• Sweet Versus Heat:

    As any food-scene observer will tell you, the hottest trend right now is heat. Diners can't get enough of the bold, spicy flavors of Thailand, India, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

    Bring on that fiery green seafood curry, the chile-spiked cabbage kimchee, the four-alarm salsa. But as every novice cook learns in culinary school, heat needs sweet.

    In many chile-loving cultures, fruit provides the refreshment that takes the edge off the heat. Often it's tropical fruit like mango, papaya, or pineapple. But grapes have the same ability to mitigate heat and require little prep time. They are ripe and readily available almost year round, and universally popular.

    For diners unaccustomed to spice, grapes can help acclimate them:

    Inspired by India:
    • Accompany spicy Indian kebabs with a cooling grape and yogurt raita.
    • Partner fried shrimp with a sweet-hot grape chutney.

    Inspired by Mexico:

    Inspired by Thailand:

    • Add grapes to a Thai chicken curry or to pad Thai.
    • Offer beef satay with a fiery peanut sauce and a refreshing grape salad.

    Even classic French preparations with butter-based sauces are getting spiced up for modern palates. Adding grapes to balance the heat can bring the dish back into the wine-friendly realm. For example, chef Samuel pairs a seared baby chicken in a spicy rub with a soothing red-grape sauce smoothed with butter. The sauce has the silky texture of a classic reduction sauce, but it isn't reduced, because the chef wants to retain the fresh grape taste. So he warms the grapes, stock, Port, and butter just long enough to soften the grapes, then purees and strains the mixture. Fresh, fast, and easy. On another occasion, you could pair the same sauce with a grilled peppercorn-crusted pork tenderloin. 

    In many Asian cuisines, cooks pay close attention to balancing sweet, sour, hot, and salty flavors. This principle is worth remembering as you explore ingredients and dishes from cultures that appreciate spicy food. Almost always, the spice is balanced with something sweet (think fresh fruit), salty(such as soy sauce, shrimp paste, or fish sauce), and sour (such as lime juice or vinegar). Fresh grapes can provide the sweet component and that appetizing element of surprise. 

    Featured Recipe: Watch Chef Samuel balance heat with sweet in Seared Fennel and Cayenne-Spiced Poulet with Pan-Roasted Grapes and Gastrique.

    Where Grapes Rule: Inspirations from the Mediterranean

    Grapes have thrived in the Mediterranean region since pre-biblical times. on-metal-trayThe Phoenicians brought the vine from Asia to Greece, the Greeks spread it around the Mediterranean, and the Romans encouraged its cultivation, too. Today, a bowl of fresh grapes, cool and glistening with rinse water, is a favorite way to end a meal from Andalusia to Israel. 

    Consequently, California table grapes fit seamlessly into many Mediterranean dishes. The pan-Mediterranean cooking that is so in vogue today offers countless opportunities to add grapes to the menu—an addition that makes almost any dish healthier, fresher, and more inviting. 

    Some contemporary ideas in the Mediterranean tradition: 

    From Spain
    Ajo blanco, a "white gazpacho" made with pureed almonds, garlic, bread, and olive oil and garnished with grapes 

    Pork scallopine with grapes and sherry 

    Saffron rice pilaf with duck and grapes 

    From Italy
    A rice salad enhanced with tiny bay shrimp, lemon zest, red grapes, and pine nuts 

    Gorgonzola with a condiment of honey mixed with black grapes and hazelnuts 

    From Morocco
    Steamed couscous with grapes and pistachio nuts 

    Tagine of squab, almonds, and grapes 

    From Lebanon
    Tabbouleh with grapes: softened bulgur, parsley, mint, green onions, cinnamon, and grapes; served with thick yogurt 

    Baked fish with tahini sauce and roasted grapes 

    From Greece
    Watermelon, grape, and feta salad 

    Rabbit braised with grapes and pearl onions 

    From Turkey
    Grapeleaf dolmas stuffed with rice, pine nuts, and grapes 

    Rice pudding with roasted grapes and rosewater 

    A chilled yogurt salad with grapes, toasted walnuts, green onions, mint, and garlic 

    Featured Recipe: Watch Chef Samuel take a fresh look at a Spanish classic in Ajo Blanco with Slow-Roasted Grapes and Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    Featured Recipe: Need a fresh hors d'oeuvre idea with a Mediterranean accent? Watch Chef Samuel prepare Grape Sofrito on Grilled Polenta with Mascarpone.
  • Fun Facts


    California produces 99% of the fresh grapes grown in the United States.
     
     Fresh grapes are harvested fully ripe and ready to use. Unlike many other fresh fruits, there is no guessing with grapes.
     

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