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Seasonal Eats: Summer Plums!

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Ripe, Red Plums at the Farmers' Market (Heather Parlato/LAist)
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One of the marks of summer are stone fruits coming into season. They're all over the markets lately, so let's start with deep red, delicious plums. They can be tart or sweet, and range in color from deep red to light yellow-green. Evidence of fruit pits found in Armenian archaeological sites suggest they originated there, but they're used the world over in condiments, candies and liqueurs in addition to eating the fresh fruit.

In addition to the popular varieties of plums, there are also pluots, hybrids with apricots, most of which retain many plum qualities with a sweeter taste. Taste the samples at the markets and see what you like. Red plums have antioxidant properties, the benefit of sorbitol (a slow-metabolizing sugar, making the plum a low-GI fruit) and the presence of isatin, a compound known to help regulate the digestive system. Plums have a glycemic load of 5, they're a good source of dietary fiber, Vitamin A and Vitamin K, and a very good source of Vitamin C.

Want to avoid turning on the heat in the kitchen? Have some fresh salads, like plums with prosciutto, goat cheese, baby arugala and champagne vinegar or beet salad with plums and goat cheese. Do your grilling outside and toss up grilled squid and plum salad with cilantro, mint and peanuts.

Plums are also a great way to deliver sweetness and flavor to cooking, common in tagines like apricot, plum and chicken tagine with olives, or mix it up with a selection like moroccan nectarine and plum chicken. Bake them alongside turkey and chicken, or use them to flavor gravy, as in plum-glazed roast turkey with spinach, bacon and cashew stuffing and plum gravy.

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In all kinds of condiment jars, plums are a the backbone of some tasty chutnies and compotes. You can preserve a nice plum butter, this sweet dessert compote, or infuse them into liquor, like this umeshu, Japanese plum liquor. If you're one to skip the sugar, go for a spicy plum pickle. Other preservations include good old homemade dried plums, or freeze them with lemon juice and zest for the off-season.

On the other side of dinner, plums make up many delicious desserts. Try out a nectarine and plum tartlet or this plum tart with goat cheese and walnut thyme streusel. Try roasting them for roasted plums with greek yogurt or sugar-roasted plums with balsamic and rosemary syrup. Poach them up for chai-poached apricots and plums or freeze down a plum sorbet. Or here's a new one that sounds delicious: plum carpaccio!

A few for the totally unique files: Did you know you could make plum gnocchi? How about caramelized plum soup? Adding chopped or sliced plums to sangria is nothing new, but how about this plum caipirinha cocktail?

Back before concentrated sugars came onto the market, barbecue sauce was made with slow-cooked summer fruits, adding sweet and tart richness along with thickening pectin. I've been working on a couple homemade low-or-no-sugar barbecue sauces, and though they taste a little different, they're a delicious addition to any grill.

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Seasoned Plum (left) and Tomato & Plum (right) BBQ sauces (Heather Parlato/LAist)
Plum BBQ Sauce (with tomato)

1 medium onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed

14 oz canned tomato, crushed - or diced fresh

4 plums, chopped coarse

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4 tbs balsamic vinegar

1 tb canola oil

1 tb dijon mustard

1 tsp ground pepper

hot sauce (optional—i used my homemade 3-alarm sauce from last summer)

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Sauté onion in a heavy saucepan with canola oil and 1 tb of balsamic vinegar, 5 minutes. Add crushed garlic and canned tomato and bring to a simmer over medium heat as you work with the plums. Cut plums around the seam, separate from the stone and chop close to 1/4" dice over a plate to reserve any juice (here's a quick demo of how to cut plums). Add plums, 3 tbs balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, ground pepper, and hot sauce if you're using it, to the saucepan, stir and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer on low 50 min.

Let sauce cool in the pan. Bottle it chunky, or purée until smooth if desired. I've got another recipe without tomato—just plums and seasonings—on my blog.