It’s a big day for one of the world’s smallest fruits, the raisin. Long before processed foods became the snack of choice in America, people would snack on healthful* raisins, or nut and raisin mixes. Much as we enjoy chocolate-covered raisins, National Raisin Day, April 30th, is the day to return to raisins’ roots.
Raisins are a great grab-and-go snack, but are also so much more. So we’re paying homage to the humble dried grape by sharing 30 ways in which it is elevated to something quite special.
If you don’t like raisins (there are some of you out there, and one of you works at THE NIBBLE), you can use the following recipe concepts with dried blueberries, cherries or strawberries.
1. BREAKFAST CEREAL. Just as Skinner’s Raisin Bran first added raisins to its bran flakes back in 1926, you can make Raisin Cheerios, Raisin Chex, Raisin Rice Krispies, Raisin Special K, raisin granola, raisin oatmeal or other mix.
2. PANCAKES. After making a disappointing batch of blueberry pancakes (the berries were way too tart), we fished out the berries and substituted raisins. Delicious!
Mixed raisins. Photo by Katharine Pollak | THE NIBBLE.
*Raisins are good nutrition: A 1/4 cup serving has 9% DV of fiber and potassium and 6% DV of iron, no cholesterol; no fat and no added sugar. The USDA ranks raisins as the most economical dried fruit.
3. MUFFINS & DANISH. If you enjoy a raisin bagel, how about raisin toast (from a loaf of raisin bread) or homemade raisin muffins? A cheese danish without raisins is a disappointment. If you buy raisinless baked goods, simply add your own. They affix nicely with the tiniest dab of honey. If it’s a cheese croissant, cut it in half and sprinkle in the raisins (and some sliced almonds, too).
4. CARROT RAISIN SLAW. It’s delicious with sandwiches or cottage cheese and yogurt. Here’s an easy recipe: 4 cups shredded carrots, 1-1/2 cups raisins, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 to 3 tablespoons milk. Combine carrots and raisins in a mixing bowl. In a smaller bowl, combine mayonnaise, sugar and enough milk to achieve a dressing consistency. Thoroughly coat carrot-raisin mixture. Yields 8 servings.
5. COTTAGE CHEESE & YOGURT. Whether for breakfast, lunch or snacks, add some raisins to your yogurt and cottage cheese. We love an artistic mixture of black raisins and golden raisins (sultanas), and some sliced almonds.
6. SALADS. Raisins are delicious in a mixed green salad, spinach salad or arugula and endive salad; the sweetness plays well against bitter greens. Toss raisins into cole slaw or even a fresh fruit salad; dried fruits add an interesting counterpoint to the fresh ones. Raisins are de rigeur in curried chicken, tuna and egg salads.
7. WRAPS & SANDWICHES. Sprinkle a few raisins into just about any wrap, from ham and cheese to turkey to grilled vegetables. Raisins add sweetness in the way that chutney (which often includes raisins) and cranberry sauce do. Then there are peanut butter and raisin sandwiches, cream cheese and raisins, grilled cheese and raisins and one of our favorites, goat cheese and raisins on a toasted baguette.
Curried roasted cauliflower with raisins.
8. ANTS ON A LOG. This retro snack is as much fun today as it originally was in the 1950s. Celery stalks are filled with peanut butter, and raisins placed atop like a line of ants. Our mother preferred cream cheese to peanut butter.
9. ENERGY FIX, HUNGER FIX. Keep boxes of raisins in your desk drawer, glove compartment, gym bag or locker. They’re yummy alone, with a cup of tea, cinnamon-accented coffee or other drink.
10. RAISIN “S’MORES.” Instead of graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows, grill thin slices of baguette with a piece of chocolate bar and some raisins.
11. TRAIL MIX. Long before the term trail mix was coined (in the 1950s), middle class families would keep a candy dish of mixed nuts and raisins on the coffee table. If you had an especially good grandmother, she would toss M&Ms or chocolate chips into the mix when you were visiting.
12. BEANS & LENTILS. Stir raisins into bean and lentil dishes. For baked beans, cut the sugar in half and add a half cup of golden raisins (a nicer color contrast with the beans).
13. CALVES LIVER, FISH, CHICKEN PAILLARD. Use the rum raisin sauce in #15 below; cut the sugar in half and substitute wine for the rum.
14. CHILI. Do you know the trick of adding chocolate to chili to bring out new dimensions of flavor? It works with raisins, too.
15. CURRY. Raisins accent any curry dish, or any dish seasoned with cinnamon, ginger or turmeric,
16. HAM OR PORK. You can substitute (or add) raisins for prunes in pork/prune recipes. Or, top ham or pork roasts with a rum raisin sauce: In small saucepan, combine 1 cup water and 1 cup raisins (we like to mix black and golden raisins); bring mixture to boil. In a separate bowl, combine 1/2 cup brown sugar and 2 tablespoons flour; add slowly to raisin mixture, stirring constantly until thickened. Add 2 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons rum; stir to blend and remove from heat.
17. MEAT DISHES. Pot roast, heavy casseroles and stews of meat and/or poultry get a lift from 1/4 cup of raisins.
18. RICE & GRAINS. Go Middle Eastern and add raisins to your hot rice dishes or rice salads. Do the same with whole grains: barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, farro, quinoa, etc.
19. STIR FRY. Along with your protein and garlic, add a sweet touch of raisins.
20. STUFFED CABBAGE. One of our favorite ancestral foods, we recently purchased a prepared dish of stuffed cabbage at Zabar’s in New York City. There was so much sugar in the recipe, we couldn’t eat it until we’d fixed a work-around with vinegar. Zabar’s took the cheaper route with sugar, when naturally sweet raisins were the proper ingredient.
21. STUFFING. A packaged bread stuffing comes alive with some raisins and fresh herbs.
22. VEGETABLES. Add raisins and nuts to bitter greens like chard and kale; definitely try them with Brussels sprouts and bacon.
23. CAKES & QUICK BREADS. Add raisins to carrot cake and zucchini bread. They’re delicious in pound cake; even more so when they’re pre-soaked in rum. We put those rum-soaked raisins into brownies, too.
24. COOKIES. Make classic oatmeal raisin cookies, with or without chocolate chips. Butter cookies and shortbread with raisins are also delicious.
25. PIE. Add to apple or other fruit pie or pecan pie; make a sour cream raisin pie. Other popular combinations include cranberry-raisin, pumpkin-raisin and rhubarb-raisin.
26. PUDDING. Add raisins to bread pudding, custard, rice pudding, tapioca or any flavored pudding (butterscotch, chocolate, pistachio, vanilla, etc.). They work nicely in applesauce, too.
27. RUM RAISIN ICE CREAM. Marinate raisins in rum and sugar for several hours or overnight. Remove the raisins from the liquid and stir into softened vanilla ice cream; return to the freezer to harden. Or use them as a topping on scoops of ice cream, or interspersed in a parfait.
28. STEWED FRUIT. We love to make our grandmother’s stewed fruit compote: seasonal fresh fruits accented with a scattering of raisins.
COCKTAILS & WINE
29. MULLED WINE. Toss raisins into mulled wine, while it’s warming or as a garnish. And supply an espresso spoon or cocktail pick so they can be easily eaten.
30. MARTINI. Garnish a Martini with vermouth-soaked raisins. You can drop them into the glass or serve them skewered.
RAISIN TRIVIA: California is the raisin capital of the world. Almost all California raisins are grown within a 60-mile radius of Fresno, in California’s sun-drenched San Joaquin Valley.