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What makes strawberries special and the best ways to cook them

December being the official month to start strawberry-picking, chefs tell us how to use the fruit that is best served in desserts and share ways to make strawberries even more fun.

health Updated: Dec 12, 2018 13:09 IST
Anjali Shetty
Anjali Shetty
Hindustan Times
Strawberry,strawberries,strawberry recipes
For best flavour, do not wash the strawberries until you are ready to eat or use them. Moisture is the enemy when it comes to storing berries. (Unsplash)

Considered one of the most versatile berries, strawberries are used in almost everything — from sauces, syrups, and baked goods to jams and jellies. However, chefs also swear by their use of the berry in savouries such as salad dressings and the good ol’ chaat. Chefs share tips on using the berry in different preparations and also reveal some interesting dishes made out of it.

A hit in the kitchen

Strawberry season means it’s time to let your favourite fresh and fruity dishes come out to play. From skillet cakes to parfaits, there are plenty of ways to infuse this fan favourite. Celebrity chef Ajay Chopra says, “I personally feel nothing is more inspiring than a seasonal, ripe, juicy and gorgeously plump strawberry.”

Chef Gautam Samel shares that other than eating fresh strawberries, they can be dried or frozen and made into preserves. The berry can be also be used in cereal-based nutrition bars. The natural sweetness, complex flavours, and acidity from strawberries make it a great choice for desserts, too. Samel adds, “Strawberries and strawberry flavourings are a popular addition to dairy products, such as strawberry-flavoured milk, strawberry ice cream, strawberry milk shakes, strawberry smoothies, and strawberry yogurts, making them one of the favourite berries to be used by chefs in desserts.”

Chef and expert Karen Anand says, “It’s sweet, refreshing, and kids love it. It has the right balance of acidity and sweetness, making it a versatile ingredient to use for desserts.” Chef and restaurateur Amit Sharma says, “Strawberry is an acidic fruit which goes best with chocolate. In India, strawberries are the only berries that are easily available in the market.” Corporate chef and entrepreneur Kelvin Cheung says, “Depending on when the strawberry was picked, you have one ingredient with multiple different flavours — from tart to super sweet.”

Strawberries are sweet, refreshing, and kids love it. They have the right balance of acidity and sweetness, making them a versatile ingredient to use for desserts. (Unsplash)

Best ways to cook strawberries

The best time to use strawberries when they are fresh, which allows the flavour to speak for itself in the process. Chef Sabyasachi Gorai says, “I use it mainly for fresh salads and as garnishes for pastries and desserts.” Strawberries can be slowly stewed and used as a nice compote. Serve thinly sliced strawberries with scallop ceviche, it has the prefect crunch to balance the dish. Turn it into a vinegar and make a dressing from it. This adds refreshing, fruity notes to a simple and humble salad.

Pastry chef Husna Jumani points out that the easiest way to cook strawberry is to make a compote or slow roast them to concentrate the flavour. Chef and restaurateur Anjali Pathak shares that it’s best not to over heat strawberries, as they will lose their shape. “I like to use them uncooked or warmed, sprinkled with sugar and paired with cream in a fresh pastry tart,” she says.

Dos and don’ts
  • Avoid shriveled, dried up or mouldy strawberries. Avoid soggy ones, too, as this means they are past their prime. A good strawberry should be firm and shiny.
  • For best flavour, do not wash the strawberries until you are ready to eat or use them. Moisture is the enemy when it comes to storing berries.
  • Do not hull (take the green leafy bit off in advance since this will lessen the shelf life). If you need to preserve strawberries keep them overnight in a layer in sugar. The sugar will melt the next day leaving you with a delightful sauce.
  • Buy in bulk at the peak of season. This is when strawberries will taste the best. Preserve any you aren’t going to use immediately. Freeze them, make them into jam, or make shrubs for cocktails.

Kelvin adds that his favourite way of using strawberries is as a sauce — the natural sugars help add complexity in the flavour and also balances the dish overall. Instead of using as a main ingredient, strawberries can also be included as an additional element to a dish or simply as a garnish.

Indian dishes can be made with strawberries

It isn’t just exotic delights, but Indian dishes, too, that strawberries work really well with. These delicacies include kheer, rabdi, phirni and mawa cakes. But interestingly, it can be used with meaty dishes, too. Head chef Rishim Sachdeva says, “If acidity and sweetness is well balanced, it would compliment a fatty and spicy duck kebab with Shirmal and tickle the palate with perfect balance.”

Harish Parikh, Eddie’s Bistro, lists his Indian delicacies made of strawberries. “A simple Strawberry lassi, Strawberry barfee dipped in chocolate, Strawberry phirni creme brulee and Cannoli with strawberry mishti doi,” he says. Chef Nishant Mitra, Eddie’s Bistro, admits that the versatility of the ingredient makes it perfect for salads, pickles, chutneys and what not. He adds, “Its seasonality is a gorgeous heart-shaped berry that tends to burst with bright, juicy flavours, working in perfect symphony with other flavours. This makes it a desired ingredient for a dessert.”

One of the best ways to preserve fresh strawberries is to make jam and jelly out of them. (Unsplash)

What makes strawberries special

Sauces and syrups: Strawberries can be combined with sugar and reduced over heat to make a syrup. The syrup can be used to add strawberry flavour to desserts such as cakes, pies, and ice cream. Strawberry syrup can also be served with breakfast items like pancakes and waffles. “I use strawberry sauce to add colour to gourmet dessert plates and well as that punch of flavour.”

Baked goods: Cooked strawberries and strawberry preserves can be used as filling for pastries such as Danish pastries. Raw strawberries can be sliced to fill pies and cobblers. “I personally use the fruit for cake and muffin recipes, along with strawberry extract, to flavour baked goods.”

Jams and jellies: One of the best ways to preserve fresh strawberries is to make jam and jelly out of them. Strawberry jam and jelly are made by mashing and cooking the fruit with sugar, pectin and lemon juice. The cooked mixture is poured into sterile canning jars and processed in boiling water. Strawberry jam can be eaten the traditional way, as a bread topping, or used as an ingredient for other dishes. -- By chef Ajay Chopra

Recipe: Strawberry chaat with balsamic chutney and paan raita

Ingredients: 150g wild strawberries, 50g watermelon heart cut into triangles, 25g yellow cherry tomato, 1 pinch back salt, 1tsp balsamic vinegar, 1tsp honey, papdi – as per requirement, 50g sev

Ingredients for Balsamic chutney: 2tbsp balsamic vinegar reduction, ½ tsp chopped ginger, 1/4tsp chopped green chilly, 1/4tsp chopped mint, 1 pinch cumin powder, 1/2tsp chaat masala

Ingredients for raita: 1tbsp whipped cream, 1tbsp hung curd, 1tbsp curd, 1 pinch cumin powder, 1 pinch chaat masala, chopped pan leaves

Method: Cut strawberries into quarters. Mix with other ingredients for 30 minutes. For chutney, mix all the ingredients and set aside. For raita, mix all the ingredients and set aside. Arrange the papdi on a plate. Top with marinated strawberries, drizzle balsamic chutney around, and serve with dollop of raita. -- Recipe by celebrity chef Ajay Chopra

Recipe: Strawberry Curry

Strawberry curry

Ingredients: 8 medium sized strawberries, 6 garlic flakes, 1 piece tamarind, 6-8 peppercorns, 1/2tsp cumin, 1/2tsp mustard seeds, 1/4tsp turmeric powder, 1 tsp red chilli powder, few curry leaves, coriander leaves to garnish, a small pinch of asafoetida, 1 tsp sugar (optional), 2 whole red chillies, 2 tbsp oil, salt to taste.

Method: Crush the peppercorns and keep aside.Dissolve tamarind in hot water give it a good squeeze.Heat a pan and add 2 tbsp of cooking oil. Add the cumin, mustard seeds, asafoetida powder and curry leaves Add garlic. When it is slightly cooked add the strawberry pieces, turmeric powder, red chili powder, salt, pepper. Give everything a toss. Cover and cook for two minutes. The strawberry will turn mushy immediately. Add the tamarind water and discard pulp.When the raw smell goes off, add coriander leaves and sugar switch off flame .Keep it covered until served.--Recipe by Steffi Tellis, Lecturer-Food Production ITM IHM

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First Published: Dec 11, 2018 13:16 IST