to taste with additional salt if needed and enjoy!

*To cook quinoa, combine quinoa and water in a pot in a 1:1.5 ratio.  (For example, 1 cup quinoa to 1 1/2 cups water.)  Cover and bring to a boil over high heat.  Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat, leaving pot covered, and let stand 5 minutes.  Transfer to a large bowl to cool, stirring occasionally.

**To dry toast sunflower seeds, put them in a small pan over medium low heat.  Cook, tossing frequently, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.


What kids can do (with appropriate tools and adult supervision)
*Measure out dressing ingredients
*Remove stems from chard and slice chard leaves with scissors
*Pit cherries (you can halve them first with a paring knife, or they can halve them with a wavy chopper; they could also slice shallots, but I generally slice them with a chef knife because I like them thinner than a wavy chopper allows)
*Measure out quinoa
*Crumble feta
*Stir and taste

Cherry Crisp

I was inspired to use raw quinoa in this crisp topping by a chocolate bar Aleks picked out at Whole Foods one day - it was dark chocolate with toasted/puffed quinoa (think Nestle Crunch with a superfood spin).  Homemade toasted quinoa chocolates and quinoa granola are in the works, but for now, here's the Cherry Crisp!  Just like the Cherry Chard Quinoa Salad, this crisp can be assembled ahead of time, covered and stored in the fridge.  Before baking, I would recommend letting the crisp sit out at room temperature for an hour or two.

Photo by Daniel Stranahan
For filling:
5 cups halved and pitted sweet cherries
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour

For topping:
1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup raw quinoa
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  In an 8x8 inch baking dish, combine filling ingredients and toss well to coat cherries.

In a separate bowl, combine oats, brown sugar, quinoa, whole wheat flour and ground flaxseed.  Stir well with a fork or your fingers to combine.  Stir in canola oil and vanilla.  Once mostly absorbed, use your fingers to finish mixing and form crumbles.  Sprinkle crumble topping over cherries.  Bake for about 50 minutes, or until cherries are soft, filling is bubbling up and topping is lightly browned.  Let cool for at least 10 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  The crisp is delicious on its own, or with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.


What kids can do (with appropriate tools and adult supervision)
*Pit cherries (and even halve them with a wavy chopper or serrated butter knife)
*Measure out filling and topping ingredients (making sure to level dry ingredients)
*Mix filling and topping ingredients
*Sprinkle crumble topping over filling

1 comment:

  1. What a great idea with the raw quinoa, Elena! Being newly introduced to quinoa last summer by you guys, this is sounding delicious right about now!! I'll have to try it out.