This time of year, berries abound, and you can only bake so many pies. Luckily the diminutive fruits pack enough pluck and flavor to lend complexity to a main course. If the idea of using berries in savory dishes gives you flashbacks to 1980s-style raspberry vinaigrette, buck up. The recipes offered here, like blackberry pork ribs and halibut with raspberry relish, feature assertive meats and big spicy, salty and tart flavors.
The use of fruit in main dishes goes way back—even further than the ’80s. Paul Freedman, professor of history at Yale University and author of “Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination,” said that the use of fruit, sugar and sweet spices in main dishes was fashionable in Europe during the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, when concoctions like sour cherry pie with cheese and eggs as well as chicken with pomegranate weren’t uncommon. The 18th century saw the rise of a new culinary style that separated the sweet from the savory. The focus of sauces shifted to intensifying the flavor of the meat with onions and broth reductions, rather than layering it with fruits and spices. “The spicy and sweet flavorings were replaced by a greater attention to the ingredients, and a preference for herbs over spices,” Mr. Freedman said.
Yet for those of us who love sweet and savory combinations, berries are a natural way to achieve that sweet-salty twinning. No one knows this better than food writer Janie Hibler, author of “The Berry Bible.” As an Oregonian, she lives in one of the country’s major berry-growing regions. She says that the key to cooking with berries is understanding how a particular berry’s sweetness and acidity will balance with the other ingredients in a dish. “I was very skeptical of fish with berries,” she said. “But you just need to recognize which berries have higher acidity. Acidic berries like gooseberries go best with fatty fish like mackerel. Halibut is not as fatty, so sweeter berries like strawberries or raspberries work really well.”
Ms. Hibler notes you should always taste your berries before starting to cook with them. If they’re super-sweet, just add a little extra lemon juice or vinegar to the dish. Remember, the recipes here are just the beginning—play around with the idea all you want. Nobody’s saying you can’t have berries for dessert, too.
Blueberry and Cucumber Salad With Feta
This salad’s refreshing crunch is perfect in hot weather. Blueberries can be milder and less acidic than other berries, so they mellow the salty feta and sharp-tasting mint.
Total Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6 as an appetizer
Justin Walker for The Wall Street Journal, Food Styling by Karen Evans, Prop Styling by DSM