I cannot think of any food that I like more than berries: delicate and tiny wild strawberries, ruby-red cultivated strawberries that I buy every week from June to October at my favorite farmers' market, tart raspberries, plump blueberries, gorgeous blackberries, translucent gooseberries, you name it. Since childhood, I've spent a lot of time picking them in the fields close to my godmother's house. And now that I live full time in the country, I love to go for long walks with my dogs during summer to pick them almost every single day. The minute they touch your tongue, berries burst with flavors and are a real joy for the taste buds. Now that summer is just around the corner, I'm thrilled to make them the flavor of this month's column because these small fruits are among the best raw foods available. And, more importantly, they are so delicious.
How to travel with berries
Mind you, it's evident that berries are not the hardiest travelers. But they grow wild almost everywhere in North America, which makes them a convenient supply for us paddlers. They can also survive 24-48 hours if properly packed in an airtight container, protected from the sun and the warm air. For longer trips or off-season, why not take advantage of dry berries? Their chewy texture and concentrated sweet flavor makes them ideal snacks or desserts. And despite their loss in water they are still loaded with nutrients.
Their vivid colors are a good indication that all berries have extraordinary health properties thanks to many chemical components found in their color pigments. These color pigments are called phytonutrients and protect the plants against cell oxidation that comes from invaders called free radicals, such as x-rays or pollution. That's a very powerful and protective arsenal that is passed on to humans or other animals once we, too, eat those fantastic fruits. Within these protective phytonutrients contained in all berries are inflammation-fighting vitamin C (12 strawberries contain 150 % of the daily recommended dose of that nutrient). Ellagic acid, which is found in abundance in strawberries and raspberries, is very efficient at fighting artery clogging and cancer. Other exceptional nutrients found in berries are folate, potassium and, to a lesser extent, calcium.
With their lovely heart shape, strawberries are a symbol of passion and have been considered an aphrodisiac food for a long time. In the Middle-Ages, newlyweds were given a large bowl of strawberry soup made with sour cream and borage for their wedding breakfast. Scientific research in recent years has developed new varieties of strawberries that can be harvested up to late October, loaded with an even greater amount of antioxydants. The future looks very promising. As for blueberries, they seem to have an important protective effect on the brain's cognitive functions and to help reverse the negative effects of aging on these cells, as Dr. James Joseph from Tufts University has discovered in recent years. It might be linked to two powerful components, chlorogenic acid and anthocyanins, which are responsible for their blue color.
Although blueberry or strawberry pies are delicious, they don't pack well in a kayak and they are not the best way to take advantage of the wonderful powerhouse found in berries. The best way to enjoy berries remains to eat them raw. Which is good news for paddlers, isn't it?
Strawberry tofu-couscous salad (4 portions)
- 2 cups whole wheat couscous
- 4 green onions, thinly cut
- 1 small cucumber, thinly diced
- 1/4 cup slivered almonds
- 1 block of vacuum packed medium tofu, diced
- 1 tsp dry mint
- Juice of one lemon
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cups freshly picked strawberries OR
- 2 cups freshly picked blueberries
Cook couscous according to the instructions on the package. Once cooked, separate the grains with a fork to fluff them. Add the remaining ingredients, except the berries, and toss gently. Add the strawberries or blueberries just before serving.
Very berry milkshake breakfast (4 portions)
- 2 ripe bananas
- 2 cups plain 2 % yogurt
- 1 cup partly skimmed milk
- 4 tbsp ground flax seeds
- 2 tbsp honey
- 3 cups frozen mixed berries
- 1 cup orange juice
In a blender, liquefy all ingredients until smooth. Drink before you leave home for a kayak session.
Chocolate-Berry tortillas (2 portions)
- 2 large whole wheat flour tortillas
- 4 oz semi-sweet dark chocolate
- 2 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp margarine or butter
- 1 cup freshly picked raspberries or blueberries
- 1/2 cup dry cranberries
Over very low heat, melt chocolate with a bit of water. Remove from heat, add butter and mix well. Add the berries and pour on two flour tortillas. Roll and serve.