The cranberry, as a subject of discussion, begins and ends for most people as a crimson sauce served at Thanksgiving. This is a shame, for few foods are more versatile.
Cranberries can be added to muffins and quick breads, used as a base for ice cream and sorbets, and whipped with sugar and cream to make airy desserts. Their tartness goes well in soups and in sauces for poultry, pork and game.
No question they are tart. While the Pilgrims munched them raw, they also cooked them with maple syrup, and it wasn't until the late 18th century that cranberries became widely accepted, thanks to the increased availability of sugar from the West Indies.
So, to this day, what cranberry recipes have in common is sugar. What the following recipes also have in common is that they are not for sauces -- except for one that has a nontraditional ginger flavor.
CRANBERRY HORSERADISH CANAPES (Makes 24 pieces)
I must admit I was skeptical about the combination of cranberry and horseradish. But when one of my cooking students prepared this appetizer in class, I was willing to eat my words.
1 1/2 cups cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, plus 24 very thin strips of lemon zest for garnish
4 tablespoons prepared horseradish
FOR THE TOAST POINTS:
1 loaf French bread
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
Pick the cranberries over for stems and rinse them under cold water. Place the cranberries in a saucepan with boiling water to cover. Boil the cranberries for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the skins pop. Pour off the water, and mash the hot berries with the sugar, grated lemon zest and horseradish. Let the mixture cool.
Cut the French bread on the diagonal into 1/2-inch slices. Lightly brush each slice on both sides with the oil or butter. Bake the slices in a preheated 400-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes per side, or until golden brown. Cool on a cake rack.
Just before serving, spread the toasts with cream cheese. Place a spoonful of cranberry mixture on each toast and garnish with a strip of lemon zest. Arrange the toasts on a platter with a doily and serve.
Per piece: 79 calories, 2 gm protein, 11 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 1 gm saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 107 mg sodium.
CHILLED CRANBERRY SOUP (5 servings)
Chilled tart cherry soup is one of the glories of Hungarian cooking. The following recipe calls for similar flavorings, using cranberries instead of cherries.
12-ounce bag of cranberries
3 cups water
Approximately 1 1/4 cups sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
2 allspice berries
2 whole cloves
4 black peppercorns
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup dry red wine, or to taste
Pick the cranberries over for stems and rinse in cold water. Combine the 3 cups of water, sugar and spices in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and add the cranberries. Gently simmer the soup for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cranberries are soft and the liquid is well flavored. If necessary, add additional sugar to taste.
Mix the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons cold water to make a paste. Whisk this mixture into the soup and boil for 1 minute: The soup should thicken slightly. Let the soup cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until chilled. The recipe can be prepared up to 48 hours ahead to this stage.
Just before serving, stir in the heavy cream and wine. I like to leave the spices in, but feel free to remove them. Serve cold cranberry soup in chilled glass bowls. If you like, you can garnish each bowl with a dollop of sour cream.
Per serving: 285 calories, .6 gm protein, 59 gm carbohydrates, 5 gm fat, 3 gm saturated fat, 16 mg cholesterol, 28 mg sodium.
CRANBERRY RELISH (Makes 8 cups)
This piquant relish goes well with duck, turkey, ham and pork, not to mention with goat cheese and cheddar.
2 bags fresh cranberries
1 cup currants
2 cups dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
Plenty of freshly ground black pepper
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Pick the cranberries over for stems and rinse in cold water. Coarsely chop the lemon and orange in a food processor or by hand and remove the seeds. Combine all the ingredients, except the walnuts, in a heavy saucepan.
Bring the relish to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, or just until the cranberries begin to pop. Skim off any foam on top and remove the pan from heat. Stir in the walnuts. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours before serving. Refrigerated, this relish will keep for several weeks.
Per tablespoon: 26 calories, .3 gm protein, 6 gm carbohydrates, .6 gm fat, 0 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 10 mg sodium.
GINGERED CRANBERRY SAUCE (Makes 2 cups)
Cranberry sauce takes literally 5 minutes to make. Once you know how easy it is, you'll be embarrassed you ever bought the canned stuff. This one is for people who love ginger.
12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
1/2 cup sugar, or to taste
3 strips lemon zest (removed with a vegetable peeler)
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 inch fresh ginger root, thinly sliced
1/2 cup apple cider
1/4 cup ginger wine, ginger beer or ginger ale
Pick the cranberries over for stems and rinse in cold water. Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, or until cooked to taste. Let cool before refrigerating and chill for at least 2 hours before serving. Remove the cinnamon stick, lemon zest and ginger just before serving.
Per 1/4-cup serving: 74 calories, .2 gm protein, 18 gm carbohydrates, .1 gm fat, 0 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 mg sodium.
Steven Raichlen is a Miami-based national food writer.