Easy, Healthy Fruit Desserts

According to a recent national poll conducted by Consumer Reports Health, 9 out of 10 Americans consider their diets at least some degree of “healthy” (thanks, Dad, for the heads up on the report). In a nation struggling with obesity, diabetes and heart disease, it’s no surprise that further poll questions unearthed a paradox: most of these same “healthy” people consumed too many sugary drinks and desserts, and didn’t count calories. Further, many admitted to not getting the recommended 5 fruit and vegetable servings a day.

While it’s easy to scoff at these misguided notions of what constitutes a healthy diet, I’m also keenly aware of how easy it can be to venture off-course, despite our best intentions. While I can’t claim to fall short of the 5 fruit-and-veggies servings requirement (my diet is a virtual orgy of fruits and vegetables), I do have a tendency of overdoing it in the dessert department (there’s a fine line between being a good blogger and a self-destructive eater — more testing recipes means more eating!) Even though I’m not eating refined sugar or white flour, that’s not to say that all of my desserts necessarily qualify as health fare, as much as I would love for that to be the case.

Shirley over at Gluten-Free Easily recently celebrated her 2 year blogiversary. In her anniversary post, she sums up the essence of why I love her blog: she aims to focus on naturally gluten-free foods, which are sometimes easy to count out with all the crazy flour mixes and substitutions available now. In reading her post, I was inspired to come up with some naturally gluten-free desserts that require no baking, little added sugar, and which, really, are just fruit (with a twist, of course). If the Consumer Reports poll taught us anything, it’s that we need more fruits and vegetables in our diets and fewer sugar-laden desserts. Here are two recipes to help tackle both of those problems. I’d love to hear about your favorite “naturally gluten-free” and fruit desserts as well!

Sliced Pineapple with Lime and Sweet Syrup: 

Slightly adapted from a recipe in Spain…A Culinary Road Trip

1 pineapple, peeled, cored and sliced

2 tablespoons yacon syrup, molasses or agave nectar (I used yacon)

zest from one lime

Directions:

1. Arrange pineapple on a plate and drizzle with yacon. Sprinkle lime zest generously over the top. Serve.

Pan Glazed Apples:

Makes one serving — increase as needed

1 apple (I used Fuji), peeled and sliced

2 tablespoons lemon juice, divided

2 tablespoons agave nectar, divided

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more to taste

vanilla soy yogurt for topping (I sweetened my unsweetened soy yogurt with vanilla stevia)

Directions:

1. Toss apple slices with 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon agave and cinnamon. Add to a nonstick skillet and heat over medium until liquid is absorbed.

2. Add remaining agave and lemon juice to pan and increase heat to medium-high. Continue to saute, stirring, until liquid is again absorbed and apples are glazed (about 5-6 minutes total). Serve warm, with a dollop of yogurt on top.

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Red Breakfast Quinoa

While health magazines and nutrition gurus will tell you that fiber-rich breakfasts like oatmeal are the key to keeping us full until lunchtime, it’s a rare circumstance with anybreakfast that I last beyond 10 a.m. without feeling lightheaded and woozy, needing a snack. It’s true that my low blood sugar plays an unwelcome role in this phenomenon. Gennaro can attest to this. He’s long been accustomed to the wrath of Beth without her snacks, and has since initiated a campaign to get me to carry them in my purse at all times, lest “Mama Beast” (an extension of the “Mama B” nickname I acquired when I became a mama to Woodley) rears her ugly head.

So while breakfast may, in fact,  be the most important meal of the day, it’s especially a priority for me. It sets the tone for the rest of my day. If I fail to remember Gennaro’s words of warning and find myself trapped — in a doctor’s office, a classroom — without snacks and between meals, a really good breakfast is all the reinforcement I have to back me up. Thus began my self-initiated challenge to find the breakfast that fills me up the longest before my next meal. For awhile, these breakfasts were savory, as fruit tends to spike my blood sugar in the morning, only catalyzing the inevitable late-morning crash (on that note, scrambled tofu with broccoli, tamari and brown rice was a great, make-ahead-and-heat-up option). But I soon longed for the idea of breakfast. I needed something breakfasty to go with my morning cup of coffee (also probably not a great help with the crash thing…but I’m working on that). Fried rice wasn’t doing it for me anymore.

When my brother and I were young, my dad had breakfast duty. This was nice for me, not only for the fact that my dad was a surprisingly decent breakfast-maker, but also because he was sport enough to play “talking Cinderella”  many mornings (for those curious, “talking Cinderella” was a modified version of  Cinderella, in which I was Cinderella and my dad — lucky him — got to be one of the evil stepsisters. The only difference was that we talked it all out, so as not to keep my dad from his breakfast duties). One of the most memorable items in the breakfast rotation was cream of wheat, especially once we discovered the chocolate stuff. Probably loaded with artificial flavors and tons of sweetener (this likely before my mom caught wind of what was on the label), my brother and I were too young to care and too mesmerized with the process of its creation that we seldom wanted anything else.  That, and the fact that we were — gasp! — actually allowed chocolate at breakfast.

For some reason this breakfast quinoa reminds me of cream of wheat. Maybe it’s the solid-absorbs-liquid parallel that so captivated me many years ago. Maybe it’s the creamy, sometimes grainy texture of the cream of wheat that I’m reminded of now. So, yes, there’s the nostalgia element here (I’m getting a lot of that lately, huh?). But — BONUS! — this breakfast quinoa meets my personal requirements for a balanced breakfast: fiber, nutrients, protein and more protein (almond butter and quinoa being two great protein sources). I’ve officially declared this my go-to for fending off Mama Beast days.

Breakfast Quinoa:

The recipe below is for single-serving portions. Simply adjust — double, triple, whatever — according to servings needed. I like this with just a dash of cinnamon, but it would be great with some dried fruit or fresh banana as well. You could definitely substitute regular quinoa for the red, but I prefer red here for its subtle nuttiness and crunchier texture.

1/3 cup dry red quinoa, rinsed well

2/3 cup water

1/3 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (regular will work as well)

1 tablespoon creamy roasted almond butter

12-15 drops NuNaturals liquid vanilla stevia

a dash of cinnamon

Directions:

1. Add quinoa and water to a small pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Boil until quinoa has absorbed all of the liquid (keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t burn).

2. When quinoa has absorbed the liquid, add almond milk and bring to a simmer. Simmer until about half of the milk has been absorbed. Remove from heat and stir in almond butter until distributed throughout. Add stevia and adjust sweetness according to taste. Sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon and serve.

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Mole Black Bean Tostadas

mole black bean tostadasI make black beans often. They make a great, cheap dinner and are quite versatile. I recently saw a recipe for black bean tostasas in Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking. The recipe looked quite intriguing, but it called for beer. I decided to make a version of it tonight, and in the spirit of a true budget-conscious meal, I decided to use what I had on hand rather than go out and buy ingredients for the recipe. While a recipe that calls for chocolate, peanut butter, black beans, green chiles and wine might sound a little strange  — scary, even — it all comes together quite nicely for this robust, mole-inspired bean dish.

One of my favorite bloggers, Karina Allrich, has a great page on her site about going gluten free. In it, she talks about gluten-free wines. It might be a good reference point for those concerned about buying wine that is safe for their diet.

The green sauce on top of the tostadas is my aunt’s  jalapeno salsa, which I’ve been making incessantly ever since she shared the recipe with me. It is the perfect, fresh accompaniment to the more earthy beans. In keeping with the healthiness of the beans, I used sprouted corn tortillas and baked them in the oven. They still get nice and crisp. You can also slice the tortillas and use the same method for making homemade, baked tortilla chips. I do this often and they are great. Just sprinkle with a little pinch of salt right when they come out of the oven.

I’m watching the Oscars as I write this. Is it just me, or are they dragging a bit this year? Maybe it’s just because while last year I made a point to see all the nominated films, I was a little too busy (and broke) to make my rounds this year. I guess I am just out of the loop. And, as a former musical theatre geek, I don’t think anything will top Hugh Jackman’s opening number from last year’s show — for me, at least.

Mole Black Beans:

1 lb. dry black beans

8 cups water, divided plus more for quick soaking

1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1 medium yellow onion, diced

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons dry white wine

1 4-oz. can mild green chiles

1 plum tomato, finely diced

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1 tablespoon chile powder

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tablespoons creamy, roasted peanut butter

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

Baked, Crisp Tortillas:

6-8 corn tortillas

2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

1. To quick soak black beans: in a large soup pot or Dutch Oven, cover black beans completely with water and bring to a rolling boil. Turn off heat and let sit, covered for an hour and a half to two hours. Drain and rinse.

2. Add black beans back to pot, along with 5 cups water, 1 teaspoon salt, onion and garlic. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer, covered, until beans absorb water, about 30-40 minutes, stirring occassionally. When water has been absorbed, add another 2 cups water, and 1/2 cup wine. Cover and simmer until the beans absorb the water again, stirring occassionally (about 20 minutes).

3. Taste beans to make sure they’re soft. If they need to be cooked a little more, add a bit more water and cook, covered, for 10-15 more minutes, watching to make sure they don’t burn to the bottom of the pot. When beans are soft, removed from heat. While still hot, add green chiles, tomato, cumin, chile powder, peanut butter, unsweetened cocoa, smoked paprika and 2 tablespoons white wine. Adjust salt to taste.

4. Serve beans over toasted tortillas: preheat oven to 400. Brush a large, flat baking sheet with olive oil. Lay tortillas flat on baking sheet and brush the tops of each tortilla. Bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, rotating baking sheet once, until edges are golden brown. Let cool slightly on a wire rack that’s covered in paper towel to absorb extra oil.

5. To serve, top crisp tortillas with about 1/4 cup black beans, jalapeno salsa, and whatever else you think you might enjoy: chopped tomato, avocado, lettuce, olives or peppers.

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Kale Salad with Quinoa and Cranberries

There are few things I love more than a new food discovery. Whether it be a new restaurant, a new product (I almost died and went to heaven when I discovered Purely Decadent ice cream in Whole Foods one hot summer day), or a new ingredient, it’s always exciting bringing some variety into your food world. So imagine my excitement when I found coconut amino at my local health food store when I went to re-up on my bottle of wheat-free tamari. There, in the section where it seemed only fermented soy products were destined to reside, was this soy-free, dairy-free, vegan product. I turned around the label. I must have been missing something. Would there be some disclaimer on the back — some small print concession that this product contains a trace amount of soy? Nope. Just more to make me want to buy the stuff. It was high in healthy amino acids. Lower in sodium than soy sauce or liquid amino and very low on the glycemic index. Plus, it was relatively inexpensive. Here is my inaugural recipe using coconut aminos: a simple, satisfying kale salad with quinoa for protein (an homage to the cafe at the Detroit Zen Center, a Delectably Free fave), and dried cranberries for a tart, sweet addition.

Kale Salad:

1 bunch kale, washed, chopped and tough ribs removed

1 cup cooked quinoa, kept warm

1/2 cup fruit sweetened dried cranberries

Dressing:

3 tablespoons coconut aminos

3 tablespoons sesame tahini

3 tablespoons fresh-squeezed orange juice

2 tablespoons water

Directions:

1. Prepare dressing in a blender or, alternately, combine ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously.

2. Toss salad ingredients with dressing in a large bowl until kale is covered. Some dressing may be left over.

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Vegetarian Pho

Anthony Bourdain (among others) would likely have a field day castigating the notion of a vegetarian pho. But with all due respect to Mr. Bourdain, whose No Reservations sits atop my list of all-time favorite shows, I would have to say that he has no clue what he’s talking about when it comes to the often polarizing subject of vegetarian food. I’ve been living in New York for about three years now, slowly accumulating a list of favorite meals I’ve enjoyed as a resident. I’ve noticed a burgeoning trend when it comes to this list: the majority of my favorite meals here have been meatless. From the delicious, almost euphorically good Mulata arepa at Caracas Arepa Bar to the dosas and dahl at Jackson Diner. And to me, a great falafel from any of the city’s many falafel trucks is more New York than a dirty-water hot dog. Even vegan ice cream (to many, an oxymoron) is well represented by Stogo, my favorite local ice cream shop.

Just recently, I discovered a wonderful neighborhood joint called Lan Cafe. It’s one of those places I’ve walked by several times, but never stopped long enough to pick up a menu or consider ordering from there. Then last week I found myself deep in the thrust of a bad cold. I didn’t want to cook, I barely even wanted to eat, but the one thing I wanted badly was a good, spicy soup. Turned out, my hundreds of trips walking past Lan Cafe paid off, because I remembered that it was a vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant, which meant vegetarian pho. Theirs was delicious — a sweet and spicy blend of deep flavors and bright notes of cilantro and mint. I told myself that when I recovered, I would try to recreate their pho and post it here.

One reason I wanted to make a homemade pho was that, while Lan’s was certainly delcious, I suspected there was some hidden sugar in theirs — both in the broth and in the hoisin sauce, which is a must for an optimal pho experience. I decided to experiment with making a homemade hoisin sauce. It turned out super good! The best part is, it can easily be used for a number of dishes, and you won’t have to worry about the processed sugar that is in just about all store bought hoisins I’ve seen. So below, I’ve included a recipe for the hoisin I made along with the pho recipe. It’s somewhat of a labor-intensive process to prepapre everything, but well worth the effort, and you’ll have a big pot to last you all week. For my recipe, I used Chinese Five Spice powder instead of steeping the broth with cinnnamon, clove and star anise. My Aunt Sue bought me a nice blend of Chinese Five Spice for Christmas and I’ve been dying to use it in something.

Vegetarian Pho:

1 quart vegetable stock

5 cups water

1 long ginger root, cut into quarters

2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese Five Spice powder

3 tablespoons reduced-sodium wheat-free tamari

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons agave nectar

1 bunch baby bok choy, chopped

1 cup bean sprouts

1 carrot, peeled and sliced

3 scallions, chopped

1 block extra-firm tofu, cubed

1 package rice noodles

salt to taste

homemade hoisin sauce (recipe below)

chile garlic sauce/paste (to taste)

fresh mint leaves (for serving)

fresh cilantro (for serving)

lime wedges

Directions:

1. In a large soup pot, bring vegetable stock, water, ginger root, garlic, five spice powder, soy sauce and pepper to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain broth into a new, clean pot. Discard solids. Add agave nectar and salt to taste. Bring stock back to a boil and add vegetables and tofu. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until vegetables have softened.

2. Meanwhile, prepare rice noodles separately, according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

3. To serve, individually add rice noodles to bowl. Pour in soup. Top with a generous dollop of homemade hoisin, chile garlic paste, and top with mint and cilantro leaves. Serve with lime wedges on the side.

Homemade hoisin:

1/4 cup black bean paste (found in Asian food aisle)

1/4 cup agave nectar

1 plum tomato, roughly chopped

5 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon arrowroot

2 teaspoons chile garlic paste/sauce

Directions:

1. Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth.

2. Transfer to a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until bubbly and thickened, about 5 minutes.

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Spicy Avocado Dip

Ever play the game where you ask yourself the one food you could never live without? I love that one. I have to admit that while there are several obvious answers that come to mind, somehow I’m always left with one answer that is clearer than others: guacamole. I love it. I would be content eating it by itself, with a spoon. When I go out for Mexican, the chips and guac order to start is obligatory, but I take it a step further and usually order extra guacamole to go with my meal. Yes, I’d have a pretty hard time ever living without the stuff.

The one thing I’ve noticed about guacamole is that while the same basic ingredients go into every recipe — avocado, lime, salt, onion, tomato — it seems like no guacamole is ever alike. Some are lime-y, some are creamy, some are chunky, others smooth. They range in flavor, texture, and heat, and I love them all.

I decided to call this recipe a dip. Despite the wide range of possible guacamole interpretation, the creamy consistency of this recipe really reminds me of a great dip. I made a big batch on Friday and Gennaro and I enjoyed it over fish tacos. I enjoyed the leftovers the next day with a healthy handful of chips.

Avocado Dip:

2 ripe avocados

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoons salt

3 scallions, greens topped off

4 jalapenos, seeded and roughly chopped (add back seeds gradually until dip reaches desired heat)

2 plum tomatoes, seeded, roughly chopped

1/2 bunch fresh cilantro

Directions:

1. Puree avocado, lemon juice, salt and scallions in a food processor until smooth and homogenous.

2. Add remaining ingredients and puree until dip is speckled but smooth, with no large chunks of vegetable remaining.

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Jalapeno Salsa

023My aunt made this delicious jalapeno salsa over the weekend. I loved it so much, I asked for permission to share the recipe. This is a wonderful alternative to a traditional green salsa, which is typically made with tomatillos. If you seed the jalapenos, the salsa will be quite mild, though you can always add seeds to suit your tastes and preferences. Even though it seems like the recipe makes a lot of salsa — which it does — trust me, it won’t last long. I suspect this salsa would be really great over fish or chicken, simmered with shrimp, or stirred into rice for a delicious side dish for a Spanish or Mexican meal.

Thanks for sharing your recipe, Aunt Pam!

Jalapeno Salsa:

16 jalapenos, halved, seeded and stems removed

1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

1 bunch scallions, roughly chopped

1/2 small white onion, diced

4 roma tomatoes, diced

juice of 2 lemons

salt to taste

Directions:

Blend all ingredients in a food processor until fairly homogenous — or until salsa reaches desired consistency. Adjust salt to taste.

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Low Fat Pumpkin Mousse Pie

pumpkin mousse pie 2My mom commented on the amount of buttery spread I had used in my lemon coconut pie crust. But pie crusts by definition contain butter, I thought. Then I thought some more. Was that really the case? After putting the dates I had been saving to make muffins to experimental use, I discovered pie crust can be more than a butter-ladden treat, and so much less fattening as a result. Then, the healthy pie crust  idea inspired a  health-conscious filling to match. I read somewhere that pumpkin is one of those super healthy things that people don’t eat enough of. In keeping with the theme, I added a whole can, along with silken tofu, to the filling. Healthy crust? Healthy filling? Before you run for your lives, I offer you this: I made this for a recent family party and even some of the non allergy-plagued guests counted this dessert among their favorites. If that doesn’t convince, I offer this: I don’t actually like pumpkin pie. In fact, I usually despise it. I loved this one.

If you avoid oats for fear of cross-contamination, try Bob’s Red Mill rolled oats. They test all of their oats to make sure they don’t have a trace of gluten, and process them using completely gluten free facilites. If you simply can’t tolerate oats altogether, well, I’m still working on a good, cripsy crust that’s gluten-free, vegan, and still tasty. It may take awhile, but I’m determined to do it, so check back in often!

Ingredients:

Crust:

2 cups Bob’s Red Mill dry rolled oats

1 cup dates

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened soy milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

Filling:

1 12-oz. package Mori Nu extra firm silken tofu

1 15-oz. can pumpkin

1/2 cup agave nectar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon orange zest

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Place all ingredients for crust in a food processor and blend until a large clump forms. Using fingers, press evenly into a 9″ pie pan. Bake for 22 minutes. After crust has baked, set aside to cool.

3. Meanwhile, using a blender or food processor, blend all ingredients for filling. When crust has cooled, pour in filling and chill in refrigerator overnight.

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