To me, fresh cranberries are the essence of the holiday season. Their red hues are perfect complements to the reds, oranges and yellows of their seasonal compatriots, apples and squash. In contrast to the beguiling sweetness of late summer’s melons and stone fruit, their tartness can catch you unexpectedly like a cold gust of early winter wind. Cranberries can even look like the season — sprinkle some sugar on them, and they resemble holly berries under a dusting of snow.
What I most love about cranberries, however, is how their flavor pairs so beautifully with many classic holiday dishes. Cranberries are the perfect accompaniment to turkey on Thanksgiving, ham on Christmas, and brisket on Hanukkah. (For every other day of the year, cranberries are sublime served alongside sautéed or roasted chicken.)
During the busy holiday season, it is tempting to resort to pre-made or canned versions of this classic holiday side dish. But I urge you to resist this temptation. Most canned versions have about five teaspoons of added sugar per ¼ cup serving, making them more like cranberry jelly than cranberry sauce. In the case of pre-made versions, you’re unlikely to ever learn how much sugar has been added.
Instead, try my version. It’s a relish that uses about half of the added sugar of the typical canned cranberry sauce. It’s able to do this because it includes tangerines, which add some sweetness but also a significant amount of fiber, as well as cinnamon, which can be just as pleasing to the palate as sugar. A pinch of salt ties all of the flavors together.Preparing the relish takes less than half an hour. The fruits are chopped finely in a food processor, and then they are gently cooked with the remaining ingredients and a little water over low heat until the mixture reduces and thickens somewhat, about 20 minutes.
The result is a sophisticated and less sugary update to a holiday classic that you’ll want to serve all year long.
Cranberry Citrus Relish
- 1 12-ounce bag of cranberries (about 3 cups)*
- 4 tangerines**
- ½ cup of granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon***
- 1/2 cup water
- Pinch of salt
- Place the cranberries in a colander and thoroughly rinse under running water.
- Peel the tangerines and discard the peel. Divide the peeled tangerines into segments and roughly chop.
- Place the cranberries and chopped tangerines in a food processor and pulse the mixture, for 2-3 seconds each pulse, until the fruit is coarsely chopped. (You should be able to see individual chunks of fruit.) Sprinkle the sugar over the fruit mixture and pulse a few more times, again 2-3 seconds each pulse, until the sugar is incorporated into the mixture and the fruit is more finely and evenly chopped.
- Place the contents of the food processor bowl into a pan, add the cinnamon, water, and salt, and stir to combine. Bring just to a boil, and then reduce the heat and let simmer gently for 20 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and allow the relish to cool slowly. It will thicken as it cools. (If it becomes too thick, you can always thin it slightly with more water or even some orange juice, which adds back some of the vitamin C lost during cooking.) Transfer the relish to a serving dish (if using immediately) or to a storage container and refrigerate (if using later).
*Cranberries freeze beautifully. If you want to make this dish year around, keep bags of fresh cranberries purchased during the holiday season in your freezer. There is no need to thaw them before using.
**I like to use tangerines in this recipe because they are easy to peel and widely available during the holiday season. However, you can substitute one naval orange for the tangerines if you prefer.
**You can use nutmeg or ginger in place of the cinnamon. Nutmeg has a sweetness similar to cinnamon. Ginger has a spicier edge. All three are great sources of antioxidants.