Cheering cherries: Three recipes for this versatile fruit

  • Cherry and chipotle pepper turkey chili, topped with plain yogurt. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)
  • Sweet cherry-filled buns, also known as Vatrushki. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)
  • Grilled pork tenderloin with cherry salsa. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

When I was a child, my favorite flavor was red. If pressed to be specific, I always said my favorite was cherry.

Cherries are sweet, of course, and they make basically any dessert better. But they also can be part of savory dishes, too — they add a hint of cherry magic that accentuates the savoriness of the other ingredients. And they are reason enough to order an old fashioned, a Manhattan or an amaretto sour.

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Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Cherry Salsa

Yield: 6 servings

1 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, divided

1/2 cup minced shallots, divided

6 tablespoons fresh lime juice, divided

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 pork tenderloins about 2 1/2 total pounds

1/2 pound fresh cherries, stemmed, pitted and halved

1 fresh Fresno chile, red jalapeño or Holland chile, or 1/2 green jalapeño, thinly sliced crosswise

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and black pepper

Note: Both the marinade and the salsa can be made 1 day in advance. Do not marinate the meat until 15 minutes before cooking.

1. Prepare a grill to medium-high heat. Combine 1/2 cup of the cilantro, 1/4 cup of the minced shallots, 4 tablespoons of the lime juice and the vegetable oil in a resealable plastic bag. Add pork; seal bag and turn to coat. Marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes, turning occasionally.

2. Meanwhile, combine remaining 1/2 cup cilantro, remaining 1/4 cup shallots, remaining 2 tablespoons lime juice, cherries, chile and olive oil in a medium bowl. Season salsa lightly with salt and pepper and set aside to let flavors meld.

3. Remove tenderloins from marinade and season generously with salt and pepper. Grill, turning frequently, until a thermometer inserted into meat registers 145 degrees, about 15 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes. Cut into thin slices and serve with salsa.

Cherry Chipotle Chili

Yield: 6 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound lean ground turkey

3/4 teaspoon salt, preferably kosher

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 medium carrots, diced

1 medium yellow onion, diced

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes

2 cups pitted black cherries

2 canned chipotle peppers, diced, plus sauce

2 bay leaves

1 (15-ounce) can white beans, such as cannellini or navy, rinsed and drained

1/4 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt, optional

Chopped fresh cilantro, optional

1. In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook turkey with salt and pepper, stirring, until browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Add carrots, onion and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until carrots soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in chili powder. Add tomatoes, cherries, chipotle peppers, bay leaves and 1 cup water; bring to a boil.

2. Reduce to a simmer; cook, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes. Add beans; cook 2 minutes. Remove bay leaves. Divide chili among 6 bowls. Top each with 1 tablespoon yogurt and garnish with cilantro, if desired, before serving.

Sweet Cherry-Filled Buns (Vatrushki)

Yield: 16 servings

1 cup warm milk, 100 to 110 degrees (no hotter)

1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided, plus more for dusting

7 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar, divided

2 eggs, one at room temperature, the other beaten with fork (for egg wash)

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pound sweet red cherries, pitted

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold butter, diced

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, add the warm milk and sprinkle the top with the yeast. Let sit 5 to 7 minutes for the yeast to bloom.

2. Stir in 1/2 cup of the flour and 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and whisk until blended. Let rise in a 100 degree oven for 20 minutes, or at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes.

3. Whisk in the room-temperature egg, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, the melted butter and the salt. Attach the dough hook and add 2¾ cups of the flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing with the dough hook after each addition until fully incorporated. Add the last bit of flour slowly; the dough will be perfect when it no longer sticks to the side of mixer — do not add any more flour past this point (you may not need the full 2¾ cups). Continue mixing the dough with the dough hook on low speed for 15 minutes.

4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a 100-degree oven for 1 hour or at room temperature for 2 hours, until tripled in volume.

5. Transfer dough to a nonstick surface, such as a piece of parchment paper, and cut it in half. Cut each half in half, then each of those pieces in half, and then each of those resulting pieces in half. You should have 16 pieces of equal size. Shape the dough into balls.

6. Butter 2 baking dishes, either round cake pans or a 9-by-13-inch pan and an 8-by-8-inch pan. Place balls of dough, evenly spaced, in the baking dishes. Use a narrow drinking glass, small ramekin or your impeccably clean fingers to make a well in the center of each one.

7. Place 3 or 4 cherries into each well and sprinkle each bun with 1/2 teaspoon of the sugar. Let rise in a 100-degree oven for 20 minutes or 30 to 40 minutes at room temperature, until they look puffy.

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8. Preheat oven to 360 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the cold, diced butter, the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar and the remaining 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour; use a pastry cutter or rub together with your fingers until small crumbs form.

9. Brush the buns with the egg wash and sprinkle the tops generously with the crumb mixture. Bake 20 to 22 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.