Alison Anton's Natural Cooking Blog offers healthy recipes, inspirational food articles and culinary advice for the natural chef, and features dessert recipes from her upcoming cookbook, Desserts for Every Body.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Cherries and Cherry Recipes
Is there anyone who doesn't know it's cherry season? Walking into the farmers' market last weekend, I saw a herd of people crowding around one small booth. "What are they selling?" As I approached, I saw the pretty white bags brimming over with bright, little, red fruits.
Since cherries are too fragile and perishable to import, they are one of the few fruits that are truly "seasonal". The growing season for cherries is a short one as well - they're only really good from June through late July. This makes cherries an awfully nostalgic summertime fruit, and enthusiasm is always high.
On a nutritional level, cherries, especially the sour varieties, are alkalizing in nature are known to reduce acids in the body. They have significant levels of vitamin C and the B vitamins, as well as minerals to help us get through these hot summer days. Their bright red color indicates that they are exploding with beta-carotene, which turns to vitamin A in the body.
You'll find only a few varieties of cherries available at the markets: Bings and lamberts have the dark, mohogany-colored skins - bings are the big ones, lamberts are the small, heart-shaped ones. Both have a sweet, rich flavor and make them the most popular at the markets. But don't pass over the rainiers; they're my favorite. Rainiers have a marbled skin that consumers pass on as unripe. They have a delicate, sweet flavor and may be perfect for kids or adults who turn their noses up at the overpowering cherry-ness of the other varieties.
Cherry trees are high on the list for sprayed fruits. Buy organic if you can.
Think "raw desserts". What pops into your mind? Healthy? Crunchy? Soggy? A sad alternative for someone on a diet? Raw desserts make the healthiest desserts on the planet, but they also make skeptics. Can desserts made without flours, fillers, sugar, or dairy products truly satisfy?
Sweet fruits are one of the top ingredients in raw desserts. Fresh and dried fruits are bursting with sucrose, glucose and fructose (nature's natural sugars) and many have just as much sweetness as refined tables sugar. Dates, for example, are a common ingredient for raw dessert crusts and fillings, and have a 75-85 percent sugar content.
Now I don't normally advocate sugar, but we're talking about desserts here. Fact is that desserts are sweet. There is a difference between using whole fruits instead of table sugar, though -- it's in the fiber. For those who have experimented with the Atkin's diet, you'll remember that deductions in carbohydrate (sugar) intake can be made with the addition of fiber. Fiber, as well as protein and good fats, slow down the rate at which the sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream. Since raw desserts are made mostly of high-fiber fruits and an array of nuts with high-quality fats and protein, they won't spike sugar levels as high as desserts made from table sugar and refined flours.
Ingredients for Raw Desserts
Fresh, organic ingredients give raw desserts their natural sweetness and delightful textures. Here's the top three foods that make up raw desserts:
Nuts and Seeds - Raw chefs always have a food processor at easy reach for chopping, grinding or pureeing nuts and seeds for a variety of uses. Course-chopped nuts can be used as a base for crunchy-textured crusts; ground nuts are used for finer crusts as well as a base for cookie and cake dough; and those with a higher fat content, like cashews, pine nuts, macadamias, coconuts and Brazil nuts, can be pureed into creamy mousses, whips and parfaits.
Fresh and Dried Fruits - Summer's bounty of fresh colorful fruits make it the ideal time for raw desserts. Just as in baked desserts, fruits are used as a filling for tarts and pies, and can be pureed to make dessert sauces to top custards and cakes. Dried fruits can also be used. Most are soaked and then pureed to sweeten fillings and crusts.
Natural Sweeteners - Strict raw-foodies only sweeten with the simplest of sweet ingredients: whole fruits. The less dogmatic approach is to add mildly refined sweeteners in small amounts. These include: raw unfiltered honey, raw agave nectar, stevia, date sugar and even maple syrup. Most raw desserts incorporate dates into crusts and fillings; in most cases, their naturally high sugar content makes them more than adequate.
What Makes a "Raw" Food Raw?
A raw food is exactly that — it hasn’t been cooked. This means that all the delicate vitamins, phyto-nutrients and enzymes originally present in the food have not been cooked out, damaged or destroyed. Since these highly nutritional aspects of the whole food are left intact, raw desserts are actually good for us in moderation. You can’t say that about baked desserts, which are filled with sugar, flours and dairy products.
Generally, raw food is considered raw if it hasn't been heated above 105-120 degrees. If a raw food has been left in its original state, or even if it has been dehydrated between 105-120 degrees, the enzymes and vitamins have not been destroyed and the food will remain truly raw.
Many of my raw dessert recipes require little more than a food processor and a pan, but a few other basic kitchen tools can make it easier and just more fun. If you are starting to experiment with raw foods in general, you'll definitely want to consider the last two.
Springform Pan - Another word for a cheesecake pan. This pan has a removable side and allows cakes to hold their shape after they've been setting up in the fridge. Springform pans come in many sizes, from a single-serving to a 12-inch round, square or rectangle.
Tart Pan - A tart pan makes a short crust for a single layer of fruit to lie attractively on the bottom. Like springform pans, they also have a removable side to keep the filling from dumping while removing the tart. They come in single-serving sizes to a 12-inch round, square or rectangle.
Pie Plate - Whether it was handed down from mom or purchased, most home-cooks have at least one pie plate laying around the kitchen. A pie plate is good for thick crusts that hold deep, chunky fillings.
Dehydrator - A dehydrator adds chewiness and crunchiness to certain desserts that might be left soft and soggy without some kind of drying technique. If a dehydrator is set within 105-120 degrees, it will take the water out of the food without cooking it. As long as the heat stays low, a raw food will remain truly raw even if left in the dehydrator for 12-plus hours. I recommend the Excalibur Dehydrator - it allows you to adjust the temperature. I found mine new on eBay for $200.
Food Processor or High-Speed Blender - Although a food processor is all one really needs for raw desserts, many raw foodists enjoy the luxury of a higher powered blender to really cream and smooth pureed foods. Its fast blending acting can puree leafy greens into smoothies in just 30 seconds! I recommend the Vita-Mix Blender; it's pricey, but worth it. Find it new on ebay for $280.
Now all you need are the healthy ingredients to create your raw works of culinary art! 'Tis the season for a variety of fresh, ripe fruits at the organic farmers' market. You can purchase nuts and seeds at your local natural foods store. The best choices are organic, vacuum packed nuts that have been processed and transported in lower temperatures. These are becoming more accessible at natural foods markets and on the internet.
So don't knock it 'til you try it. People new to raw foods always proclaim how neat it is to "cook" raw in the kitchen. "It's so alive!", they say. And once you try it, you'll be a believer too!
I am a Certified Nutritional Chef, food writer and culinary instructor through Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts in Northern California. I teach cooking and nutrition classes through the Whole Foods Market Salud Cooking School and write a monthly eLetter, also entitled Whole Gourmet Natural Cooking, to a wide audience.