ON COOKING IN LANGLEY: So much can be done with a simple strawberry

Chef Dez invites readers to email in questions to him at dez@chefdez.com

By Chef Dez/Special to the Langley Advance Times

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It’s strawberry time!

Summer is here and strawberry season is one of the most celebrated times of the year for lovers of this luscious red fruit.

I always buy an abundant amount of all fruit when it is in season, and strawberries are no exception.

Although strawberries seem to be available throughout the entire year, thanks to our friends in the south; they are not as good as the ones we get fresh right here from our local farmers.

Imported strawberries from warmer climates have usually been cultivated in a way, which produces a larger and firmer berry more durable for transport.

This is great for having strawberries available year-round. However, these cultivation methods are also the culprit for producing a berry that usually is not as sweet or flavourful as it’s locally available counter-part.

Thus, we tend to rely on sweeteners and flavour enhancers, such as sugar or chocolate, when serving them.

A small amount of balsamic vinegar is also, surprisingly, a great way to bring out the flavour of fresh strawberries.

Strawberries are very perishable and should be handled and stored with care.

First of all, never buy a basket of strawberries that contains any spoiled ones. Although it may only be one berry, microscopic mold spores have already been transferred to adjacent berries in the basket.

This will lead to the whole basket of fruit deteriorating faster.

Since washing and handling of the berries will also increase the rapidness of spoilage, only wash the amount needed and leave the others untouched.

The washing of strawberries should only be done with the whole berry intact.

If the green top is removed, you will find that the centre is somewhat hollow.

This cavity will collect water and dramatically reduce (water down) the amount of flavour.

Unwashed leftover berries should be stored in the refrigerator in a covered container to keep their “musty” odor from dispersing throughout.

A drain tray in this container would be ideal, as it would aid in air circulation within, by keeping any moisture trapped at the bottom and away from the berries.

Freezing is another option for preservation. However, as with most fragile fruit quality loss in texture is a concern.

Strawberries are high in vitamin C and the most optimal way of maintaining their nutritional value is to leave them whole.

Cut strawberries have more surface area, and thus loose nutrients faster.

To prepare for freezing, wash the berries intact, pat them dry, remove the green tops, transfer them to a freezer bag, and use them within the next six months for best results.

There are many dishes that you can prepare using strawberries.

The most traditional are desserts such as strawberry shortcake and chocolate dipped strawberries.

However, they also work great as tidbits on cheese platter or make them into a salsa to spoon over grilled chicken or fish.

Many people have never made a salsa out of fruit, but it is very simple and the contrasting flavours are very complimentary to the grilled fish or meat it is being served upon.

To accomplish making a great strawberry salsa, just add an assortment of items to small-diced strawberries, such as red onion, yellow bell pepper, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice, and season with a little salt & pepper.

You will be amazed at the results – and since it is strawberry season, the time to experiment is now.

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– Chef Dez is a food columnist and culinary instructor in the Fraser Valley. Visit him at www.chefdez.com. Send questions to dez@chefdez.com or to P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, B.C. V2T 6R4

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