A couple of times these past few months I’ve mentioned in passing the Lean Cuisine Culinary Roundtable, but when I got a call from my cousin in Pensacola, FL wanting to know why I was pictured on the back of her frozen entrée with five cute chefs, I knew it was time to talk.
The Culinary Round Table is a group of very gifted chefs assembled by Lean Cuisine to makeover some of its most popular entrees and to create new ones. As the group’s curator I get to hang with them, learn from them, and then share the good news.
There’s another reason it’s time to start talking about the Culinary Roundtable. A few months ago USA Weekend Magazine asked me re-think the Thanksgiving classics. I could do it, of course, but after watching Michelle, Lior, Elizabeth, Brad, and Paul bring new flavor, color, boldness, and freshness to the Lean Cuisine line, I got them to do my homework assignment instead. Smart, eh?
I’m so glad I did. Between now and Thanksgiving I’ll be sharing their bright takes on many of our Thanksgiving favorites—green bean casserole, creamed onions, sweet potato casserole, pumpkin pie. Today I’m leading with Lior, who has brilliantly reinterpreted cranberry sauce.
If you check out his recipe the first thing you’ll notice: no sugar! Rather he relies on pomegranate juice, apple cider and dried fruits to add natural sweetness and an intriguing mix of spices to add subtle interest. The result is a gorgeous sweet-tart relish that I adore.
The other night I served this cranberry sauce with fresh goat cheese on toasted baguette. Everyone was expecting sweet. Instead they got a bite of something bold, refreshing, bracing and loved it.
Lior Lev Sercarz , this exquisite cranberry sauce’s designer (this Lior is a culinary Dior!) is owner of La Boîte à Epice, in New York City where he creates unique spice blends as well as a seasonal line of cookies, called La Boîte à Biscuits. Before that he’s worked for some of the world’s most respected chefs, including New York’s Daniel Boulud and spice master Olivier Roellinger, so he’s not only a spice guru, he’s also a very gifted chef.
When I asked Lior to share the inspiration behind his cranberry sauce he said, “More than ever, the United States is a melting pot with a cuisine just as diverse. Thanksgiving is the one holiday that brings us together. Of all the holiday dishes, cranberry sauce is distinctly American. My Cranberry Chutney With Apricots and Pecans celebrates our unity and diversity.” Love it.
A couple of notes about the sauce: if you can’t find ground fennel, finely crush fennel seeds with a heavy-bottomed saucepan (or mince with a sharp chef’s knife). You can also substitute an equal amount of ground star anise for the fennel. And if you’re looking for a shortcut, Lior gives permission to substitute 1 1/2 teaspoons Pumpkin Pie Spice or Apple Pie Spice blend (or even curry powder or garam masala for the more adventurous) for all of the spices.
At some point in my life I may find a better cranberry sauce—I doubt it. Until then, this is my new classic.
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon each: ground fennel and ground cardamom
- ⅛ teaspoon each: ground cloves and ground ginger
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- ½ cup apple cider
- ¼ cup pomegranate juice
- 1 bag (12 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- ¼ cup dried apricots, cut into small dice
- ¼ cup toasted pecans, chopped coarse
- 2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
- Mix spices; bring cider, pomegranate juice, and spice blend to a boil in a large saucepan. Add cranberries and return to a boil, cooking until some of the cranberries just start to pop, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Meanwhile, mix dried cranberries, apricots, pecans, and orange zest in a medium bowl. Add cooked cranberries to the dried fruits; toss gently to coat. Cool and refrigerate until ready to use (Can be covered and refrigerated up to 5 days.)
Leftovers make a great condiment for lamb, chicken thighs, or goat cheese or as a yogurt topping.