It’s time for another Eating the Alphabet recipe link-up where each month we make a recipe featuring a fruit, vegetable, legume, or whole grain from a different set of letters of the alphabet.
So far I’ve done:
(A or B): Buttercup Squash and Artichoke Pasta
(C or D): Grenadian Oil Down with Cassava (Favourite)
(E or F): Homemade Fig Newtons (Favourite)
(G or H): White Chicken Chili with Hominy
This month we look at I or J. I’ve got two recipes in store with my ingredient of choice: Juniper Berries. But first. . .
WTF is a Juniper Berry?
The juniper berry is actually the berry-shaped pine cone of a certain genus of juniper. It has a distinct ‘pine’ flavour and is most commonly associated with gin— it’s the main ingredient.
Modern gin as a spirit actually evolved from the juniper berry’s international history of being taken as an alcoholic tonic in order to promote general health. This was pretty common with Europeans who used these juniper tonics for the antibacterial and diuretic properties of juniper berries. It particularly was helpful for kidney and stomach ailments.
European colonizers in India and South America took it as an antiseptic to prevent obtaining intestinal bacteria (and unpleasant bowel movements). And you know those modern Bombay gins? They trace their origins back to India when they were taken to prevent malaria. Who knew!
But juniper berries as a remedy date farther back than colonial times. They were used to treat tapeworms in ancient Egypt and the ancient Greek Olympians took them in order to increase their physical stamina on game day. Juniper berries were not only taken as a tonic but could be used topically. Canadian First Nations used juniper berries in a poultice to treat wounds among other things.
(Sources 1, 2)
WTF do I do with Juniper Berries?
You mean, I can use them for other things than just garnishing my gin & tonic?
If you don’t know what Juniper berries taste like, they taste just like gin. If you don’t know what gin tastes like, then we can’t be friends.
It’s fresh, and pine-y, and sharp– it is a flavour that really cuts through the rich meats and winter vegetables.
Culinary uses of juniper berries mostly come from Scandinavian and Northern European cuisine where they are added to wild game, hearty vegetables, or fowl dishes. Think the stuff you’d eat in the winter months: rich stews, roasts, and sauerkraut.
You can add them to:
– cabbage or sauerkraut
– marinades for meat
– turkey stuffing and gravy
– bechamel sauce (like I did below)
– roasted pears (seriously, I’ll show you in my next post)
Be sure to crush or grind them before using for the most flavour.
In reading a bit about juniper berries I figured I had to make something rich out of them. I decided for my juniper berry recipe that a thick bechamel sauce with a creamy mouthfeel and a sharp pine flavour would be delicious. I paired the bechamel with pan-fried tilapia and I thought it tasted fantastic. Matt wasn’t a big fan on the first bite, but I think the flavours grew on him the more he ate it.
Juniper Berry Bechamel Sauce
Serve this bechamel on chicken, pork, beef, or fish over a bed of wild rice.
Makes ~2 cups
20 juniper berries
1 sprig fresh rosemary
3 Tablespoons butter
2 heaping Tablespoons all purpose flour
3/4 c milk
3/4 c plain yoghurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt
Grind the juniper berries and rosemary in a spice grinder or mortar & pestle until very fine.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook until it turns a light
Meanwhile, stir the milk, yoghurt, and lemon juice together in a separate bowl.
Once the roux is golden brown, add the milk mixture tablespoon by tablespoon. Whisk continuously until very smooth, adding more milk if the mixture is too thick. Bring to a simmer and cook 10 minutes and remove from heat. Season with salt, rosemary, and juniper.
Serve warm over your favourite meat or fish dish.