This sweet and spicy cranberry relish with jalapeño will banish any recollections you may have of that jellied red stuff that makes an annual appearance and will similarly dispel any misgivings you may have about anything remotely resembling it.

There are cranberries and jalapeño, natch, along with sugar, lime, and onion. They all collide in an unexpected yet inspired combination of sweet, tart, and spicy that’s perfection alongside a smoked turkey although it’s equally at home with everyday entities, which we’ve listed below.

Although don’t be surprised if you catch yourself eating it straight from the bowl. (We know we did.) And did we mention you can make it ahead of time since it freezes beautifully?

david caricature

Why Our Testers Loved This

Our testers can’t get enough of this sweet and spicy holiday condiment. They loved that it was quick and easy to make, freezer-friendly, and could be used for so much more than Thanksgiving dinner.

What You’ll Need to Make This

  • Cranberries–If using frozen cranberries, let them thaw slightly before tossing into the food processor.
  • Granulated sugar–The sugar offsets the lip-puckering tartness of cranberries, however, if you prefer a more tart relish, feel free to reduce the sugar to 1/2 cup or 2/3 cup.
  • Jalapeño pepper–You can substitute serrano pepper here, but be mindful that they can be as much as 5 times hotter than a jalapeño.

How to Make This Recipe

  1. Blitz the cranberries. Toss the cranberries, 3/4 of the sugar, and half of the lime zest and juice into a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.
  2. Add the pepper and onion. Add the red onion and jalapeño to the processor and pulse a few times to combine. Taste and adjust sugar, lime juice, and zest as needed. Let the relish stand for a little while.
  3. Chill the relish. Let the relish hang out in the fridge for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight.

Common Questions

Can I make this relish ahead of time?

Absolutely. The relish will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days and can be frozen for up to 2 months.

What’s the difference between cranberry relish and cranberry sauce?

Cranberry relish is a condiment that has a sweet-tart flavor and is sometimes uncooked, while cranberry sauce is a cooked condiment that is generally sweeter than relish.

How should I use this relish?

This sweet and spicy cranberry relish is an inspired addition to any of the below incarnations. Have something you’d like to add to the list? Let us know in a comment below!
– Offered as the condiment of choice for your Thanksgiving turkey
– Served as a condiment alongside simple roast chicken
– Plopped on the plate with roast pork 
– Dolloped alongside seared duck
– Slathered on sandwiches—notably those containing leftover roast turkey or chicken
– Forked up with roast chicken thighs
– Spooned straight from the bowl (seriously, we did this)
– Tossed with quinoa and salad greens and goat cheese
– Featured on a cheese plate
– Served atop pan-seared pork chops

Helpful Tips

  • To freeze cranberry relish, place it in a resealable plastic bag and lay it flat in the freezer. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator or submerge in a bowl of cold water.
  • This recipe is suitable for gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, and vegan diets.

More Great Cranberry Recipes

Write a Review

If you make this recipe, or any dish on LC, consider leaving a review, a star rating, and your best photo in the comments below. I love hearing from you.–David

A white gravy boat filled with cranberry relish with a halved lime and juicer in the background.

Sweet and Spicy Cranberry Relish

5 / 3 votes
This sweet and spicy cranberry relish is a contemporary take on the traditional cranberry sauce. Spiced with jalapeño and brightened with lime juice, it will become an instant holiday favorite.
David Leite
Servings10 servings (makes about 2 1/2 cups)
Calories79 kcal
Prep Time20 minutes
Chilling time2 hours 10 minutes
Total Time2 hours 30 minutes


  • One (12-oz) bag fresh or frozen cranberries, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Juice and grated zest of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons juice and 1 teaspoon zest)
  • 1 jalapeño or red serrano pepper, seeded and finely diced
  • 1/4 large red onion, finely diced


  • Place the cranberries, 3/4 cup sugar, and half the lime juice and lime zest in a food processor and pulse just until the cranberries are somewhere between coarsely and finely chopped.
  • Add the jalapeño and red onion and pulse just a few more times to combine. Taste and, if desired, add more sugar and/or the remaining lime juice and zest to taste. Let rest at room temperature until the sauce starts to get juicier as the sugar dissolves, 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and preferably up to 24 hours to allow the flavors to meld. Stir to recombine before serving.


  1. Make it in advance–The relish can be made and frozen for up to 2 months before using. To freeze the cranberry relish, place the relish in a resealable plastic bag and place it flat in the freezer. To thaw, place in the fridge overnight or submerge the frozen bag of sauce in a bowl of cold water.
  2. Reduce the sugar–If you prefer a more tart relish, reduce the sugar to 3/4 or 2/3 cup.
  3. Dietary–This recipe is suitable for gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, and vegetarian diets.
Fast to the Table Freezer Cookbook

Adapted From

Fast to the Table Freezer Cookbook

Buy On Amazon


Serving: 1 servingCalories: 79 kcalCarbohydrates: 20 gProtein: 0.04 gFat: 0.1 gSaturated Fat: 0.002 gSodium: 0.4 mgFiber: 0.1 gSugar: 20 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2016 Becky Rosenthal. Photo © 2016 Becky Rosenthal. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

If you’re looking for cranberry sauce that doesn’t resemble anything that you’re used to, stop right now. This is it. This cranberry relish recipe is the perfect mix of sour, sweet, and spicy. It’s delightful.

If you taste it right off the bat, you’ll get a hit of spicy and sweet with a big sour finish. But after chilling it for a bit, everybody in the relish starts to get comfortable with one another and those peppers and onions mellow a bit thanks to all that lime. For the best balance of flavor, let it hang out in the fridge for at least an hour before serving it and an overnight rest is even better.

Serve it like you would a traditional cranberry sauce, although take note that this relish really shines on a leftover turkey cranberry sandwich. One batch makes just over 2 1/2 cups, which I found to be more than enough to serve dinner for 8.

This sweet and spicy cranberry relish is certainly delicious enough to grace your Thanksgiving table but since it’s so easy to toss together I’m willing to bet you’ll want to make it throughout the year!

I used a whole jalapeno for the hot pepper called for in the recipe and I was happy with the mild spiciness that it gave the finished relish, but if you’re looking for a little more kick you might want to reach for a hotter pepper. That said, I’ll use the jalapeno again because my family can’t handle a lot of heat.

I used the cranberry relish right away on chicken sandwiches and it was spectacular. I used it again the next day and didn’t notice a difference in texture or flavor. The relish certainly softened up and the flavors melded a bit more but not enough to discourage me from using it right away if I was short on time.

Clearly, any time that you can make something ahead, however, you should definitely take advantage—especially for a big meal like Thanksgiving when you need all the make-ahead dishes that you can get. Try it next to a classic roast chicken or turkey, on chicken or turkey leftover sandwiches, salad greens with candied nuts…I’m excited to figure out where I can sneak it in!

I served this lovely sweet and spicy cranberry relish alongside my deep-fried Thanksgiving turkey. After the first bite, my husband asked if it would be ok if he ate a bowl of just the relish. It really is that good.

I think this cranberry relish recipe is very adaptable to your own tastes. As written, it’s excellent, though a little sweet. It definitely benefits from a minimum 2-hour rest in the refrigerator before serving. This helps to draw out the lime flavor. If you want the spicy aspect more pronounced, add more jalapeño, or leave some of the seeds in.

This makes plenty for Thanksgiving and all the inevitable leftovers. If I were to make again, I would probably start with less sugar and add later to get the desired sweetness. I felt that the full cup made it just a little too sweet.

For as long as I can remember, my family’s Thanksgiving table has always donned a bowl of can-shaped cranberry sauce. It’s never sliced, spooned, or consumed. It’s just my mom’s requirement to hold down the corner of the table. Eventually, one of us moves it to the counter to make room for the more delectable holiday treats and the cranberry sauce is ultimately thrown away.

A few years ago, I had cranberry relish for the first time, and I realized how delicious cranberry could be. When I saw this recipe, I thought that this might be just the replacement for the canned cranberry sauce because it would at least, you know, be eaten, which is more than its predecessor could say. I went through a variety of thoughts while making this recipe:

1. Tasting a little out of the food processor before adding the onion and jalapeno. WAY too sweet. (Bear with me.)

2. Tasting a little out of the food processor after the onion and jalapeno but before rest period. WAY too oniony and spicy. (I know, I need to work on my patience.)

3. Tasting it after the 20-minute rest period. Not bad.

4. Tasting it after being in the refrigerator for an hour. YUM! So good, in fact, that I ate nearly half a cup of it with a spoon while reading on the couch. A delicious combination of sweet, tart, and spicy.

This sauce definitely will be making it to our Thanksgiving table this year, probably with a little less jalapeño and onion (my family doesn’t like much if any spice or heat). However, I can also see this working wonderfully with pork. Also, I think this could be an unexpected ice cream topping if in the onion was left out.

I am not usually a fan of raw cranberry sauce, but this sweet and spicy cranberry relish is a lovely way to celebrate the fresh and vibrant taste of the seasonal berry. The sharp flavors of the lime and raw onion and the heat from the fresh hot pepper balance the acidity of the raw berries nicely.

The relish came together in a snap in the food processor. After resting at room temperature for a half hour and then chilling for a couple of hours in the fridge, it was ready to serve. Although it was good the first day, I would recommend making this a day in advance though to really let the flavors develop.

The next time, I think I would boost the heat by using more jalapeño and less sugar—but that’s just my personal preference for heat over sweet. I served it with Tuscan roast pork and baked sweet potatoes but it would work equally well with a full turkey (or duck!) dinner.

The relish would really suit any full-bodied stuffing or rich meat. That being said, one of my guests suggested serving it with a robust white fish fillet too—halibut or maybe cod. It’s a really versatile side dish that would work with any number of proteins.

I would guess it makes 8 servings but some people started just eating it out of the bowl—that’s how good it was.

Cranberry is one of my favorite fall flavors and an absolute must-have for Thanksgiving. I typically make a cranberry orange sauce, which is tart and sweet and the perfect accompaniment to a Thanksgiving turkey.

This year, I tried this cranberry relish for a change. Though it may not replace my favorite cranberry sauce, it’s a worthy competitor. Because it’s both spicy and sweet, it’s quite versatile and can be served with Thanksgiving dinner, spread on a sandwich, or used as a topping on a cheese plate. The only thing I would change is the amount of lime, which to me was overpowering.

I was quite pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this relish as part of our Canadian Thanksgiving celebratory meal. We love our traditional homemade cranberry sauce, but I have to admit, I would consider replacing it with this recipe. The good news is that you can have both!

The lime definitely livens up the relish and there’s just the right balance of sweet heat. I think we just found a new addition to our holiday condiments. This recipe also comes together in a matter of minutes—about 10 minutes of work plus the waiting time of 15 to 20 minutes—and it’s super easy.

It adds a new dimension to your condiment offerings and goes very well with turkey and all the savory trimmings. I did not refrigerate the relish before serving but rather served it at room temperature.

This cranberry relish—or shall we say sweet and SPICY cranberry relish?!—packed a walloping amount of heat! I picked the red jalapeno over the red Serrano thinking it would have less heat, but this was not the case! Those thinking of cranberry sauce should heed the relish portion of the title—this should be served and portioned more like a salsa and less like a sauce.

To create an even texture in the final product, including the red onion that was directed to be diced, I pulsed more than a few times after adding the jalapeno and red onion. It was very tasty and so nice to have the same colorful cranberry holiday accompaniment but in a zingy, upbeat, not cloying manifestation.

One taste of this cranberry relish and all my taste buds and senses came alert! I couldn’t help thinking, “Wow! This really livens things up!” This relish is a fiesta for your tongue and on your plate. I had my doubts when I sampled the relish without any accompaniment as it really needs to be paired with a main dish to get the full effect.

The combination of the spicy pepper and the refreshing taste of the lime cleanses your palate and makes even the dullest chicken a star. I would definitely recommend giving it a try at least once especially for an added treat during a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Although I loved the recipe as is, I am not fond of raw onions and jalapeños. Before I would make this recipe, again, I would cook the relish over low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes in a small saucepan to soften the onion and enhance the hotness of the pepper. Then, refrigerate the relish for 2 or 3 hours or place it in the freezer for about an hour prior to serving.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    This is my new very favorite thing to do with fresh cranberries. I doubled the recipe for my roast turkey dinner for 12–there were no leftovers. In the future I think I’ll probably have to consider it a side dish rather than a condiment or sauce! I was excited to find fresh cranberries this week so I can make more. It’s been requested for my Super Bowl gathering.

    1. Love to hear that, Debbie! Absolutely love it! This is exactly why we test recipes before we put them on the site—so you can be assured that each recipe will be just as spectacular as what you experienced! Thanks so much for taking the time to let us know. We SO appreciate it! And we SO look forward to hearing what other recipes you try on the site!

  2. I agree with the earlier reviewers, this is an order of magnitude better than any other cranberry relish I’ve ever had. I made turkey croquettes the day after and used the leftover relish as a sauce—what great leftovers!