9th January – Happy National Apricot Day !!
Cute little fellas related to my good friends the peach, plums and cherries. Although I rarely see them on the market or supermarket. I was surprised to see they’re high in iron in fact I was struck at how little I actually knew about this little fruit compared to many other fruits.
My first taste of apricot was a jam, I loved it and would probably choose it over strawberry jam. I then enjoyed dried, canned or ready to eat apricots mostly in savoury dishes. Only after these did I try a fresh apricot.
History places China and Central Asia as apricots’ country of origin back in 2000BC before being placed in Persia and Eurasia where apricots were better known as the Yellow Plum. We have them and Middle East to thank for adding apricot and other fruits and nuts to enhance meat dishes. Apricots were also used to make syrups and drinks not to mention Arabic desserts. Fast forward a few hundred years and they have arrived in California and beyond.
Apricot trees are the first of the season to flower and produce, paving the way for other stoned fruits. They are not hardy like our plum trees and do better grown in the UK in a pot – (I’m told!)
How can you tell if an apricot is ripe? You’re looking for plump, orangey yellow or orange colour. Did you know Apricots continue to ripen after they are picked? Clever eh? If they are not quite ready to eat when you buy them, store in a paper bag for a day or two till they are soft and juicy. To slow them from ripening they can be stored in the fridge.
Freezing apricots is simple. If you are peeling them go straight to point 5.
- Wash them in cold water and vinegar 3:1.
- Blanch them for 30-60 seconds in boiling water.
- Remove with a slotted spoon straight into ice cold water for a minute.
- Remove to drain and pat dry.
- Peel and cut in half remove the stone and place them on a baking sheet. Or put them in the freezer until frozen – then pour the halves into a resealable freezer bag and press out all the air.
– Dried Apricots are one of the few fruits high in iron. Our bodies need iron to carry oxygen to the brain and muscles making it essential for physical and mental performance.
– They’re colour are a give away to them being a great source of Beta-Carotene, good for skin and eyes and brain function particularly cognitive function and memory.
– As well as vitamin C, vitamin A, Copper, Lycopene.
– Apricots produce an alkaline reaction in the digestive system which, along with being high in fibre, aids digestion. This fruit is winning in our books!
On this weeks Fill Your Fridge menu I offered the joys of Morocco to Northampton’s dinner tables in the shape of Lamb Tagine with apricot and chickpea. I wanted apricots this week and was delighted to find a lovely recipe from Abigail Spooner on the Sainsbury magazine website. One quick scan of the ingredients list and I was salivating. Strong flavour combination aside it was the orange juice and zest that really did it for me.
1kg diced lamb, or from a boneless lamb leg joint, excess fat trimmed and cut into 3cm cubes
3 tsp ground coriander
3 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground ginger
juice of 1 orange, plus zest to garnish
3 tbsp olive oil
2 red onions, sliced
2 tbsp plain flour
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp tomato purée
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
500ml lamb or chicken stock
2 cinnamon sticks
150g soft dried apricots, roughly chopped
100g pitted dates, quartered
1 x 400g tin chickpeas, rinsed and drained
Place the diced lamb in a bowl with the spices and orange juice. Season well, then toss to coat. Cover and leave to marinate overnight in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 170°C, fan 150°C, gas 3. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large flameproof casserole, add half the lamb and its marinade and brown over a high heat. Remove to a bowl and repeat with another tablespoon of oil and the rest of the lamb.
Reduce the heat to low, deglaze the pan with a generous splash of water. Once the water has almost evaporated, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil and cook the onions for 5 minutes. Add the flour, garlic and tomato purée, then cook for another 1-2 minutes, stirring.
Tip in the lamb and any juices along with the chopped tomatoes, stock and cinnamon sticks. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook in the oven for 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Stir in the apricots, dates and chickpeas. If the sauce is looking too thick, you can add some more stock or water. Cook for a further 30 minutes or until the lamb is very tender and the sauce has thickened. Check the seasoning.
I stayed close to this recipe, trusting the ingredients, I can’t tell you how good the kitchen smelt. This recipe serves 6 and freezes well. If you’re going to enjoy from the freezer at another time, just remember to remove the cinnamon sticks before freezing. To serve add some orange zest, fresh coriander and toasted almonds to garnish. I offered couscous to soak up the flavours but flat breads are also suggested. Enjoy.
Shannon and Liz