We can have our cake and eat it, too, if we choose lighter desserts (less sugar and fat), and forego the traditional summer lollapaloozas — ice cream sundae extravaganzas, salted caramel brownies, and triple-decker cakes and trifles. While the concept of healthy desserts sounds oxymoronic, this can be accomplished with a serious behavioral commitment and creative culinary spirit. Here are some suggestions for concocting guiltless pleasures throughout the summer months and beyond.
• Dangle a Carrot
Choose hearty, vitamin, mineral and fiber rich vegetables and vegetarian proteins as the cornerstone of a nutritious dessert. A variety of naturally sweet tubers, roots, squashes, legumes and beans including yams, purple and sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, celeriac (celery root), acorn squash, chickpeas, black beans and lentils can be pureed and blended with antioxidant-packed super dark chocolate (cocoa content over 60 percent), a drizzle of honey for less sweet choices, and low fat coconut, almond or rice-based cream for a divine mousse. Even more divine with a splash of liqueur (a little dab won't harm you). Amaretto and Frangelico for nutty nuances, Kahlua for an intense coffee flavor, Grand Marnier for citrus notes or Crème de Menthe for a refreshing zing of mint. Whip up a moist, sweet and spicy honey root cake with shredded carrots and parsnips, topped with a light and creamy mascarpone spread, bittersweet ruby red beet brownies, or an airy black bean and espresso or avocado chocolate soufflé.
• Sew Some Wild Oats
Crusts, cobblers, cakes, cookies and biscotti will be nuttier, more nutrient- packed and flavorful when all-purpose flour is substituted for low-carb baking options from the nut family (almond, chestnut, pecan, cashew, pistachio and hazelnut flours), ancient and traditional grains (buckwheat, millet, teff, kamut, brown rice, spelt, sorghum and amaranth flours), seeds (quinoa, flax, sunflower and chia flours) along with coffee, banana, soy, chickpea (gram), purple corn and coconut meals and flours.
• Chill Out
Rich, fatty moo ice creams can be easily swapped out for lighter, lactose-free, non-dairy frozen treats without feeling a bit deprived. Soy, cashew, rice, coconut, hemp and almond-based creamy delights taste decadent by themselves, or dressed up with a sophisticated balsamic glazed strawberry or raspberry topping with a pinch of fresh basil, thyme or rosemary for a Mediterranean twist.
• A Plum Idea
This season's bounty of luscious, aromatic and nutrient-dense stone fruits from peaches, nectarines and apricots to plums, pluots and cherries take on a rich, caramelized essence when grilled, a sassy tartness when blended with Meyer lemon zest and stewed into a compote, or an elegant silkiness when pureed and strained into an eye-popping coulis to drizzle on frozen treats of all manners.
Apricots and cherries pair well in a bubbling cobbler, peaches and nectarines are good grill mates drizzled with a blend of maple syrup, fresh ginger and Himalayan pink salt, then sprinkled with caramelized nuts (recipe below), or whip up a quick and dirty sorbet with frozen slices of assorted stone fruits.
For a tropical treat, toss some fresh pineapple spears or bananas on the barbecue, and then dress with hazelnut chocolate sauce and scoops of vanilla bean coconut ice cream.
••• Recipe: Grilled Maple Ginger Nectarines
Ingredients: 2 ripe but firm large nectarines, halved and pitted; 2 tablespoons of organic dark maple syrup; ¼ teaspoon of ginger powder or 1/2 inch piece of shredded fresh ginger; Pink Himalayan sea salt to taste; 2 tablespoons of roasted or caramelized hazelnuts, walnuts or pecans; 4 scoops of non-dairy frozen "ice cream"
Method: In a small mixing bowl, blend syrup with ginger and salt. Drizzle on nectarines. Brush grill with olive oil and cook nectarines on medium heat for about 8 minutes, or until caramelized and tender. Or bake on a cookie sheet at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with nuts and serve warm with frozen treat.
— Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org