The San Joaquin Valley is awash in grapes. The berries are everywhere – farmers markets, fruit stands and grocery stores. There are green, red and black grapes that taste like everything from grape jelly to cotton candy. And while many of us love nothing better than popping those sweet, juicy orbs in our mouths, there is also a growing effort to use grapes in new, trendier ways in cooking.
Think grilled salmon tacos with a grape pico de gallo or stuffed challah French toast for you next brunch. What about using your mixologist skills to make a grape, gin and cucumber craft cocktail? Or marrying Brussels sprouts, grapes and garlic for a flavorful side dish?
Nutritionists, food experts and the California Table Grape Commission – the marketing arm for the state’s table grape industry – say grapes can provide much more flavor to a dish.
“There are so many different varieties and each has its own flavor, texture and color that there are lots of ways to experiment with grapes,” says Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission.
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As an ingredient, grapes provide several qualities, including sweetness, slight bitterness, acidity and brightness. To help consumers try some new foods, the commission put together a book of recipes: “Green Black Red: Recipes for Cooking and Enjoying California Grapes.”
Seattle-based author Susan Volland, who helped put together the book, says grapes are sometimes overlooked when it comes to cooking.
Volland, whose latest book is “Mastering Sauces,” says grapes are perfect for smoothies, juicing or for adding to a vinaigrette. With a little careful chopping, they work great in salsa. And if you want to get real fancy, use a mandolin slicer to do some artful arranging of grapes on a dish.
“There is something to the emphasis that grapes are more than just a lunchtime snack,” says Volland. “The different characteristics are why it is so valued and people are starting to embrace that.”
Registered dietician and nutritionist Tawnie Kroll of Clovis says grapes also add a pop of color to your dishes. She likes to use red grapes in her broccoli salad for contrasting color.
And don’t forget the health benefits, Kroll says. Grapes are high in antioxidants, heart healthy and are kind to your colon.
Finding grapes these days shouldn’t be a problem. The San Joaquin Valley produces nearly 100 percent of the U.S. supply, growing more than 85 varieties that are harvested between May and January.
At Fresno’s Vineyard Farmers Market recently, shopper Debbie Kleinknight was picking out one of her favorite grapes, the muscat Italia. The seeded green grape has a bold taste and can be very sweet. Kleinknight says she loves the taste and doesn’t mind the seeds.
“The seeds are fun, especially when you are eating them with your grandkids,” she says.
Grilled salmon tacos with grape pico de gallo
By Patricia Bannan, M.S., R.D., for the California Table Grape Commission
1 cup red seedless California grapes, chopped
1 cup green seedless California grapes, chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
Small pinch salt
1 pound salmon fillets
As needed olive oil
To taste pepper
12 small corn tortillas
2 limes, cut into wedges
Prepare a grill for cooking over medium heat. Put the grapes, onion and jalapeño in a medium bowl. Season with salt and toss lightly. Cover and chill while you prepare the salmon.
Brush the salmon lightly with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Grill for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, or until it’s cooked to your liking. Remove the salmon and keep it warm. Heat the tortillas briefly on the grill in batches until warmed.
To serve, coarsely chop the salmon and divide it between the tortillas. Top each taco with a heaping tablespoon of grape pico de gallo and serve with lime wedges.
Gin grape and cucumber cocktail with grape and mint ice cubes
By Katie Cavuto, M.S., R.D. for the California Table Grape Commission
For the grape and mint ice cubes:
12 medium fresh mint leaves
12 green grapes, halved
12 red grapes, halved
For the gin, grape and cucumber cocktail:
4 green grapes
3 grape and mint ice cubes
1 cucumber slice for garnish
1.5 oz Hendricks Gin, or your favorite gin
4-6 cucumber slices
1/4 lime, sliced
3 oz tonic water
2 mint leaves
Using a single ice cube tray, line each ice cube well with a mint leaf. Top with two green and two red grape halves. Cover with water and freeze for at least 2 hours.
Add mint, lime and grapes to shaker and muddle. Add the gin and cucumber slices to shaker and shake vigorously. Strain the mixture into a rocks glass filled with 3 grape and mint ice cubes and top with tonic water. Stir, let set for a few minutes for the flavors to enhance and enjoy.
Stuffed challah French toast with grapes and cream cheese
By Ellie Krieger M.S., R.D. for the California Table Grape Commission
1/4 cup whipped cream cheese
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup, divided
1 1/2 cups black and/or red seedless California grapes, quartered
2/3 cup 1 percent low-fat milk
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Four 1-inch thick slices of challah bread or egg bread, preferably whole wheat (6 ounces total)
Place the cream cheese and 1 tablespoon of the maple syrup in a small bowl and mix well with a fork until smooth.
Whisk together the milk, eggs and vanilla in a shallow dish until well-incorporated.
Carefully slice each piece of challah almost all the way in half, leaving the bread intact along one or two edges so that a pocket is formed. Spread a quarter of the cream cheese mixture inside each bread pocket, then stuff each of the pockets with about 2 tablespoons of grapes and press lightly to seal shut.
Spray a cast-iron or nonstick skillet with cooking spray and heat over a medium heat. Dip each piece of stuffed bread into the milk-egg mixture until well coated, then place in the skillet and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Serve topped with the remaining grapes and drizzled with the remaining maple syrup.
Makes 4 servings
Garlic ginger Brussels sprouts and grapes
By California Table Grape Commission
1 pound Brussels sprouts
1 cup halved red seedless California grapes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
Cut off the woody stem on each Brussels sprout and remove any tough or bruised outer leaves. Slice Brussels sprouts very thin to make a mound of feathery ribbons.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add Brussels sprouts, grapes, salt and pepper to skillet and sauté 3-4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add garlic, ginger, Dijon mustard, honey and balsamic vinegar to pan. Continue to sauté for approximately 1-2 minutes, until sprouts are tender and bright green in color.
Turn off the heat and add walnuts to pan. Gently mix to combine.
Makes 4 servings
Kale, grape, & blue cheese flatbread
By Tawnie Kroll, R.D.N., http://krollskorner.com/
For the kale pesto:
1 bunch of kale with the stems removed and chopped
2 cloves chopped garlic
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons olive oil, and extra if needed
1/4 cup pine nuts (optional)
For the flatbread:
1 package of Pita flatbreads
1/2 cup red grapes, halved
1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup walnuts
To make the kale pesto: In a food processor, pulse kale, garlic, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, salt and pine nuts until finely chopped. Add olive oil and process until smooth. Consistency should be thick, yet spreadable.
To make the flatbreads: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place flatbreads on baking sheet and spread with the kale pesto. Top with the grapes, cheese and walnuts. Bake 12-14 minutes and cut the flatbreads into 4 pieces. Serve immediately.