This Chef Trick Made Me Love Raisins Again

A little butter and salt changed how I feel about this maligned ingredient.


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It’s hard out there for a raisin. We eat the dried fruit by the boxful as children, but at some point, raisins become a little less beloved. And sometimes, even hated. 

There are so many reasons for how and why things changed. Sometimes aversions to raisins stem from misuse: Too many people serve old, dried-out raisins that are tough and chewy. Or it’s situational; your first Halloween spent trick-or-treating teaches you to love candy above all other sweets. Or maybe there was a moment when you thought you were biting into a chocolate chip cookie … and it turned out to be studded with raisins instead. Suddenly, raisins come to mean disappointment. A quick search online shows dozens of articles asking “why raisins ruin everything.” Need I say more? 

Like a lot of other people, I’m guilty of polishing off a bag of granola or trail mix, finishing everything — except for the raisins. Sometimes it’s because the raisins have dried and hardened into pebbles. But more often, they just aren’t interesting enough to hang with the rest of the mix. And so they sit, loitering at the bottom of the bag — not forgotten, but also not eaten, little orbs that could have become wine, but never reached their full potential. 

I had a change of heart a few months ago, while I was helping chef Cheetie Kumar cook at an event benefiting Jones Valley Teaching Farm in Birmingham, Alabama. After cooking pot after pot of spinach in a buttery curry sauce, Kumar emptied a large bag of golden raisins into a baking pan. She poured melted butter on top, and tossed the raisins in the butter before seasoning them with a hefty pinch of kosher salt and sliding them into a hot oven. When the raisins emerged a few minutes later, they had plumped up into sweet, salty jewels glistening from the butter. The sweet fruit mixed with fat and salt was a revelation. Who on earth would ever not crave these raisins? 

Kumar’s technique transformed everyday raisins into an incredibly special and delicious version of themselves. Since then, I’ve remembered that raisins and other dried fruit become infinitely more enticing when given a little extra treatment. Now, I follow Kumar’s lead and warm dried figs in an oven with a little rosemary-infused olive oil before adding them to a snack platter. Taking her cue to add a contrasting flavor to all that sweetness (and inspired by these Pickled Raisins), I soak dried chopped dates in red wine vinegar and marinate dried cherries in bourbon (while contemplating what might happen when dried apricots are sautéed in a pan with chile crisp). In the meantime, I’ve been buttering and salting raisins before mixing them with roasted vegetables and oatmeal. It’s a reminder that even the most underrated ingredient can shine if you give it a chance.

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