Like seeds and nuts, berries have been a staple food from the beginning.
“We have been eating berries since we’ve been walking the Earth,” says Steven Pratt, author of SuperFoods HealthStyle (William Morrow, $24.95). “We ate them fresh in the summer. And dried, they kept all winter.”
North American Indians ate pemmican, a mixture of meat or fish, hot fat and crushed berries. In addition to being nutritious, the berries helped preserve the meat.
More recently, the blueberry — a cultivated plant that thrives in the northern United States — has received the lion’s share of positive press. But strawberries, raspberries and blackberries have similar nutrition profiles, each rich in antioxidants, compounds that fight disease such as cancer and heart disease.
So did we really need modern science to confirm the benefits of a food we’ve eaten for thousands of years?
“You know, there’s no bad berry on the planet,” Pratt says.
Ah, but what about when berries meet their one true match: cream.
Not if you’re talking about an updated classic like The Star’s Summer Berries With Yogurt Cream. Long considered a health food, most yogurt includes live active cultures that can keep the “good” bacteria in your body in check while providing protein, calcium and B vitamins. To be sure the yogurt contains live cultures, Pratt advises consumers to look for L. acidophilus and S. thermophilus on the label. Some yogurts also contain L. bulgaricus, B. bifidus, L. casei and L. reuteri. He advises seeking out yogurts that contain a variety of cultures, because each has health benefits.
•Shopping tips: Take care when choosing berries. All berries are fragile and should be eaten within a day or two of purchase. Never wash berries until you are ready to use them.
Ripe strawberries are brightly colored and should have their green tops attached; smaller strawberries also tend to have a deeper flavor.
When choosing blueberries, look for a silvery “frost” on the skin and avoid any that are shriveled or mushy.
Raspberries should be firm and plump and missing their hulls; if the hull is attached the berries are immature and will be quite tart. Choose raspberries without evidence of mold or mushiness.
Look for blackberries that are dark, plump and missing their hulls.
•Cooking tip: When you toss fruit with juice and vinegar and let it sit, you’re macerating, a fancy-schmancy culinary term that means soaking fruit in a liquid to absorb flavor. The Italians have long known that strawberries have an affinity for cream flavored with balsamic vinegar.
•Pump it up: It may seem obvious, but add seeds or nuts and you’ve upped the nutrition by adding “good” fat and/or more fiber.
Summer berries with yogurt cream
Makes 4 servings
1 pint strawberries, hulled and cut in half
2 cups mixed berries such as blueberries, raspberries or blackberries
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 cup nonfat vanilla yogurt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Toss fruit with juice, sugar and vinegar. Allow to stand for 15 minutes. Toss again.
Whisk cream until slightly thickened. Fold into yogurt with vanilla. Serve berries in stemmed glasses and dollop with yogurt.
Per serving: 130 calories (22 percent from fat), 3 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 11 milligrams cholesterol, 24 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 27 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.
Recipe developed for The Star by professional home economists Kathryn Moore and Roxanne Wyss.