Apricots are sweet, delicious, rich in beta-carotene, potassium, and fiber, and can be enjoyed starting on Phase 2 of the South Beach Diet. Fresh apricots are generally available throughout the summer until mid-August. They're grown mainly in California, with only 16 percent of the crop sold fresh because the fruit is fragile and doesn't ship well. Luckily, the dried varieties are easy to find. If you do eat dried apricots, limit yourself to 7 halves because they are higher in concentrated sugar.
Buying and Storing Apricots
Unless you buy them at a farmstand or farmers’ market, most fresh apricots are sold unripened. Look for fruit that is plump, firm, and orange-gold in color. Avoid those that are hard and with any hint of green — they will never develop full flavor. All apricots, ripe or unripe, should yield to gentle pressure and have a sweet fragrance. In addition, check for velvety skins without bruises or shriveling.
Unripe apricots should be stored at room temperature in a paper bag away from heat or direct sunlight. They can be kept this way for two to three days. After they ripen, you can store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, where they will keep for up to two days. Avoid washing the fruit until you're ready to eat it. Fresh apricots can be eaten like any other fruit, but beware of the small pit in the center. To keep cut apricots from browning, simply dip them in diluted lemon juice.
As for dried apricots, you'll find a wide variety in the market. Most dried apricots are treated with sulfur dioxide to retain their orange color. If you are allergic to sulfites or want to avoid this additive, you can buy untreated apricots in health-food stores. Be aware that canned apricots may contain added sugar, so you’ll need to read the label.
Healthy and Delicious Ways to Cook with Apricots
Always rinse fresh apricots in cold water before eating. To remove the skins for a recipe, drop the fruits into boiling water for 15 to 20 seconds, then transfer to a colander and cool under cold running water. You can then use a knife to gently pull away the skin.
There are many interesting, healthy, and delicious ways to incorporate apricots into your Phase 2 meals. Try these ideas:
- Create a tasty marinade for lean meats, chicken, or fish. Purée some skinned apricots and blend with mustard and lime juice (or perhaps with a South Beach Diet–friendly barbecue sauce). This also works as a delicious dipping sauce.
- Chop fresh apricots into a whole-wheat or whole-grain pasta dish, or add them to a brown rice or whole-wheat couscous side dish. Add fresh vegetables such as zucchini, red bell peppers, and herbs like basil or thyme to any of these dishes as well.
- Grill fresh apricots along with other fruits, such as nectarines or peaches. Top with nonfat Greek yogurt or part-skim ricotta, a little sugar substitute, and slivered almonds for a light and healthy dessert.