Observing Presidents' Day, celebrated this Monday, Feb. 20, can be confusing.
This is the day we celebrate Abraham Lincoln's birthday, even though his actual birthdate was Feb.12; and George Washington's birthday, although he was born on Feb. 22. Thank the 90th Congress, which in 1968 combined separate federal holidays for each great president into one celebrated on the third Monday in February, giving us a three-day weekend (Feb. 18-20).
Well, I cannot tell a lie: I love cherry pies made with fresh cherries in season. But, if I can help it, I don't want to make a pie from frozen or canned cherries, or buy fruit shipped from the Southern Hemisphere.
That doesn't mean we can't enjoy great cherry flavor in the middle of winter, though. The trick is to use sun-dried cherries. Made usually from plump Bing cherries, dried under the hot sun until they become as shriveled, dark, and chewy as raisins, these little gems have an intense flavor that can satisfy any cherry lover's cravings.
I enjoy finding all kinds of different ways to use them to bring hints of summer to winter cooking. You'll find one of my favorites here: a stir-fry of nutty-tasting wild rice, tart-sweet apple, earthy mushrooms, curry powder, and the bright spark of sun-dried cherries. Try this as a side dish to a special Presidents' Day meal featuring roast chicken or pork loin, or quickly sauteed chicken breasts or pork chops.
Want more ideas? Sun-dried cherries are great in chicken salad or tuna salad along with a handful of your favorite toasted nuts. Add them to fresh winter fruit salads featuring apples or citrus segments. (If you like, plump them up first by soaking them for half an hour in some white wine that you bring to a boil with a spoonful of sugar.) Or simply combine them with other dried fruit in cooked compotes.
Of course, dessert is a natural course in which to include sun-dried cherries. Replace raisins with them for wonderful oatmeal cookies. Or, maybe best of all, add a generous handful to your favorite apple pie recipe--returning cherries to their time-honored place on Presidents' Day.
STIR-FRIED WILD RICE WITH APPLES, MUSHROOMS, AND SUN-DRIED CHERRIES
1 cup uncooked wild rice
3 cups organic chicken broth
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely minced onion
2 tablespoons mild curry powder
2 medium-sized crisp organic apples such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
2 cups chopped fresh cultivated, cremini, or shiitake mushrooms
1/2 cup sun-dried cherries
Freshly ground black pepper
Put the wild rice in a wire-meshed strainer. Rinse thoroughly under cold running water. Drain and set aside.
In a heavy saucepan, bring the chicken broth a boil. Stir in the wild rice. Bring the broth back to a boil, stir again, reduce the heat to a bare simmer, cover, and cook gently until the wild rice kernels are tender and look puffed open, 50 to 60 minutes. Uncover the pan, fluff the rice with a fork, and continue simmering very gently for 5 minutes longer. Drain off any excess liquid. You should have 3 to 4 cups of cooked wild rice. Measure out and set aside 3 cups, reserving any remaining rice for another use.
Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil and, when it is hot enough to flow freely, stir in the onion and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle in the curry powder and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds longer. Stir in the apples, mushrooms, and sun-dried cherries and saute, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms have cooked through, about 7 minutes longer.
Add the 3 cups wild rice and stir until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined and the rice has rewarmed thoroughly, 3 to 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley or chives and serve immediately.
Cherries in winter
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