Sugar and savory spices liven up summer berries

This image released by Milk Street shows a recipe for Citrus and Spice Strawberry Compote. (Milk Street via AP)

By CHRISTOPHER KIMBALL Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

It’s time to stop thinking about the difference between sweet and savory spices. Many cooks around the world don’t make such a distinction.

In Greece and Turkey, for example, tomato sauce comes spiked with cinnamon, and in Mexico, fruit salad is sprinkled with cayenne pepper. In both cases, the spice is subtle but adds just enough contrast to make each bite more interesting.

We kept that in mind while searching for an easy way to enliven a simple summer berry compote. In this recipe from our book “COOKish,” which limits recipes to just six ingredients without sacrificing flavor, we tried black pepper and chili powder, a blend that can include not only spicy cayenne but also cumin, garlic and onion powder. The combination of sweet strawberries and savory spices was a hit, the perfect topping for vanilla ice cream or yogurt.

A single teaspoon sufficed for a pound of sweet strawberries, half of which we cooked with a relatively small amount of sugar and lime zest. We lightly mashed the cooked berries and poured them over fresh ones, which softened with the compote’s heat.

Substituting garam masala, an Indian spice blend that includes warming spices like cinnamon and clove but also black pepper, mustard and coriander, was just as good with the citrus zest and berries, though with a different flavor profile.




Start to finish: 20 minutes

Servings: 4 to 6

1 pound strawberries, hulled and quartered

2 tablespoons white sugar, divided

Grated zest of 1 lime OR 1 lemon OR 1/2 medium orange

1 teaspoon chili powder OR garam masala

1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Pinch of kosher salt

In a medium bowl, toss two-thirds of the berries with 1 tablespoon of sugar and the zest; set aside. In a small saucepan, toast the chili powder, stirring, until fragrant; add the remaining berries, the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar, the pepper, salt and 1/4 cup water. Simmer, stirring, for 5 minutes, then mash the berries to break them down. Cook, stirring, until jammy. Immediately pour over the berries in the bowl and stir. Let stand for 10 minutes.


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