Strawberry avocado salsa over blackened swordfish
Strawberry avocado salsa over blackened swordfish

Sara Stirs: These savory strawberry recipes evoke sweet summer vibes

Editor’s note: Enjoy this special free Strawberry Festival edition of our premium cooking column, Sara Stirs! For even more recipes, follow culinary columnist Sara Jeran on Instagram at @sarajstirs.

Strawberries are reminiscent of my childhood memories of Buckhannon. These are the first berries to ripen, signaling summer is near. The arrival of the Strawberry Festival meant school was almost out for the summer and the days were growing longer and warmer. The strawberry has been an iconic symbol of Buckhannon for years. There have been times in my life when I was not living in West Virginia, but strawberries always reminded me of “home.”

I think West Virginia strawberries exceed all others in taste. The season is short, and they are labor-some finicky plants that require hours of tending. The payoff is huge, but growing strawberries is a true commitment. Pests target these berries, destroying entire crops. Did you know there are more pesticides used on strawberries than any other crop?

When purchasing grocery store strawberries organic is important. Strawberry blossoms are early pollen producers for bees, and pesticides are often fatal for bee colonies. By supporting organic farming you are also supporting clean water practices that are often compromised by the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Wide ranging levels of pesticides are used among crop varieties. I use this as one gauge of importance when buying organic versus non, and strawberries top the list. I encourage you to research cultivation practices for the produce you consume, and adjust your lifestyle choices accordingly.

With strawberry season upon us I realized I did not have strawberry recipes. How could this be? Shortcake is the natural partner to this early summer fruit, but I initiated a quest for savory recipes. For me, recipe creation starts with research. What I discovered were plentiful baking avenues, and then I hit a wall. Was it a requirement for this already sweet ingredient to be paired with additional sweeteners?

I became determined to showcase strawberries in a new light. After trial and error I am anxious to share two savory strawberry recipes that showcase this fruit in contrast to normal presentations.

Traditional tomato bruschetta is my go-to summer appetizer. Sweet tomatoes tossed with garlic, balsamic vinegar and basil atop crostini is simply perfect. Initially I would have argued that this delight could not be improved, until strawberries entered the picture.

The bruschetta recipe I am sharing bursts with strawberries and tomatoes. While the method mimics the classic, there are key ingredient changes. Shallot replaces garlic for a milder allium. I swapped white balsamic vinegar for the standard dark for increased acidity to neutralize the sweet berries. The addition of lemon zest and creamy blue cheese establish depth. The cheese and strawberries are a match made. If you have an aversion to blue cheese, feta or goat would be delicious substitutes. Basil remains the star herb.

This bruschetta stands proudly beside the one we all know and love.

The second recipe will undoubtedly spread summer vibes — a bright fresh strawberry avocado salsa. The salsa leaders are strawberries and avocado, accompanied by red onion, Serrano chilies and tomatoes. Lime juice, flaky salt, and cilantro balance this bowl. Sweet heat is the flavor this salsa delivers.

While the only thing truly needed is a bowl of salty tortilla chips, I wanted this to shine with an entrée. I plated the salsa over blackened swordfish. The blackening spice was divine with the sweet strawberries and cool avocado. Served with rice and warmed corn tortillas this definitely has a tropical feel. Switch in your favorite fish, seafood, or even grilled chicken. This one is sure to impress your guests.

Strawberries will continue to remind me of wonderful times spent with family and friends. The last year has emphasized the importance of memories. Throughout the pandemic, thoughts of past adventures or social gatherings held a new value. These memories became motivators to persist with safety in anticipation of returning to normalcy. We are not there yet, but by remaining diligent I am hopeful that many new memories are on the horizon.

I hope your eyes are open to a new culinary approach for strawberries. May this be a reminder to keep an open mind in the kitchen; it is OK to veer from the norm. Stay safe and enjoy the warmer days ahead.

Happy cooking. Peace.

Strawberry Tomato Bruschetta
Strawberry Tomato Bruschetta

Strawberry Tomato Bruschetta (Serves 2-4)

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup chopped strawberries
  • 3 ounces blue cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 large shallot thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon flaky salt (extra for finishing) .

In a bowl sprinkle 1 teaspoon salt over the tomatoes. Let sit for 5 minutes. Drain all liquid from bowl. Toss with remaining ingredients. Taste and season with salt accordingly. Allow to marinate an hour before serving. Serve on crostini.

Strawberry Avocado Salsa (Makes 3 cups)

  • 1 cup chopped strawberries
  • 1 avocado diced
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 Serrano chili diced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped red onion
  • 4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon flaky salt (more to taste)

Toss all ingredients to combine. Adjust salt to taste. Serve chilled.

Sara Jeran is a culinary enthusiast, gardener, beekeeper and Buckhannon native. Follow her on Instagram at @sarajstirs.

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