Magazine article Sunset

Amazing Grapes

Magazine article Sunset

Amazing Grapes

Article excerpt

How sweet the rounds - and perfect for tucking into harvest-rich recipes

* Green, red, or bluish black; firm and crisp or soft and sensuous; seeded or seedless - there's a grape to suit every taste. And Western vines are swinging into full production right now.

California supplies 97 percent of the nation's commercially grown table grapes. In 1839 at a pueblo now known as Los Angeles, a trapper from Kentucky, William Wolfskill, planted the first vineyard of grapes designated for eating, not winemaking. Today the state produces as many as 18 major table grape varieties (the photo on page 146 shows just a few), each distinctive and interesting. Starting in late spring, early varieties begin to ripen in the Coachella Valley; then the harvest slowly moves north, ending in the San Joaquin Valley in late fall. High-tech storage keeps some fresh California grapes in the market until February. (Fruit from Chile overlaps in winter and fills in the gaps to make grapes a year-round presence.)

For sweetest flavor, grapes should be picked fully ripe. Their color is a good indication of whether they have been or not. Red grapes should be - well, predominantly red. Blue-black fruit should have a very deep color. Green varieties should be tinged with yellow. Store them unwashed in the refrigerator for several days; rinse shortly before serving.

The diversity that makes grapes perennially interesting to eat plain also makes them widely versatile for cooking. Our recipes show off individual characteristics in unexpected ways, but feel free to substitute similar varieties.

Grape and Pear Salad Cups

PREP TIME: About 25 minutes

NOTES: Use green, red, or dark seedless grapes for this appetizer. To make a dinner salad for 10, combine the fruit mixture with 10 cups rinsed and crisped salad mix. Spoon onto plates.

MAKES: 10 to 12 appetizer servings

1. Rinse 3 cups seedless grapes (see notes) and cut in half. Peel 1 Asian pear (1/2 lb.); cut into matchstick-size pieces.

2. In a bowl, gently mix grapes, pear, 1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar, 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, and 1/2 pound rinsed, drained shelled cooked tiny shrimp. Add salt to taste.

3. Spoon equally into 30 to 36 rinsed and crisped tender butter lettuce leaves and arrange on a platter.

Per serving: 66 cal., 6.8% (4.5 cal.) from fat; 4.6 g protein; 0.5 g fat (0.1 g sat.); 12 g carbo (1.6 g fiber); 242 mg sodium; 37 mg chol.

Grape-Blue Cheese Bites

PREP TIME: About 15 minutes

NOTES: Use large grapes such as Red Globe or Ribier. If making up to 4 hours ahead, cover and chill.

MAKES: 18 pieces; 6 appetizer servings

1. In a bowl, mix 2 tablespoons each whipped cream cheese and crumbled blue cheese.

2. Rinse 18 large grapes (about 1 in. long; see notes), drain, and pat dry. From stem end, cut a slit 3/4 of the way through each grape, leaving opposite end attached. Fill each slit with about 1/2 teaspoon cheese mixture. Squeeze grape gently so it clings to cheese. Dip cheese edge in minced salted roasted almonds or pecans (about 2 tablespoons total).

Per serving: 71 cal., 58% (41 cal.) from fat; 1.9 g protein; 4.5 g fat (1.8 g sat.); 7.4 g carbo (1 g fiber); 79 mg sodium; 7.3 mg chol.

Grape Salsa

PREP TIME: About 15 minutes

NOTES: Green grapes are particularly attractive and fresh-looking in this mixture. If making up to 4 hours ahead, cover and chill. Serve with grilled fish, chicken, pork, ham, or lamb.

MAKES: 2 cups

(Source for glass above on page 61)

1. Rinse 2 cups seedless grapes (see notes) and cut in half or quarters (1/2- to 3/4-in. pieces).

2. In a bowl, mix the grapes with 3 tablespoons lime juice, 2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger, and 1 to 2 tablespoons minced fresh jalapeno chili, to taste. …

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