by Lois Manno
Don’t be fooled by the cool blue color—blueberries are rapidly becoming one of the hottest fruits around. Touted as a “superfood” that can fight high cholesterol, heart disease, cancer, and a host of other maladies, blueberries are medicine that’s good for you…and delicious too!
According to the Encyclopedia of Healing Foods by Michael Murray, N.D. and Joseph Pizzorno, N.D., a compound called Pterostilbene, which is found in both cranberries and blueberries, is crucial for the metabolism of lipids, including cholesterol. Blueberries are packed with antioxidant phytonutrients called anthocyanidins, which neutralize free radicals. Anthocyanins improve the integrity of the veins and entire vascular system.
While domestically-cultivated blueberries are available in most grocery stores, wild blueberries can also be purchased. In recent good news for health-conscious consumers, Health magazine has named Wild Blueberries high on its list of “America’s Healthiest Superfoods for Women.” The feature, running in the magazine’s January/February 2010 issue, singles out wild blueberries’ impressive variety of potential health benefits, including preventing memory loss, improving motor skills, lowering blood pressure, and fighting wrinkles.
“If berries are nutritional treasures, Wild Blueberries are the crown jewels…truly one of nature’s ultimate anti-aging foods,” according to the feature, which gave Wild Blueberries the #2 slot on its Superfoods list. Health editors recommend that readers mix in Wild Blueberries with their daily berries servings “as much as possible” for their many health benefits, and point readers to the frozen fruit aisle of supermarkets for the healthy frozen version available every season of the year.
A patch of wild blueberries. Photo courtesy of the North American Blueberry Association
A native North American berry, Wild Blueberries grow naturally in Downeast Maine and Canada. The state of Maine is by far the #1 producer in the world, growing over 90 million pounds in recent years. Just like the wild counterpart of mass-produced strawberries, wild blueberries have a tangy sweetness that is absent in milder, commercially-produced blueberries. If you want to try wild blueberries and taste the difference for yourself, you can find a source on the website of the North American Blueberry Association.
So what could possibly improve on these potent packets of health? Chile peppers, of course! Combining the sweet flavor of blueberries with the warmth of chiles is a winning combination. According to Sharon Hopkins, R.D., evidence is pouring in on why you should be noshing on chiles. Not only are these fiery vegetables low in fat, low in sodium, and high in fiber, they are veritable power plants of vitamins (A, B1, B2, B3, C, and E), phytochemicals, and antioxidants. According to researchers in the Ethnobotany Department at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, one medium green chile contains up to six times the amount of vitamin C in a Valencia orange, and twice the amount of vitamin A and beta carotene in a carrot. This makes the humble chile pepper an valuable—and tasty—source of nutrients that boost the immune system.
We’ve compiled recipes from several sources that feature blueberries and chiles in tandem. Satisfy your taste for heat and enjoy the knowledge that you’re eating healthy at the same time. Any of these recipes can be prepared with either domestic or wild blueberries, though the flavor of the finished dish will be more intense if you walk on the wild side of the color blue. Thanks to the North America Blueberry Association for the recipes that designate Wild Blueberries in the ingredients.
Blueberry Cobbler with Spicy Biscuits
Photo by Sergio Salvador
The sweetness of the blueberries in this recipe is enhanced by the heat from the biscuits. You may use other fruit fillings, but fresh blueberries work the best. This recipe was developed by cobbler,biscuitsFood Editor Emily DeWitt-Cisneros.
2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
1 teaspoon Mexican vanilla extract
1/4 cup orange juice
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon flour
2 teaspoons butter, melted
1 1/4 cups all purpose baking mix (Bisquick)
1/3 cup milk
1 tablespoon hot New Mexican chile powder
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Lightly grease an 8-inch-square baking dish. In the baking dish mix blueberries, vanilla, and orange juice. Sprinkle the top with sugar and flour, then stir in the butter. Bake for 15 minutes. While the blueberries are baking, in a medium size bowl combine the baking mix, milk and chile powder and mix until soft dough forms, adding more milk if needed.
Turn onto a flat surface sprinkled with baking mix. Fold and pat 5 times. Roll dough to 1/2-inch-thick. with a biscuit cutter cut out 5 biscuits. Remove the blueberries from the oven.
Raise temperature of the oven to 450 degrees F. Place the 5 biscuits on top of the blueberries and return to oven for 8-10 minutes or until biscuits are golden brown. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.
Yield: 5 servings
Heat scale: Mild
Blistering Baked Squash with Bombastic Blueberries
This recipe is from the classic vegetarian cookbook for chileheads: Hot & Spicy & Meatless 2, by Dave DeWitt, Mary Jane Wilan, and Melissa T. Stock. In this recipe, we combine not only a vegetable but also a fruit and a few well-chosen chiles. Use fresh blueberries when available, although frozen berries will work as well.
4 acorn squashes, cut in half lengthwise, seeds removed
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup finely chopped apple
1 fresh habanero chile, seeds and stem removed, finely minced, or 1 teaspoon habanero powder
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
12 ounces fresh blueberries or frozen blueberries, thawed and drained
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Place the cut squash in a shallow baking pan (or pans) and pour 1/2 cup water into each pan. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.
Heat the butter and oil in a small skillet and saute the apple, habanero chile, brown sugar, and blueberries over low heat for 1 minute.
Remove the squash from the oven and make several slices in the squash, taking care not to cut through the skin. Divide the apple mixture and add an equal amount to each squash, pressing into the slits. Cover tightly and bake for 15 minutes.
Remove the foil and bake, uncovered, for an additional 15 to 20 minutes.
Yield: 8 servings
Heat Scale: Medium (hotter if you add more habaneros)
Photo by Sergio Salvador
Savory Blueberry Compote
Use either frozen or fresh blueberries for this compote. You also can adjust the heat by adding fewer chipotles to begin with and then adding more until you reach the desired heat. Chipotles in adobo sauce can be found in the Hispanic section of your supermarket. Serve over pork tenderloin or meat of your choice. This recipe was developed by SuperSite Food Editor Emily DeWitt-Cisneros.
2 cups blueberries
1/4 cup orange juice
5 chipotles in adobo sauce, chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
In a medium-sized saucepan, add blueberries and orange juice and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer until the blueberries are soft, about 5-10 minutes. With a potato masher or fork break up the blueberries. With a strainer drain off the excess liquid. Return the blueberries to saucepan, add the chipotles and sugar. Heat through. Serve over your meat of choice.
Yield: 1 cup
Heat Scale: Hot
Thanks to the North America Blueberry Association for the following recipes and photos:
Tuna Carpaccio with Wild Blueberry Wasabi Sauce
1 pound sushi-grade tuna steak
2 teaspoons oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon honey
2-3 teaspoons wasabi
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 cup fresh or frozen Wild Blueberries
handful of arugula leaves
Blot tuna steak dry with a paper towel. Heat oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Cook the tuna on both sides until browned but not cooked through. Remove from heat and let tuna rest in the pan off stove for a few minutes. Season tuna with salt and pepper. Cool completely.
In a small bowl, combine honey, wasabi, balsamic vinegar and sugar. Gently stir in Blueberries.
To serve: cut tuna steak diagonally against the grain with a sharp knife into thin slices. Divide steak between four plates, spoon blueberry sauce over top, and garnish each portion with arugula. Serve with a baguette.
Heat Scale: Mild
Amazing Wild Blueberry Salsa
2 cups Wild Blueberries fresh or frozen (thawed)
1/2 medium onion (red or white), diced small
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced (add more to taste)
1 medium red bell pepper, diced small
3 tablespoons chopped parsley or cilantro
1/4 cup lime or lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
pinch of cinnamon
Combine all ingredients, folding in Wild Blueberries last. Refrigerate 1 hour or more to blend flavors. Serve with corn chips or use as a relish with meat and poultry dishes.
Heat Scale: Medium
Chicken Satay with Spicy Wild Blueberry Peanut Butter Sauce
3 tablespoons finely chopped or grated fresh ginger
1 shallot or 1/4 cup onion
1 serrano chile, stem and seeds removed, finely minced
1 teaspoon oil
6 ounces water
3 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
1 1/2 cups frozen Wild Blueberries
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 single chicken breasts
or 1 pound thinly sliced chicken breast
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Peel the ginger and shallot, finely dice. Heat oil and briefly sauté with the serrano chile. Add the water and peanut butter over medium heat and whisk together. Add frozen Blueberries. Mix a small amount of water into the cornstarch and add to the berry/nut sauce. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Cut the chicken breast filets lengthwise into thin strips or use prepared sliced breasts. Flavor with salt and pepper. Put the strips in an accordion manner onto a lightly oiled skewer. Heat oil in a coated pan and cook the skewers from both sides for 2-3 minutes each. Serve together with the blueberry sauce.
Heat Scale: Mild to medium
Quinoa Salad with Wild Blueberries
1 1/3 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pink peppercorns
1/2 cup quinoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 medium zucchini
3 ounces Havarti cheese
1 cup lowfat cottage cheese
4 fresh mint leaves, optional
Mix blueberries with vinegar and pink pepper; set mixture aside. Cook quinoa as instructed in salt water. Let cool. Wash zucchini, cut in half lengthwise, and thinly slice into half-moons. Cut Havarti into cubes; set aside. Mix cooked quinoa with zucchini, Havarti and cottage cheese. Gently stir in the blueberries and mint leaves. Serve with a baguette if desired.
Heat Scale: Mild