I can’t remember a time when I didn’t eat raisins. In elementary school they were the sugary treat that held me over until dinnertime. In high school they balanced out my otherwise unhealthful school lunch—Cheetos and ham salad sandwiches, anyone? Today they are what I toss into my camera bag when I head out on an assignment or throw into my suitcase when I go on vacation. Small, portable and virtually indestructible, they’re the perfect snack for anyone on the run.
Because of my unabashed love of dried grapes, it never occurred to me that some people might hate them. More importantly, it never occurred to me that I might someday cook for these folks. Yet, today I know a surprising number of raisin detractors. Finding the fruit too rich, sticky, hard or wizened, they fish them out of my salads, sides, desserts and sauces. To a raisin devotee, this seems like sacrilege; after all, they’re rejecting one of nature’s best iron-, potassium- and protein-packed sweets.
While I may never sway raisin haters over to my side, I have had some success in making the fruit more palatable to them. To lessen the chewiness of uncooked raisins, I tumble them into a bowl, cover them with boiling water and let them soak for an hour. To cut the rich taste, I replace the water with hot rum and let the raisins steep in alcohol for 30 to 45 minutes. Sadly, I have no tricks to smooth out the wrinkles. My advice? If you dislike the desiccated skin, eat a grape instead.
The following dish should please both raisin fans and foes.
FRUIT AND ALMOND COUSCOUS
Serves 4 to 6
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1 cup couscous
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup dates, chopped
1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/4 cup almonds, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
Cinnamon, for dusting
In a medium saucepan boil the water. Add the couscous, raisins, dates, and apricots. Cover the saucepan and remove from heat. Let stand for 30 minutes.
In a small frying pan over medium heat, toast almonds until golden.
In a large bowl combine cooked couscous and butter. Rake your fingers through the couscous, loosening the grains and incorporating the butter with the fruit.
Pour in the maple syrup and gently stir. Add the toasted almonds and blend again. Dust the top with cinnamon and serve.