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Use them in savory and sweet dishes alike

By Russ Parsons

Los Angeles Times

I knew dried fruit had an image problem, but I had no idea how bad it had gotten.

Sure, I can kind of understand how prunes, er, “dried plums,” might have an issue – let’s face it, any time your marketing solution involves changing your product’s name entirely, well, things are tough.

But the other day, I was talking to Roxana Jullapat of Cooks County restaurant in Los Angeles, and she told me that in her restaurant, merely putting the word “raisin” on the menu was enough to kill sales for a dish completely. Interestingly, actually adding the raisins had no effect whatsoever. People seem to like them, just so long as they’re added on the down-low.

Truly, dried fruit has become the ingredient that dare not speak its name.

What’s weirdest about that is all the really good cooks I know love dried fruit. On Facebook recently, cookbook author Maria Speck (her “Ancient Grains” is terrific) polled colleagues about which dried fruits they had in their pantries. I was feeling pretty proud: dark and golden raisins, currants, apricots, cranberries, sour cherries, figs and prunes (yes, I call them prunes, and proudly!).

But when other cooks chimed in, there were so many others mentioned that I felt like a piker. How could I have overlooked apples, mangoes, bananas, barberries …? The list goes on and on.

Dried fruit tastes too good to ignore. Particularly at this time of year when there’s not a lot of sweetness to be had (produce-wise), dried fruit can come to the rescue in both savory dishes and desserts.

I always have a jar of prune compote in the refrigerator during the winter. Make a strong brew by cooking black tea in a simple syrup with spices and orange zest, and poach the prunes just long enough to soften them slightly.

Serve the prunes and their syrup with a spoonful of yogurt and you’ve got a terrific dessert.

Kale and Wild Rice Salad with Raisins and Walnuts

4 cups water

Salt

1 cup wild rice

¼ cup raisins

¼ cup dried sour cherries

∑ cup orange juice, divided

1 tablespoon minced shallot

1½ teaspoons orange zest

3 cups stemmed and coarsely chopped kale

2 teaspoons olive oil

½ cup toasted walnuts, chopped

Black pepper

Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add 1 teaspoon salt and the wild rice. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover and simmer until the rice is tender but still chewy, 45 to 50 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, place the raisins and dried sour cherries in a bowl and add one-fourth cup orange juice and just enough hot tap water to cover, and set aside to soften.

When the rice is cooked, add the minced shallot and the orange zest, cover the pan and remove from the heat to stand 5 minutes to absorb remaining water. Remove the lid, drain leftover water and cool to room temperature.

Place the kale in a large mixing bowl, sprinkle with one-fourth teaspoon salt and drizzle over the olive oil. Massage the kale roughly with your hands, crushing the leaves and turning them over until they are tender and lightly covered with oil.

Combine the kale and the wild rice. Drain the dried fruit and add it to the rice mixture along with the walnuts. Toss to mix thoroughly and season to taste with a little more salt, if necessary, freshly ground black pepper and the remaining orange juice. This makes about 5 cups salad.

Serves 4 to 6.

Per each of 6 servings: calories, 229; protein: 7g, carbohydrates, 37g; fiber, 4g; fat, 8g; saturated fat, 1g; no cholesterol; sugar, 6g; sodium, 502mg

Prune Compote in Black Tea

1½ cups water

¾ cup sugar

2 cloves

3 allspice berries

1 (3-inch) stick cinnamon

2 bags black tea

½ teaspoon grated orange zest

1 pound prunes

Bring the water, sugar, cloves, allspice, cinnamon and black tea bags to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the orange zest and prunes, then remove from the heat and let stand until cool. Discard tea bags and refrigerate until ready to use.

Makes 3 cups compote.

Each ½ cup: calories: 279; protein, 2g; carbohydrates, 74g; fiber, 5grams; no fat; no cholesterol; sugar, 54g; sodium, 2mg.