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Monday, 14 October 2013

Red, blue and purple food: berry sauce for meat and fish

A freind of mine recently asked me where I found the berries I used to make chocllate berry pots. She likes red, blue and black berries, like me, but they are not easy to find in Crete; we can only find wild-growing blackberries, which are a great pain to harvest because they grow on very wild thorny plants. What's more, these berries are never sold on the market as local products - you can sometimes fidn them imported from Mexico or Holland, but they are also sold at ridiculous prices, as are out-of-season strawberries imported from Holland - let's not mention the number of miles they have done to get to my location: was it really worth the effort int he first place?!
 When I decided to put my mind to experimenting with red foods, I was surprised to find so many in the house: apart from standard Greek items like tomato, pomegranate, beetroot, grapes and red wine, we can now also get goji berries, dried blueberries, caramelised hibiscus flowers )all pictured below), cranberries and frozen berries, all at very reasonable prices. Most of these fruits can (and in some places, are, for the specialty market) be grown in Greece - 'watch this space'...
Red foods are often known as superfoods due to their high antioxidant content and their anti-bacterial properties; some red/blue/purple foods have been investigated for their special properties, eg blueberry is now considered as helping against eye disease. Berries are now more readily available in Hania, mainly imported, but at very affordable prices: LIDL for example sells frozen berries (raspberries, blackberries and fruit of the wood mixtures) at very reasonable prices. What was once considered exotic and expensive is now common and cheap. This could be considered a crisis aftermath, but the reality is that this was probably the way the Greek world was heading in anyway.

Incorporating berries into Greek cooking is really difficult. We simply don't use such food in our regular cuisine, as do other cultures eg in Sweden, lingon berry is served with meatballs. Apart from fresh, and in sweets, berries can also be used in savoury sauces. I recall being served lamb with raspberry sauce in New Zealand and I loved it. But I admit it's an acquired taste in Crete to pair fruit with meat. Apart from quince with pork, I can't think of anything particularly fruity in savoury dishes, which are commonly cooked by home cooks. Such dishes are often associated with modern meals made for special occassions, although adding pomegranate and walnuts to salads is now very common. Pomegranate 
In my first attempt at making this sauce (which I used with tsigariasto lamb), I added grated tomato which made the sauce too savoury and disguised berry flavours. I also added goji berries as a garnish, which didn't really seem to bring out any special taste to the sauce. In my second attempt, I omitted the tomato and added pomegranate - the sauce tasted good, but the pomegranate seeds didn't excite me much either. The additions were to sweeten the taste, as these berries can taste rather sour. 

Now that berries are easy and cheap to get hold of in frozen form, I decided to experiment with them ot make a saucy topping for meat and fish. A sauce of this type should be thick enough to stick on the meat, as well as be just enough runny to 'dip' and 'swirl' the meat around it on the plate, to catch its flavour. And above all, it needs to be tasty. To create an appropriate flavour with the use of berries, I thought about how I make tomato sauce for pasta and meat dishes. It took me three attempts to get the flavour I wanted. 

 For approximately a cup of sauce, you need
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil 
3/4 cup of frozen mixed berries (you could experiment with just one berry type, but this was the easiest option in my case)
1-2 tablespoons of red wine
1-2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon of demerara sugar
a pinch of salt
1 tablespoon of finely minced mint (this is the magic ingredient that added the right flavour to the sauce)
1 tablespoon of cornflour
3-6 tablespoons of water
some berries and/or mint leaves, for garnish
The sauce here is a little thick, but it can be thinned by adding liquids to it eg, water or even beetroot juice for an added colour effect. Maybe I used too many berries for garnish, but I admit to being enamoured with berries. The sauce was just under perfect for taste (too many berries made it sour, which may be too sour for some people's taste. 

Heat the oil and add the garlic over medium heat. Cook lightly, being careful not to burn it. Add the berries, and let them soften over medium heat. Mash them lightly, leaving some chunkier, for the texture effect. Mix in the wine, vinegar, sugar, mint and salt. Add just enough cornflour to bind the sauce, ie just to thicken it. Add the mint. Let cook for 5 minutes or so, for the flavours to blend. Add just enough to water to get the consistency you prefer. 
In this version, the sauce is runnier (served with roast chicken). A clever way to get the most out of the addition of superfood is to add more of them to a salad, eg pomegranate with lettuce salad, served with the meat and berry sauce.  The final texture of the sauce is just visible in the bowl next to the plate.

The first time I used this sauce, it was freshly made, served on a fillet of salmon, decorating the plate with more red food items for added antioxidant content, as well as some greenery for colour contrast. When I heated the sauce the next day to use it over roast chicken, I found that it had congealed, and I mixed in some more water to make it runny. That was the perfect texture for me - thick, but with a soft flow over the meat. I would be tempted to try this sauce again with the addition of a small square of chocolate to replace the sugar, allowed to melt into the hot sauce...

I've created this dish for the TGI Fridays recipe competition, which you can find out more about on the Greek Food Blogs site.

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