Who doesn’t love dessert? It’s always nice to punctuate the end of a meal with something sweet. There are treats from all over the world that put a refreshing spin on what we usually consider for dessert. Although most desserts have their fair share of sweeteners, such as sugar or honey, there are other ingredients that provide FoodTrients and enhance a healthy diet.
From Iran: A Persian Dessert Delight
Persians really know their desserts! Also known as Persian Date Cake, ranginak is a traditional no-bake Persian dessert that’s delicious served with black tea. To make it even more decadent, serve it garnished with pashmak, a sort of cotton candy available in Persian markets and delis. Known as Persian ‘fairly floss’, it’s often flavored with pistachios, vanilla or saffron. The dates are an excellent source of dietary fiber, potassium and magnesium. The walnuts are rich in antioxidants, are anti-inflammatory and may help lower blood pressure. Walnuts are good for your brain, with their high concentration of DHA, a type of Omega-3 fatty acid. DHA has been shown to protect brain health in newborns, improve cognitive performance in adults, and prevent or reduce age-related cognitive decline.
2 3/4 cups pitted dates (If dates are too dry, soak them in warm water for 30 minutes and drain)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
3/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup (2 cubes) unsalted butter
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 Tbs. unsalted pistachios, ground for garnish
Pashmak (optional) for garnish
1. Place a few pieces of walnut in each date. Set aside.
2. Melt butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add flour and stir constantly for 15-20 minutes, until golden. Set aside to cool down a bit.
3. Add the cardamom, powdered sugar and 1 Tbs. cinnamon. Stir well.
4. Spread half of the flour mixture in an 8-inch square baking dish.
5. Place the dates in a single layer on the flour mixture. Press them down.
6. Spread the remaining flour mixture over the dates and smooth with a spatula or the back of a spoon. Sprinkle with a layer of ground pistachios. Sprinkle 1 Tbs. powdered sugar and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon.
7. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours; cut into squares with a small knife; top with a little of the ‘fairy floss,’ if desired.
From Spain – A Creamy Sweet Treat
Crema Catalana is Spain’s version of crème brulee (French for ‘burnt cream’), or as Catalans would argue, crème brulee is France’s version of Crema Catalana. While the French dessert is made with cream, egg yolks and sugar baked in a hot water bath, Crema Catalana is made with milk thickened with egg yolks and a little cornstarch, making it much like a rich flan. They both have the distinctive and irresistible burnt sugar topping that is so satisfying to crack your spoon through. There is lots of calcium-rich dairy in Crema Catalana as well as protein from eggs, which also contain vitamins A, D, E and K along with omega-3 fats. Egg yolks are also rich in folate and vitamin B12.
1 quart (4 cups) whole milk
1 vanilla bean, about 2 inches long, split lengthwise OR
(note: vanilla beans are very expensive–pure vanilla extract is acceptable)
2 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 long strip of lemon zest
½ cup egg yolks (about 7-8 yolks)
½ cup granulated sugar
2 Tbs. cornstarch
6 Tbs. turbinado sugar (like Sugar in the Raw)
Preheat the oven to 210 degrees F.
1. Pour the milk into a double boiler over a large saucepan filled 1/3 with water over low heat.
2. Add in the vanilla extract. (If using vanilla beans, scrape the seeds from the inside of the pod into the milk and add in the pod as well.) Add the lemon zest, raise the heat to medium and cook until bubbles just appear around the edge of the double boiler. Remove from the heat and let the flavorings steep in the milk for about 20 minutes.
3. Remove the lemon zest. (If using vanilla beans, scoop out and discard the vanilla pod.) Still in the double boiler, reheat the milk over medium heat until hot but not boiling.
4. In a mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks, granulated sugar, and cornstarch. Beat until smooth, creamy, and pale in color, 2-to-3 minutes. Gradually whisk in about 1 cup of the vanilla/lemon zest-infused hot milk. Scrape the egg yolk mixture back into the remaining hot milk in the double boiler and cook over low heat, stirring until the custard is creamy and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Do not allow the mixture to boil.
5. Arrange 6 6-oz. ramekins on a rimmed sheet pan. Ladle the custard into them, dividing it evenly. Bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until the custard is set around the edges but still slightly jiggly in the center. Let cool to room temperature. Cover each dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours.
6. About 20 minutes before serving, take out the ramekins from the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap. Using a paper towel, gently blot any surface moisture from the top of each. Sprinkle 1 Tbs. turbinado sugar evenly over each custard.
7. Caramelize the sugar on the surface of each ramekin in a pre-heated GAS broiler about 5 inches below the flame (electric broilers will heat up the custard before the sugar is melted). Make sure to watch the caramelizing process carefully—it should only take about 4-6 minutes.
8. OR use a culinary blowtorch. Hold it about 3 inches above the sugar topping. The end of the flame should just touch the sugar. Using a slow back and forth motion, allow the flame to “lick” the entire surface until evenly glazed and dark brown.
From Thailand – Mangos Make a Cool Dessert
Mango is one of the most popular flavors in the world. Not long ago, you didn’t find mangos or mango flavor much in the U.S., but happily, Americans have come to love this ‘King of Fruits.’ Mangoes contain an enzyme that aids digestion and immunity-boosting vitamin C, are rich in beta carotene for eye health, and contain lots of fiber to help lower cholesterol and cleanse the body of toxins.
Easy Mango Ice Sherbet
2 fresh, ripe mangoes
1 cup granulated sugar
3 Tbs. coconut milk
1 tsp. fresh lime juice
1 cup whipping cream
1. Slice the mangoes open and scoop out fruit from the skins and from around the stone. Place the fruit in a food processor or blender. Add the sugar and pulse for 1 minute or until sugar has dissolved and you are left with a delicious mango puree.
2. Add the coconut milk, lime juice and pulse for 1-2 minutes to combine.
3. Pour the puree into a bowl, carefully scraping out every last bit.
4. Pour the whipping cream into the processor/blender. Pulse until the cream forms stiff peaks.
5. Add the mango puree to the whipped cream and pulse 5-to-10 seconds or until the mango/cream mixture is smooth and fully incorporated. Pour into a 1 ½ quart container and set in the freezer for at least 6 hours.
6. To serve, remove the sorbet from the freezer and allow to soften about 10 to 15 minutes.
Indonesia Meets Apple Pie
For a twist on apple pie, these individual tartlets are exceptionally soft and have an easy to make crust. The cardamom provides an exotic flavor to this American classic. Apples are full of fiber and the skins contain vitamins and antioxidants. Cardamom offers many healthful properties, including antioxidants, a mild diuretic that helps reduce blood pressure, cancer-fighting compounds, and may help with digestive problems. If you’re still in the tartlet mode, try Brazil Nut Tarts from my Age Gracefully cookbook.
Apple Cardamom Tartlets
Makes 6 tartlets
For the crust:
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cube (1/2 cup) cold salted butter
1 large egg
For the filling:
1/2 cube (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
4 slightly tart apples, such as Honeycrisp
3 Tbs. honey
1 can unsweetened condensed milk
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
2 large eggs
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
To make the crust:
1. Sift the flour in a large bowl. Cut in the butter and mix until you have a soft bread crumb texture. Add the egg and stir until the crumb mixture comes together to form a firm dough. Cover the bowl of dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least ½ hour. Roll out the dough and cut into circles, about 4 inches in diameter. Line 6 small tart tins with the dough circles.
To make the filling:
2. Core and slice the (unpeeled) apples into thick wedges. Melt the butter and sugar in a saucepan. Stir until the mixture becomes light brown in color. Add in the apple wedges, the honey, and let simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove the apple wedges (leaving the sugar mixture in the pan) and arrange them on top of the dough in the tins.
3. Add in the condensed milk and cardamom into the sugar mixture and let simmer, stirring constantly for 5 minutes. Let cool slightly.
4. Beat the eggs and incorporate them into the sugar, honey, condensed milk mixture. Pour over the apple wedges and bake the tartlets on the bottom rack in the oven for about 20 minutes.
From Japan – Sweet Potato for a Tasty Treat
This recipe comes from Okinawa, the Japanese tropical island prefecture that’s considered one of the world’s ‘blue zones’ where people age exceptionally well due to diet, lifestyle, and social structure. Sweet potatoes of all colors—white, orange, purple—were once the principle diet of the Okinawans. In my Age Gracefully cookbook, there’s a recipe for Sweet Potato and Jackfruit Delight that is also full of the benefits of sweet potatoes and jackfruit, both high in antioxidants. Sweet potatoes are nutritional powerhouses:
· A great source of fiber, and vitamins including A, B6 and C as well as manganese and potassium
· The fiber and antioxidants in sweet potatoes promote good gut health and help fight cancer
· They contain a large dose of beta carotene for eye health
· Support the immune system
Sweet Potato Balls
About 3 servings
3 medium white, purple or orange sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 Tbs. light brown sugar
½ cup sesame seeds, crushed almonds or macadamia nuts
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1. Boil or steam the potatoes; drain, then in a large bowl, mash with the brown sugar.
2. Let cool completely, then with your hands, roll the mashed sweet potatoes into 1-inch balls.
3. On a rimmed baking sheet or clean surface, lay out the nuts evenly; roll the balls around to coat.
4. Sprinkle with the ground cinnamon.
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