Autumn days are upon us and what better way to enjoy them than with a delicious meal? This time of year menus invite warmer and heartier foods with rich flavors. One way to add a bit of sweetness into this season’s dishes—without venturing as far as Halloween candy—is with dried fruits.
The history of dried fruits dates (pun intended) back several thousand years in areas like the Fertile Crescent surrounding the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers of the Middle East and China. Traditionally grapes, apples, figs, apricots, and dates were dried in the sun and consumed as a sort of ancient amuse-bouche, or appetizer.
Today dried fruit is still popular in the regions of its origin, but has grown to flourish worldwide especially in places like California in the US and throughout Italy. The variety of dried fruit has also expanded. Along with traditional dried fruit like grapes (raisins) and figs, some popular fruits are mangos, peaches, plums (prunes), berries, and pears. Incorporating these sweet ingredients into your menu not only adds international flavor, but may improve bone health and digestion.
Check out three of our favorite dried fruit dishes below.
Chicken Tagine with Apricot, Figs, and Olives
One entrée that integrates dried apricots and Turkish figs in a delicious stew is Morocco’s Tagine Djaj Bzitoun, otherwise known as Chicken Tagine with Apricots, Figs, and Olive. It has protein, fruit, vegetables, and plenty of spice to infuse your meal with a truly international taste. This stew is perfect to eat for any lunch or dinner during the cooler, autumn months. It is also a great option to make ahead of time and heat up on busy school nights during the week. It is best served over couscous just like India’s curry is served over rice.
2 tbsp olive oil
1 (3-4 lb) whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 tbsp unsalted butter
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 large yellow onions, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp crushed saffron threads
2 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup dried apricots, roughly chopped
4 dried Turkish figs, roughly chopped
2 preserved lemons, quartered lengthwise
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Cooked couscous, for serving
- Heat oil in a 6-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper, and add to pot; cook, turning once, until lightly browned on both sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate, and set aside.
- Heat butter in pot, and then add garlic and onions; cook, stirring, until soft, about 15 minutes. Add bay leaves, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, ginger, and saffron, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Return chicken to pot along with stock, olives, apricots, figs, and preserved lemons, and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, partially covered, until chicken is cooked through and tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in cilantro, and juice, and remove from heat; serve over couscous.
Apricot and Walnut Stuffing
For those looking for a hearty side dish, try a twist on a Thanksgiving staple with Apricot Walnut Stuffing. Rather than hosting a full-out international meal, incorporating hints of international styles to your cooking is a good way to expand diners’ palettes in familiar dishes. This side item features a sweet medley of dried fruits including apricots, currants, and a favorite fall fruit, apples. They are offset by the savory flavors and crunch of garlic, onion, and celery. The recipe calls for white wine in the stuffing, but pouring a glass of vino to pair with it is definitely encouraged!
1 (1-lb) loaf white bread, crusts removed, cut into 1inch cubes
1 cup white wine
2 cups dried apricots, apples, and currants, chopped
16 tbsp butter, softened
3 ribs celery, chopped
2 large onions, chopped
4 oz chicken livers, minced
2 cups walnuts, roughly chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
2 tsp orange zest
2 eggs, beaten
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Heat oven to 350°. Bake bread cubes on a baking sheet until browned, 20–25 minutes. Transfer bread cubes to a large bowl; set aside. Boil wine in a 1-quart saucepan and add dried fruit; remove from heat and let steep for 30 minutes. Strain fruit; discard wine. Combine fruit with bread.
- Heat 4 tbsp butter in a 12 inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add celery and onions; cook, stirring, until browned, 12–15 minutes. Stir in 8 tbsp butter and livers; cook until butter melts. Mix celery mixture with bread; stir in walnuts, cream, parsley, zest, and eggs. Season with salt and pepper.
- Transfer stuffing to a 2-quart oval baking dish; dot with remaining butter. Cover with foil; bake for 50 minutes. Uncover, increase heat to 475°, bake until browned, 8–10 minutes, and then it is ready to serve as a side dish.
Satisfy your sweet tooth this autumn by baking a Friulian Fruitcake. This treat comes from the distinct region of Friuli in Italy where the boot-shaped country meets its Alpine and Adriatic neighbors. Prunes, raisins, and figs aren’t the only sugary bits in this dessert—it also features chocolate, candied fruits, and crushed amaretti cookies. Your guests will be asking for seconds, because this bread is scrumptious.
(This is a version of the traditional Friulian cake is by Ennio Furlan at Agriturismo de Carvalho in Friuli.)
FOR THE DOUGH:
1 and 1/4 oz active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 cup milk, warmed
4 egg yolks
4 tbsp butter, softened
3 1/2 cups flour
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp dark rum
FOR THE FILLING:
3/4 cup raisins
6 pitted prunes, chopped
6 dried figs, chopped
2 oz dark rum
3/4 cup pine nuts, finely chopped
3/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 cup hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup almonds, finely chopped
3 tbsp grated semisweet chocolate
1 tbsp candied fruits
4 tbsp crushed amaretti cookies
4 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
- For the dough: Dissolve yeast with 1 tbsp sugar in 1/4 cup of the warm milk. Combine egg yolks, butter, and remaining sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer. Beat on medium until well mixed. Continuing to beat, add 3 cups of the flour, and then add lemon zest, salt, rum, and yeast. Gradually mix in remaining 1/2 cup milk until dough is smooth.
- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5-7 minutes. Transfer dough to a large bowl, cover with a kitchen towel, and set in a warm place until doubled in size, 1-2 hours.
- For the filling: Combine raisins, prunes, figs, and rum in a large bowl and set aside to macerate for 1 hour. Then mix in pine nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, chocolate, candied fruits, amaretti, 3 tbsp of the sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt.
- Preheat oven to 375°. Roll out risen dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12 in x 16 in rectangle. Brush around edges with beaten egg, then spread filling evenly over dough, avoiding edges. Working from long side, roll up dough jelly-roll style, then curl into a spiral. Place on a baking sheet, cover with a kitchen towel, and set aside to rise for 30 minutes.
- Brush with egg, sprinkle with remaining 1 tbsp sugar, bake until browned, about 50 minutes, and then it’s ready to serve.
Enjoy these dried fruit dishes with family and friends throughout the fall. Watch this space for more recipes for the coming holiday season. Until then bon appétit.
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