In America, apricots have become one of our first signs of summer. They are a pretty orange in color, have velvety skin and flesh and are not overly juicy while still smooth and sweet to the palate.
However, the season is short so over half the apricots grown must be canned for later use.
Varieties of Apricots
There are at least ten varieties of apricots. Some of the most common ones found in markets are the early Castlebrite, Patterson and Flaming Gold. Choose apricots that are slightly soft but still firm and fuzzy in texture, with a yellow-orange color. Ripe apricots bruise easily, so look for unblemished fruit, especially for desserts and fresh-fruit compotes. Avoid buying apricots that have no aroma or that are rock-hard.
Nothing is better than fresh tree-ripened fruit, so local sources are always the best. But in areas where cultivation is impossible, farmers' markets and grocery stores usually have a good selection. California supplies 95-percent of the nation's apricots.
Apricot season runs from mid-May through early July. Apricots are relatives to peaches, and their flavor is somewhere between that of a peach and a plum.
Apricots are enjoyed as a fresh fruit but also dried, cooked into pastry, and eaten as jam. The fruits are also distilled into brandy and liqueur. Try serving fresh apricots in your next green salad when they are in season.
For most, apricots taste best when fully ripenened. Ripen your apricots by placing them in a closed paper bag at room temperature for two to three days.
Store ripe apricots in your crisper bin of the refrigerator. Once ripe, apricots can be halved, pitted and frozen. They become soft when thawed but can be used in sauces, purees, ice creams and sorbet.
Cooking suggestion: Cook apricots with sugar (1 pound of fruit per 2 cups sugar) on the stove until thickened for a delicious jam.
Dried and Canned Apricots
While fresh apricots are tops nutritionally, don't discount dried apricots and canned apricots. All have something to offer. Dried apricots are a concentrated source of calories, as well as nutrients, so it's important to practice portion control.
Canned apricots provide much nutrition despite some losses in vitamin C and potassium during processing. The biggest negative is the additional calories and sugar found in the canning liquid. Juice-packed and water-packed apricots are the most healthful canned options, but if you can't find them, opt for "extra light" or "light" syrup; avoid those packed in heavy syrup.
The beta-carotene in apricots may provide heart benefits by curbing the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. Eating three or more servings a day of fruit has been shown to help protect against age-related macular degeneration, a sight-robbing eye disease.
Apricot Cooking Tips
- Cook with sugar (1 pound of fruit per 2 cups sugar) on the stove until thickened for a delicious jam.
- Add apricots to grain dishes for extra flavor, textural contrast and nutrition.
- Dried apricots will keep for a few months in a plastic bag. Sprinkle on cereal or yogurt or stew in a little water with cinnamon for a compote or pancake topping.
Amazingly Simple Apricot Sorbet Recipe
2 (15-1/4 ounce each) cans apricot halves
Sprig of mint for garnish, optional
Place the two cans of apricots in the freezer overnight. Briefly run the cans under hot water to loosen the contents. Dice into 1-inch cubes and put in a food processor; pulse until creamy. Serve immediately or freeze for later use. If desired, garnish with a sprig of mint. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Apricot Chicken Stir Fry Recipe
1/2 cup dried apricot halves, cut in half
1/4 cup hot water
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, optional
1/8 teaspoon pepper
3/4 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, but into 1 /2-inch chunks
4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, halved
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup halved snow peas
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
In a small bowl, soak apricots in water; set aside (do not drain). Combine flour, cilantro if desired and pepper; sprinkle over the chicken and set aside. Heat two teaspoons oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat; stir-fry onion and celery for two to three minutes or until tender. Add peas, ginger, garlic and apricots; stir-fry for two minutes. Remove and keep warm. Add remaining oil to skillet; stir-fry the chicken for six to seven minutes or until no longer pink. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Return apricot mixture to skillet and heat through.
Recipe makes four servings.
Nutritional information per serving: Calories: 203; Total Fat: 7g; Saturated fat: 1g; Cholesterol: 47mg; Sodium: 70mg; Carbohydrate: 17g; Protein: 19g
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