Midsummer means plentiful fresh produce and a plethora of juicy seasonal fruits. Now is the time to take advantage of the availability of two fruits you won't find fresh during the rest of the year -- apricots and sweet cherries.
Store apricots at room temperature until ripe (they'll smell sweet and give to gentle pressure). To hasten ripening, place in a closed paper bag. When ripe, refrigerate and use within three to five days.
Cherries will keep at least two to three days when refrigerated in a plastic bag. Do not wash or remove stems of either fruit before refrigerating.
Cherries and apricots are glorious au naturel as a snack -- or use in salads, desserts, jams, jellies, even meat recipes (they make an especially good complement to pork and chicken).
Both apricots and cherries are members of the rose family, along with other stone fruits like peaches, nectarines and plums. Apricots are a good source of vitamin A and potassium and a fair source of vitamin C, while cherries are a good source of vitamin C and niacin.
Both fruits are available year-round canned or dried or in sweet preserves. But while they're here, why not make the most of them in all their fresh summer glory?
Recipes in this column are tested in 625- to 700-watt microwave ovens.
Curried chicken breasts with fresh apricots
Makes 4 servings.
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
4 chicken breast halves, skinned and boned
2 tablespoons Major Grey chutney
1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
8 fresh apricots, halved and pitted
fresh cilantro sprigs
hot, cooked rice
Combine butter or margarine, curry powder, paprika and pepper in 1-cup glass measure. Microwave on HIGH 30 seconds to 1 minute, to melt. Stir.
Arrange chicken breasts in 9- or 10-inch glass pie plate, with thickest portions toward outside of dish. Brush each breast with seasoned butter; turn and brush other side. Cover with vented plastic wrap and microwave on HIGH 5 to 6 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink, rotating dish 1/4 turn every 2 minutes. Let stand, covered, 2 minutes. Remove chicken to serving platter.
Add chutney and lemon or lime juice and remaining seasoned butter to pan drippings. Stir well to blend. Add apricot halves, turning to coat both sides. Cover and microwave on HIGH 1 to 2 minutes, or until apricots are heated through.
Arrange apricots around chicken breasts and spoon sauce over all. Garnish with cilantro sprigs and serve immediately with fluffy, hot rice.
Midsummer chicken salad
Serves 3 or 4.
3 chicken breast halves, skinned and boned
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons water
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese
1 tablespoon lemon juice
6 ripe apricots, washed, pitted and cut into bite-size chunks
1/2 cup dark sweet cherries, washed, stemmed, pitted and halved
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1 small head red leaf lettuce, washed, dried and torn into bite-size pieces
1 large, ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced
1 tangerine, peeled and sectioned (remove membrane and seeds from each section)
Arrange chicken breasts in 9- or 10-inch glass pie plate, with thickest portions toward outside of dish. Combine soy sauce and water and sprinkle over chicken. Cover with vented plastic wrap and microwave on HIGH 3 to 5 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink, rotating dish 1/4 turn every 2 minutes. Let stand, covered, 2 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, blue cheese, lemon juice and pepper in medium-size mixing bowl. Stir well to blend. Fold in apricots, cherries and sliced green onions.
Chop chicken into bite-size pieces. Add to mixing bowl and toss to coat with dressing.
Arrange lettuce leaves in large salad bowl. Mound chicken mixture in center. Garnish with avocado slices and tangerine sections. Serve immediately.