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Ingredient Fri Jun 13 2008

Tiny Apricots with a Ton of Flavor

Dried Hunza Apricots

They may look like desert pebbles, but these are apricots. From India.

To our eyes, too used to the dried apricots of the disc-shaped, bright-orange variety, these don't really look like apricots. The cherry-sized fruits are intensely wrinkled, their color that of aged ivory. To the gentle pressure of your fingers, these dry, beige orbs succumb only subtly. Since these apricots are packed in air-tight bags, there's no aroma to judge them by. The initial inclination, especially after noticing that a bag of 7 ounces carries a relatively hefty price tag of $8, is to place the bag right back to the shelf. Don't.

The reason my husband and I picked up a bag of dried Indian apricots at Patel Brothers' on Devon was a book titled "My Bombay Kitchen." (Incidentally, this excellent Parsi cookbook by Niloufer Ichaporia King, just won this year's James Beard award.) As she explains Parsi's long love affair with meats cooked with fruits, Ichaporia King isn't stingy with her words about the wonders of small apricots grown in Hunza valley of Pakistan. Stewed with meats or served as a dessert with clotted cream, these apricots are second to none, she insists, and her enthusiasm just rubbed off on us.

Standing in front of a shelf stacked high with dried dates, raw almonds and dried apricots, we weren't sure if they were the prized Hunza kind. (We still aren't sure now.) In the end, we might have picked them up because they looked different enough--even exotic. Though I like to pretend that the amazing array of ethnic groceries is just a part of my everyday life in Chicago, shopping at many ethnic groceries is still an excursion into the unfamiliar--the exotic. At any rate, we picked up the apricots, and it was a grand thing that we did.

When you tear open the plastic bag, the aroma of the apricots immediately tickles your nostrils. Again, just as their looks doesn't suggest fruit, their aroma isn't overtly fruity. It's somewhere between a tropical flower stand and an apothecary's shop. There is some sweet, fruity undertone suggesting their true identity, but it's fleeting.

Hunza Apricots

Ichaporia King instructs that these hard-dried apricots need to be soaked and cooked before eating. (They aren't for casual "snacking out of the bag.") When soaked and poached in sugary water, the shriveled fruit plumps up into full-figured beauty, round with two distinctive cheeks. The transformation seems almost impossible. (This is partly because the apricots aren't pitted like the more common, bright orange ones.) The color deepens to a brownish green with a faintest hint of orange. The texture becomes delicate, melt-in-your-mouth creamy. As for flavor--the perfect balance of sweetness and tartness, spiked with floral flagrance--is heavenly.

In a stew with complex mix of aromatics like cinnamon and red chili, Indian apricots provide a wonderful counterpoint to the savory meat. Poached and dressed simply with whipped cream--in lieu of clotted cream--or vanilla ice cream, Indian apricots are an easy but supremely satisfying dessert. And because they regain their voluptuous shape when rehydrated, they just look great, in soup bowls or dessert glasses.

Look for these dried apricots in Indian or South Asian grocers.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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