Heart healthy dried cherries liven up roast pork tenderloin

by Terry B on October 29, 2008

Dried tart cherries and rosemary add flavor—and health benefits—to roast pork tenderloin. Recipe below.

Talk about perfect timing. My friend Carolyn, who works in science communications, is always sending me interesting articles and links. Last Thursday morning, she sent me something about the health benefits of tart cherries. On Friday afternoon, Marion and I left for a weekend in Michigan, the largest producer of cherries in the United States. Before we’d even packed up the car for the trip, I knew I’d be seeking out dried red tart Michigan cherries at their source and cooking with them for this week’s post.

Cherries are just the latest proof of the health benefits of going for color when choosing produce. The brighter/darker/richer/more intense the color, the better something is for you. Spinach, blueberries, broccoli, raspberries… all contain loads of nutrients. They also contain powerful cancer-fighting, heart-protecting or fat-reducing properties. And it’s not just a coincidence. According to the article Carolyn sent from The American Association for the Advancement of Science’s EurekAlert! [how's that for a cool name for an online global news service about science?], studies suggest that these “colorful plant compounds may be responsible for cherries’ anti-inflammatory properties and other health benefits.”

The EurekAlert! story reports that according to a study by the University of Michigan, “New research continues to link tart cherries, one of today’s hottest ‘Super Fruits,’ to lowering risk factors for heart disease.” The study, presented in Chicago this week at the American Dietetic Association annual meeting, found that, in addition to lowering cholesterol and reducing inflammation, “a cherry-enriched diet lowered body weight and fat—major risk factors for heart disease.” Most exciting, it significantly reduced hidden or deep-belly fat, known to be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Tart cherries get their bright red color from powerful antioxidants known as anthocyanins. Research suggests these red compounds can also ease the pain of arthritis and gout.

Okay, I was sold. I was going to make something with tart cherries. The question was what? For a nanosecond, I considered some kind of muffins. Regular readers know me and baking and understand why I immediately moved on. Next I thought of sweet and savory combinations, which led me immediately to pork. Regular readers will also be less than surprised by that statement. But in my defense, pork plays so nicely with fruit. I first thought of pan-seared pork chops, but settled on roasting a pork tenderloin. Chops would work beautifully with this dish too—I’ll describe that variation in my Kitchen Notes.

As their name implies, tart cherries deliver an almost puckery punch when eaten raw [although after the first bite or two, they're an addictive snack]. When cooked, their tartness is toned down, and they add a lively sweet/tart tang to savory dishes.

Roast Pork Tenderloin with Tart Cherries
Serves 4 to 6
[see Kitchen Notes]

1-1/2-pound pork tenderloin [or 2 1-pound tenderloins]
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 tablespoon fresh rosemary needles, plus 2 sprigs [see Kitchen Notes]
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup apple cider [or 1/2 cup dry white wine]
1 cup dried tart cherries [see Kitchen Notes]

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Pat pork tenderloin dry and season generously with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with rosemary needles. If necessary, cut tenderloin into 2 pieces to fit in large ovenproof skillet. Pork tenderloins often are separate pieces of meat formed together; their favorite pastime is coming apart when you handle them for cooking, so I tied the one I cooked in a few places with kitchen string.

Heat the aforementioned ovenproof skillet [which should also have a lid] over a high flame. Add oil and brown tenderloin[s] on all sides, about 6 to 8 minutes total. Transfer meat to a plate and reduce heat under the skillet. Sauté onion until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 seconds or so. Add broth, cider and cherries to skillet, stirring to combine.

Return meat to skillet, turning to coat with broth mixture. Cover skillet and transfer to oven. Roast tenderloin until just cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes. An instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part should register 150-160ºF. With most pork produced in the United States, a little pink inside is okay. Transfer meat to platter or cutting board and tent with foil. Let it rest for 10 minutes. Slice into medallions and serve, with cherry sauce spooned over them.

Kitchen Notes

First, a safety note. When you put a skillet in the oven, the handle gets hot. Yeah, I know. You’re saying “Duh,” just as I did when I read this warning for the umpteenth time. I remembered to grab a potholder before removing the skillet from the oven. I didn’t remember minutes later when I wanted to stir the cherry sauce after removing the tenderloin. Burned the crap out of my hand. I admit my stupidity so you won’t do the same thing.

How many servings? Pork tenderloins vary in size, from 1 to 2 pounds usually. The 1-1/2 pound tenderloin I found this time was perfect for 4 servings. If you end up with 2 pounds of tenderloin[s], it should serve 6.

Fresh or dried rosemary? Fresh is my first choice, but if dry is what you have, I’d use about 2 teaspoons. Sprinkle one over the meat before browning and add the second to the skillet with the liquids.

Dried tart cherries. These are generally easy to find, I think, in produce departments or wherever dried fruits are sold in your supermarket. You can also use frozen or canned. Drain the canned cherries before using.

Variation with pork chops. Substitute 4 bone-in chops for the tenderloin. Season with salt, pepper and rosemary and brown in a large, lidded skillet big enough to hold chops in a single layer. Transfer chops to plate and follow recipe steps tthrough adding liquids and cherries to skillet. Return chops to skillet, cover and finish on stovetop until cooked through.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Donald October 29, 2008 at 10:48 am

This looks really good Terry! I have some bone-in chops waiting for an application. And we love cherries.

You know, I always loved the maraschino cherries as a kid, but I hadn’t had much more than those or bing cherries in tarts, pies, and what not. But when I was stricken with gout a couple of years ago, the pain was sooooooo bad, we searched for and tried damn near anything to alleviate the attack. Cherries! That’s what worked. Cherry juice became a staple in my house along with pomegranate juice; another super fruit.

Carolyn October 29, 2008 at 6:25 pm

Wow! You sold me. I went to Traverse Bay Farms and ordered some dried tart cherries. http://www.traversebayfarms.com

Now who will mail me some pork?

Terry B October 29, 2008 at 7:45 pm

Thanks, Donald! It’s especially gratifying to hear that the study results are actually borne out in the real world.

Carolyn—Enjoy the cherries! And for future reference, I’ve since learned that Trader Joe’s carries a few different varieties. They also carry pork tenderloins—that’s where I bought mine. In the meantime, I’ve dropped a couple of chops in the mail for you. Let’s cross our fingers for cold weather the next few days!

sandy October 30, 2008 at 1:50 am

Yummy! So delicious looking. I canned cherry chutney this year and I plan to serve with pork :)

ramya October 30, 2008 at 2:48 am

Hi, this is the first time here, you have a wonderful space. I like the info about cherries and the recipe too. Its very inspiring, I’ve never tried something like this.

Mike October 30, 2008 at 7:48 pm

That sounds like a delicious mix of flavors. I’ve had a similar thought in the back of my mind lately (only big diff being cranberries) and I think you’ve pushed me over the edge.

Toni October 31, 2008 at 5:18 am

I’m salivating as I write this. All I had to see was “tart cherries”, and voila! Pavlov’s experiment, confirmed again.

I just bought some center cut boneless chops and have used only one. I know exactly what I’ll be doing with the other. Thanks for the EurekAlert link!

Christina October 31, 2008 at 3:22 pm

I love this! Tart cherries show up regularly here in Christina-land, but usually in desserts and salads (with blue cheese, oh my!). I like working them in with pork and rosemary. I can taste-imagine how the cherry and rosemary flavors would work very well together.

Terry B October 31, 2008 at 6:39 pm

sandy—Cherry chutney sounds great! Now that I’ve finally discovered dried cherries [we eat fresh cherries like they're going out of style when they're in season], I’m looking forward to finding more uses for them.

Thanks, ramya! Welcome to Blue Kitchen—I hope you come back.

Mike—I can see how cranberries would be gret for a dish like this too.

Toni—Enjoy EurekAlert! I bet you’ll find lots of good stuff there.

Christina—If anything, this whole dish was even better as leftovers the next day. And now you’ve got me craving cherries and blue cheese.

Sylvia October 31, 2008 at 10:29 pm

Wow Terry . I am drool over . Shame on me !!! Seriously,I use a lot cherries and colorful vegetables since I discover that is so healthy. But I just find tart cherries in the south of Argentine , by the way, delicious .Your blog is amazing and I always learn a little bit here.

Mary November 3, 2008 at 3:20 am

What a beautiful blog. I am hungry now for real food (not pizza like I usually consume) after reading it. Nice that tart cherries are now so well regarded. I prefer them smothered in chocolate, but my tastebuds may have been swayed after your post.

Keep cooking and thank you for the great pics as well.

Jessie November 3, 2008 at 4:38 pm

Great post! You’ve got me craving cherries. The roast looks really, really good. Yum.

Also, for the many years that I’ve been cooking, I’m totally guilty of grabbing a hot skillet handle sans pot holder, too. Not sure why. I would never grab a stew pot or a sheet pan out without donning mitts first. There’s something about a skillet handle that dupes me half the time, at least, though.

+Jessie
a.k.a. The Hungry Mouse

Melissa November 4, 2008 at 3:33 pm

Yummmm, cherries & pork, love it. We have a pork loin in the freezer from TJ’s. You’ve inspired me to make it. Cherries also go great with duck breast. My husband makes a mean medium rare duck breast with a dried cherry port sauce. I do have a great recipes for muffins that calls for plumping the dried cherries in orange juice & the addition of almond paste. That keeps the muffin very moist. Just let me know if you ever want me to send a copy your way.

Terry B November 4, 2008 at 5:37 pm

Thanks, Sylvia! And happy anniversary to you! What a lovely post you put up to mark the occasion.

Mary—Thanks so much. And chocolate has its own health benefits, so your chocolate covered cherries are extra healthy [at least let's tell ourselves that!].

Jessie—I actually grabbed it after it had been out of the oven for a bit. But yeah, we’re just accustomed to [spoiled by?] stay cool handles until we grab one fresh from the oven. Luckily, soaking my hand in a bowl of iced water right away minimized the injury. By the next day, I was pretty much fine.

Melissa—Cherries with duck sounds amazing. Seriously. And regarding the muffins with almond paste, wait ’til you see what Marion cooked up for the next post.

Kevin November 5, 2008 at 4:10 am

Cherries and pork sounds good!

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