Everybody associates cranberries with Thanksgiving. Yes indeed, cranberries are fantastic alongside a roasted turkey, but they’re not just for Thanksgiving—or any other holiday, for that matter. The poor berries have been typecast, which is unfortunate considering all the tasty ways there are to eat the little gems. For you word nerds out there, the name “cranberry” was coined by early European settlers who thought that the plant looked like a crane. It’s also called fenberry, because it grows in fens (bogs) and bearberry, because bears love ‘em. Indigenous folks ate them, used them for clothing dye and as a treatment for wounds. We learned from Wikipedia that one early English settler noted in his journals that the berry was good for fighting scurvy (vitamin C!) and relieving hoof disease (whatever that is). We need not contend with such bothersome afflictions nowadays; we can focus on enjoying cranberries’ dazzling gustatory properties. Here are some of our best local season-proof cranberry creations.
Minnesota Wild Rice Salad
Keys Café and Bakery
We love our homegrown mini-chain: Keys Café and Bakery is as Minnesota as can be, honoring our heritage with dishes such as the Minnesota wild rice salad, a compelling presentation of two of our most famous indigenous foods: wild rice and cranberries. Technically a grass, not a rice, wild rice was sacred to the Ojibwa people. We crave it today for its nutty flavor and chewy texture. This salad is a kaleidoscope of texture, flavor and color: Minnesota wild rice, “Italian mayo” dressing (think mayonnaise with benefits), chunks of real roasted turkey—no pressed turkey loaf here!— toasted almonds, black olives, onions, dried cranberries and croutons. All this and a bed of salad greens too; a whole universe in a single not-so-little salad. $10. 1750 Weir Drive; 651.731.5397.
Why is the cosmo still around? Didn’t we get over that in the early aughts, when Sex and the City went off the air? The thing is, it’s just a really good drink; refreshing and bright, a sophisticated makeover of what used to be referred to as a “girly drink.” A well-made cosmo is not-too-sweet, tart with citrus and a beauty to behold; Craft mixes up a perfect one with Absolut citron vodka, orange-flavored Cointreau, simple syrup (sugar), cranberry juice and lime. Cranberries and booze are bosom buddies; the berry’s astringent quality mimics that of alcohol, especially vodka. You might need a couple of these, you know, for the scurvy. $9.25. 700 Commons Drive; 651.735.1997.
This is a sweet salad, sweet like candy and sweet like groovy; a festive shower of treats from a piñata. Dried cranberries, candied pecans, sliced oranges, apples and pears frolic with some seriously pungent Gorgonzola cheese on a bed of mixed greens; a light champagne vinaigrette brings it all together. At least try to eat some of the greens before you pick off all the good stuff. $8.95. 3442 Lake Elmo Ave. N.; Lake Elmo; 651.777.8495.
Pecan Walleye Tidbits
“A chef Ron original,” says the menu: Ron being Ron Bohnert, executive chef at this fine eatery on the golf course. Walleye, Minnesota’s favorite fish, is cut in chunks and encrusted with pecan flour, deep fried, and tossed with a dried cherry maple pecan butter sauce, which is as intense as it sounds, and we mean that in a good way. Cranberries put the tart in this tartar sauce, which comes on the side and can tend toward the too-sweet; the berries do a lot to pretty things up, too. $9.95. 13600 N. Hudson Blvd., Stillwater; 651.436.2144.
Tavern's Chop Salad
The Tavern Grill
The advent of the “craisin”—the coinage alone is a brilliant piece of marketing—changed our salad landscape forever; suddenly the dried cranberry was the hip new raisin and they were scattered far and wide. Here they’re chopped up with romaine lettuce and spring greens, cucumbers, tart Granny Smith apples, candied pecans, honey lime dressing and lots of pungent blue cheese crumbles. It’s a beautiful mess with something special in every bite. $12.50. 772 Bielenberg Drive; 651.578.3000.
Cranberry Chipotle Turkey Burger
Lakes Tavern and Grill
Don’t look for any lakes at this Woodbury Lakes restaurant; just head inside where you’ll find a haven of interesting spins on menu classics. The turkey burger here is a marvel: somehow it resists the common hazard of dryness. It’s dressed with spicy-smoky cranberry sauce, blue cheese dressing, celery and slaw on a pillowy ciabatta bun. Every bite oozes the deep crimson sauce; the touch of heat and smoke from the chipotles is a brilliant slap in the palate, the sting stanched by the celery and a scoop of cool, creamy slaw. $11. 9240 Hudson Road; 651.287.2000.
Krispy Kale Craisin Salad
Cranberries have been enlisted by the food police because of their high antioxidant content; they are now a designated superfood. Kale is another superfood and together they are super dynamite. Check the grab-and-go and the bulk salad case for Kowalski’s snappy mélange. It’s simplicity itself: kale, golden raisins, craisins, pine nuts, lemon juice and canola oil. Crunchy and tart punctuated by sweet and chewy, it’s the tastiest health bomb in town. $13.99/lb. 8505 Valley Creek Road; 651.578.8800.