Hot and Spicy Cranberry Sauce

Thanksgiving is when I miss the US the most. While life in Belgium goes on as usual, my friends and family back home are buying sweet potatoes, roasting turkeys and preparing for a long weekend of indulgence. Our oven here is so small that it wouldn’t even fit a turkey. Come to think of it, I haven’t even seen a whole turkey in stores. Cranberries, on the other hand, start showing up around the beginning of October. They are usually imported from North America, and the selection ranges from organic and handpicked (and priced accordingly) to the conventional Ocean Spray brand.

I love cranberries so much that I buy several bags at once and freeze whatever I can’t immediately use. Their exuberant tartness and hint of bitterness make them an interesting component in tarts, jams and sauces. My grandmother’s pickled cabbage is liberally studded with these shiny red berries– after pickling they become even more mouthpuckeringly tart but also quite addictive. She even uses them in desserts to make a whipped semolina and cranberry porridge that feels like a light mousse and is a relative of the Finnish dish called vispipuuro.

Cooked cranberries are much less assertive, but their acidity is a perfect foil for meat and poultry. Even if you don’t make the full Thanksgiving spread, a cranberry sauce is a must have accompaniment for turkey. My favorite cranberry sauce is inspired by the aromatic Georgian condiment called tkemali. In Georgia it is made with sour tkemali plums and a generous dose of herbs. The popularity of tkemali has spread far beyond this small country in the Caucasus region, and you can even find Russian versions of tkemali sold in Brooklyn. If you ever taste classical Georgian tkemali, you’ll quickly understand the reason for its popularity. Fresh herbs are used to create robust but exquisite flavors, and the interplay between basil, coriander, garlic and mint is exciting.

Tkemali plums are in season during early spring and can be found at Turkish stores, but cranberries and other tart berries can be used instead. Apricots, plums, gooseberries, red currants, and blackberries make interesting variations on the same hot and spicy idea, while in Europe, airelles, lingonberries, may be used. Lingonberries are as tiny as currants and as delicate as champagne grapes. Like cranberries, uncooked lingonberries have a vivid tartness and a tannic bite, which makes your mouth feel dry. Ready-made lingonberry sauces can be found at meat and poultry shops since these sauces marry perfectly with rich, savory flavors.

Spiked with garlic and chili flakes, this cranberry sauce is more dramatic than the traditional sweet cranberry condiment served with Thanksgiving turkey, but it’s also versatile enough to become a staple in my fridge. It adds a zesty note to burgers, grilled fish and even cheese sandwiches. It accents the creamy sweetness of roasted chicken and stands up well to duck and game meats. It may be a usual weekday here, but as I stand over the simmering scarlet sauce and smell its heady perfume of basil, coriander and garlic, I already feel more festive.

Hot and Spicy Cranberry Sauce with Coriander and Fresh Herbs

You can add up to 1/2 cup of sugar, depending on what flavor balance you prefer. I like my cranberry sauce on the tart and hot side, so I keep sugar to a minimum, but if you have more of a sweet tooth, don’t hesitate to increase the sugar quantity.

You can use a variety of herbs for the sauce–dill, tarragon, parsley, and marjoram marry perfectly with cranberries. Using several herbs gives more complexity to the sauce, but don’t hesitate to use a single herb if that’s all you have on hand.

Use other types of tart fruit or berries to play with the flavors, adjusting the sugar ratio depending on the sweetness you prefer. If you use apricots or plums, you might need to add a bright acidic note with some lemon juice.

2 cups cranberries
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoon-1/2 cup sugar, or to taste
2 finely minced garlic cloves
1/4-1 teaspoon hot chili pepper flakes, depending on your heat tolerance
1/2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1/2 Tablespoon minced fresh coriander leaves (cilantro)
1/2 Tablespoon minced fresh basil
1 teaspoon minced fresh dill
1/2 teaspoon dried mint

Toast coriander seeds till they become pale golden and crush to fine powder with a mortar and pestle. This extra step releases coriander’s full flavor of burnt orange peel and caramel.

Place cranberries and water in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat, cover and cook until the cranberries start to pop, about 10 minutes. Mash with a spoon and add salt and sugar. Simmer on low heat till the sugar dissolves, 2 minutes. Add garlic, chili flakes and coriander seeds. Cook till garlic loses its raw taste, about 5 minutes. Add fresh and dried herbs and simmer for another 3 minutes. Remove from heat and place sauce in a bowl. Cranberry sauce will thicken as it cools. Store in the fridge for a week.

For longer storage, sterilize a canning jar by baking it in an oven preheated to 250F/120C for 20 minutes. Pour the sauce into the hot jar, seal and store in the fridge.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin



  • Annikky: As a good neighbour, I of course need to point out that it’s not just Finland 🙂 –  In Estonia, this dessert is called mannavaht (semolina mousse) and the cranberry one is the classic version, although cherries are popular as well.

    We do not celebrate Thanksgiving here, but cranberry and lingonberry sauces/jams are always eaten at Christmas. Your version looks great, so I will give it a go this year – it can get a bit boring to use the same recipe every Christmas, so I am always on the look-out for interesting updates.

    In Estonia we definitely got the short straw when it comes to the availability of fresh local seasonal produce – I absolutely agree with the idea of seasonal eating, but when the season is about two weeks long, it can be a bit unrealistic. But we do have a great berry and mushroom picking tradition – it is easy to buy hand-picked berries and mushrooms at farmers markets and many, many people still pick their own. Even I, a terribly lazy person, do pick my own cloudberries and wild strawberrys. I need to go to a bog for the cloudberries, but wild strawberries grow right behind my mother’s house in the forest. I always try to visit for a few days when the berries ripen and pick a mug or two for breakfast. We just add milk or make raw jam for pancakes. Heaven. November 19, 2012 at 8:03am Reply

    • Victoria: Belgian growing season isn’t particularly longer, to tell you the truth, and most of the produce I buy is from France. I try to buy local and seasonal as much as possible, mostly because the taste is better, but one can do only so much. For instance, Belgian grapes are 16 euros a kg, while French ones are 2 or 5 euros, depending on a variety. Needless to say, I buy the French ones.

      Your description of making raw jam with wild strawberries for pancakes made me nostalgic. That’s exactly what we would do. I miss picking berries, although this summer as we were walking through the forest not too far from where we live, I found a small patch of wild strawberries. I picked a small handful, but it was enough to have with crepes. November 19, 2012 at 11:08am Reply

    • Ruta: Annikky, it is SO GREAT to read from someone from Est! (I myself am located here and feel sort of lonely perfumista 🙂

      Yes, cranberry/lingoberry sources are a big deal here- though eaten somehow differently here they go fantastically with wild poultry.
      I wonder if there is olfactive alternative to smell of cranberry source November 20, 2012 at 4:54am Reply

      • Annikky: Hi, Ruta, what a pleasent surprise! I can relate to the loneliness – people I know do not really seem to understand my perfume interest (althogh my boyfriend is supportive and likes to sniff my suff – I think his nose is actually much more sensitive than mine). Not that I mind too much, but it would be nice sometimes to discuss things with other likeminded people. On the positive side – Kaubamaja’s perfume selection is getting quite good lately. They really surprised me by introducing Keiko Mecheri. November 20, 2012 at 5:38am Reply

        • Annikky: *my stuff:) Actually, the wording seems questionable now that I look at it more carefully… November 20, 2012 at 5:59am Reply

        • Ruta: I popped into Kaubamaja’s black room last week and was blown away with Mecheri and Garcons. Voila! I wish they had more people interested and would not discontinue this black room tradition.
          Hey, we should meet for sniffing sometimes! I’ve grown a lot through meetings with my fellow LT perfumistas, would be nice to do smth similar here, in EST. I leave my mail address [email protected], lets catch up November 21, 2012 at 3:29am Reply

  • Elizabeth: Thanksgiving! It’s my time to shine. I do most of the cooking here: Maple-brined turkey, chestnut stuffing, sweet potatoes. I make my cranberry sauce with lemon rind and rosemary. My German boyfriend never much cared for the traditional American turkey dinner until he tasted mine. He has been looking forward to Thanksgiving for weeks now! November 19, 2012 at 8:35am Reply

    • Nikki: I can understand your German boyfriend! A lot of Thanksgiving dinners here are so bland and boring, but yours sounds like a real cook is creating! Maple-brined turkey sounds quite delicious! Chestnut stuffing is what we like to stuff geese with which are eaten on St Martin’s day. I like sweet potatoes and yukon gold potatoes cooked in chicken stock and mashed together, they are so pretty yellow and tasty. November 19, 2012 at 9:48am Reply

      • Victoria: Sweet and regular potato together is another great idea that I must try for our dinner tonight. Thank you, Nikki. November 19, 2012 at 11:11am Reply

    • Victoria: Wow! That sounds like a wonderful spread. You’ve given me an idea to marinate the chicken I was going to roast for dinner tonight in maple syrup. I bet it would be delicious.

      Your boyfriend is a lucky guy! 🙂 November 19, 2012 at 11:09am Reply

      • sara: How do you make maple marinated chicken? November 19, 2012 at 5:58pm Reply

        • Victoria: I crushed a clove of garlic with salt, added some paprika and ground black pepper, then added 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of maple syrup. I rubbed this paste onto the chicken and it sat for about an hour before it was roasted. We liked it very much. Maple syrup adds a great caramel note. November 20, 2012 at 9:55am Reply

          • Daisy: DROOL!!!!!! Am writing this down now! So yummy! November 20, 2012 at 12:25pm Reply

            • Victoria: It was just an improvisation on the spot, but I liked Elizabeth’s idea of marinating turkey in maple syrup that I wanted to try it right away. I don’t like overly sweet marinades, but garlic and paprika add just the right savory note. November 21, 2012 at 6:17am Reply

              • Daisy: Sounds perfect. I have a chicken in my freezer that looks destined for this! November 21, 2012 at 9:52am Reply

    • Rachel: 2nd and 3rd what Nikki and Victoria said! No wonder your boyfriend can’t wait for Thanksgiving. 🙂 November 19, 2012 at 11:41am Reply

  • Elena: This looks wonderful! I will have to try it, and I think that it would make a beautiful Christmas gift in a pretty mason jar with a green velvet ribbon. November 19, 2012 at 9:15am Reply

    • Victoria: I love that idea, Elena. I usually give jams as gifts, but when we were moving, I also gave away several jars of my homemade tkemali and this cranberry sauce to friends and family. Everyone liked them. One of the other reasons I decided to post this recipe is because it’s been one of the most requested among my friends. November 19, 2012 at 11:15am Reply

  • Leah: This looks wonderful, love the idea of a savory cranberry. Are tkemali plums anything like drupes? We had some off the tree in France last year and they were tart and wonderful. Great in a chutney. My friend in Germany has been able to find Kabocha squash in Asian markets to recreate Thanksgiving dishes, Fairytale pumpkin as well. I am sure you know that your readers are thankful for you! November 19, 2012 at 9:41am Reply

    • Victoria: They are similar. Tkemali plums are quite small, the size of a large cherry. You can eat them green, but you can also eat them ripe. When ripe they are sweeter, but still very acidic.

      In Turkish and Middle Easter stores, you can find a similar plum, erik. It’s in season March-May. One delicious way to eat them is raw with a little salt. Salt makes them taste sweeter, and the flavor on the whole is so zesty and spring like. Or you can add them to lamb stew for a sour and fruit accent. November 19, 2012 at 11:19am Reply

  • Anne Sheffield: Thank you for this Victoria! Sounds divine! Happy thanksgiving Victoria! You should be proud as you give us so much daily! I am not sure how my day would be without boisdejasmin. Thank you! November 19, 2012 at 9:46am Reply

    • Victoria: And what would I do without all of you! Thank you in return for making these pages so much fun. November 19, 2012 at 11:12am Reply

  • Jenna: Your photographs look festive! The top one is making my mouth water. November 19, 2012 at 10:16am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Jenna! The red of cooked cranberries is so intense. November 19, 2012 at 11:11am Reply

  • Milena: Hello! I’m your longtime fan. I usually don’t comment online much but today I wanted to for two reasons. First, with Thanksgiving coming up, I wanted to say to my favorite bloggers that I appreciate them. I enjoy your writing for its elegance and your impressive knowledge of perfumes. Second, my parents are from Georgia. It was such a nice surprise to see a Georgian inspired dish. So few people know this beautiful and healthful cuisine. We also add utsko suneli to our tkemali. It’s a herb that tastes of walnuts. November 19, 2012 at 11:28am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Milena, for your kind words and for stopping by. I’ve visited Georgia as a child, and I always remember my mom making Georgian dishes at home. Georgia is where she went on a honeymoon with my dad, and she still has wonderful memories of eating grilled chicken with sour tkemali sauce.

      I’ve seen utsko suneli at the Russian stores in New York, and I might even have a couple of packets in my spice collection. I will use it next time. November 19, 2012 at 2:19pm Reply

  • Jillie: You made my mouth quite literally water – the thought of those tart berries got me salivating! I usually make a cranberry sauce to go with our Christmas turkey and ham, using lots of port, brandy, orange juice and rind; it ends up more like a jam really, as the longer you simmer the cranberries, the more the mixture thickens. But this time I will make your recipe, as it looks so different and flavourful.

    If we haven’t got lots of guests, I buy a turkey crown, which is just the top of the bird, and it does a good meal for 2 – 4 people, with leftovers, and it fits in our small oven. On the last few occasions I have stuffed truffle butter under the skin, and that gives it a lovely perfume, and put a vegetable stuffing underneath it. It tastes just as good as a big one! November 19, 2012 at 11:29am Reply

    • Victoria: And you made my mouth water with the description of your truffle perfumed turkey. I’ve been cooking more turkey since we’ve moved to our new neighborhood, because there is a very nice poultry shop nearby. They sell ground turkeys and turkey cubes, and I suppose they might have bigger portions too. For the two of us, a crown would be just right. November 19, 2012 at 2:22pm Reply

    • Nikki: Truffle butter, what a great idea!! November 19, 2012 at 6:27pm Reply

  • Rachel: My mom never made cranberry sauce and I only remember big blobs of red jelly with ridged marks from the can. I never ate it. Your recipe sounds delicious. I love hot&sour everything! November 19, 2012 at 11:40am Reply

    • Victoria: I admit that I have a soft spot for the canned variety, because it reminds me of my very first Thanksgiving in the US. But if you don’t like it, a homemade sauce will be a great discovery. November 19, 2012 at 2:23pm Reply

      • Rachel: I will try it! But I just remembered that my boyfriend can’t tolerate hot peppers at all. Do you think the sauce will be ok without them? November 19, 2012 at 4:11pm Reply

        • Victoria: Yes, definitely! Just eliminate chili flakes. There is plenty of flavor from coriander, garlic and herbs. November 19, 2012 at 4:43pm Reply

  • breathesgelatin: I make a tropical cranberry chutney that is really good – this sounds similar in certain ways, but far more savory. I’m supposed to make cranberry sauce for my church’s dinner on Thursday, and now you have me debating making two different types! haha November 19, 2012 at 11:57am Reply

    • Victoria: How do you make your tropical version? Just the idea of it sounds wonderful! November 19, 2012 at 2:23pm Reply

  • Marika: Your cranberry sauce looks scrumptuous. I’m a college student who lives in a dorm, and I don’t get to cook much. I will try this recipe when I go home on Wednesday.

    I also wanted to chime in with others and tell you how much I’m grateful for your blog. I learn something new every time I come here. I’m a newbie when it comes to perfumes, but I like that here I feel welcomed and comfortable enough to post all of my questions. November 19, 2012 at 5:13pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Marika! Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions at all. That’s what we are here for. 🙂 And we all learn from each other.

      Hope that you enjoy this relish. November 19, 2012 at 5:48pm Reply

  • Andy: I love cranberry relishes of all kinds. Just a week ago I made one with chipotle peppers, cumin, and cinnamon—simultaneously smoky, sweet, spicy, and tart! I’ll have to try this recipe while cranberries are in season here. My signature version of a sweet cranberry sauce contains a huge dose of minced fresh ginger, plus a cinnamon stick and fresh orange juice and zest. It’s also important to always add a touch of salt to any cranberry relish in my experience; it really livens up the flavor (making it even more lively than it is already!). November 19, 2012 at 5:35pm Reply

    • Victoria: Andy, I just couldn’t resist another package of cranberries, so I will try your recipe next. Ginger, orange and cinnamon is a perfect combination by itself, and I imagine that they accent the flavor of cranberries perfectly. Thank you! November 19, 2012 at 5:46pm Reply

    • Victoria: Please let me know what think of this recipe, Andy! It’s quite different from a traditional sweet relish, but it has been received really well by my friends.

      And I also agree with you on salt. It makes a dramatic difference. November 19, 2012 at 5:49pm Reply

      • Andy: I’ll definitely tell you what I think once I’ve made it! Hope you enjoy the ginger-orange-cinnamon version! November 19, 2012 at 5:57pm Reply

    • Nikki: Since I live in the Southwest, Chipotle is for me almost like truffles in Piemont, the scent and the aroma is divine and so typical of this region. I will try your recipe, there is a sweet and spicy sauce raspberries and chipotle so cranberry will be so special. Thank you! November 19, 2012 at 6:30pm Reply

  • Daisy: Wow! I would never have thought to combine garlic and chili pepper with cranberries! My own cranberry sauce is full of more conventional flavors: cinnamon sticks, cloves, candied orange peel, candied ginger, and a couple of glugs of Grand Marnier.

    Because booze makes it better 😉

    But this sounds intriguing and delicious. Thanks, Victoria! Bookmarking! November 19, 2012 at 8:34pm Reply

    • Victoria: Booze does make it better! I love marinating fruit or dry fruit in Grand Marnier. Or dried plums in Armagnac. What could be a better dessert, along with some vanilla ice cream! November 20, 2012 at 9:58am Reply

      • Daisy: Oh, dried plums in armagnac over vanilla ice cream! Swoon! Sometimes for a tangy effect, I also like it over very good greek yogurt 🙂 November 20, 2012 at 12:24pm Reply

        • Victoria: This morning I thought for a second of topping my yogurt with these boozy plums, but then I remembered that I have work today. 🙂 Oh well…I will save it for the evening. November 21, 2012 at 6:15am Reply

          • Daisy: They’ll taste even better at booze o’clock 😉 November 21, 2012 at 9:51am Reply

  • Judith Marianne Taufan: Thank you for this recipe, Victoria. We’re having some guest this weekend & I’ll be roasting a slab of pork belly. I will serve your cranberry sauce with it. It’ll be a nice change from the more expected braised cabbage. I think some crunchy roast spuds & a salad made from frisee lettuce & radicchio should be enough to complete the meal. And now I only have dessert to think of…:) November 19, 2012 at 10:45pm Reply

    • Victoria: Your menu sounds wonderful! I think that this tart and spicy sauce would be very good with pork belly. It’s bright and zesty enough to cut through the richness.

      Bitter chocolate sorbet would be a great finish. Curious what you end up making. 🙂 November 20, 2012 at 10:00am Reply

  • Poodle: You always have such beautiful pictures. I love cranberry sauce but even if I didn’t those photos would make me try it again. I’m going to have to try your recipe. I just bought some cranberries. I’m not cooking for Thanksgiving but I may bring this to my brother’s house. My family would love it I think.
    I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving and I hope Santa brings me a camera that’s half as good as yours is for Christmas. November 20, 2012 at 5:51am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you! I hope that you enjoy it. I’ve tried this sauce idea with various fruit and berries, but we still keep coming back to cranberries.

      I hope that Santa brings you the camera you want! I keep wanting to try out some other lenses, but that’s not in the cards (ie, budget) for the time being. November 20, 2012 at 10:05am Reply

  • Rowanhill: Cranberries and lingonberries are great, and so much nicer to pick than blueberries, which coincide with the worst mosquito season in Finland. Can’t wait to go home for Christmas and now that you mentioned it, I will definitely ask my mother for some vispipuuro, albeit it does not belong to the holiday menu. Thank you for reminding me. 🙂 November 20, 2012 at 11:01am Reply

    • Victoria: 🙂 Homemade vispipuuro is wonderful. On paper it doesn’t sound like much, but whenever people try it for the first time, they ask for second. Enjoy the time with your family! November 21, 2012 at 6:14am Reply

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