Advertisement Close

Healthy Desserts: Health, Taste and Enjoyment

posted on: Jul 10, 2019

By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributing Writer

“I love desserts but they are so unhealthy!”   How many times have I heard my friends and colleagues say these words?  However, as I created my sweet dishes through the years I found that this is not always true.  Desserts can be tasty yet also be nutritious and healthy.

The basis of all these sweet-healthy meal-enders is honey, olive oil, and yogurt and burghul as well as fruits and nuts.  At the top of these healthful products is honey – the first sweetener known to man. The only food that does not spoil, it has been a favorite food of humans since the dawn of history

Modern research has proven that using honey as a healing agent is a medical reality.  New Zealand biochemist, Peter Molan, after 20 years of research, has concluded that this bee product cleans and heals wounds better than the dressings and ointments used in hospitals.  Also, some 50 studies published by the British Journal of Surgery and other publications, attest to the healing qualities of honey, especially in banishing infections, promoting skin growth and in the prevention of scarring.

Olive oil, important in the human diet since the dawn of civilization is characterized by its high nutritional and health values.  The energy-giving properties in olive oil are more than that contained in any other fruit or vegetable and the calcium content is greater than in other fruit, vegetables, fish, shell-fish or cockle-fish.  Fresh cow’s milk contains the same quantity of calcium as olives, but olives have more vitamin A than that contained in milk. Hence, olives are an excellent food for pathological cases which require intensified quantities of calcium.

Exceptionally rich in potassium, olive oil, a mono-unsaturated fat, has the ability to reduce the LDL (bad) cholesterol without reducing the HDL (good) cholesterol in the blood.  The oil also contains Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that plays a role in reducing the risk of cancer and heart diseases. Freshly pressed extra-virgin olive oil contains a chemical called oleocanthal that acts like ibuprofen.  This natural anti-inflammatory compound provides a possible explanation for the well-known health benefits of olives in the oil-rich Mediterranean diet. People from around the Mediterranean who are the greatest consumers of olive oil have the lowest rate of cardiovascular diseases compared to those of the peoples of the western world.

Yogurt, much more easily digestible than milk is ideal for the aged, pregnant women, children and the sick.  In addition, it is believed that regular consumers of this fermented milk tend to have clear skin and find no problem in enjoying a good night’s sleep.  Also, in a recent study, Japanese researchers have found that eating traditional yogurt reduces the malodorous compounds that cause bad breath.

For those wishing to cut down on the amount of fat, cholesterol, and calories in their diets, yogurt made from skimmed milk is a godsend.  In preparing meals, brands labeled low-fat and low-cholesterol can be substituted for mayonnaise, sour cream or similar products. This will constitute a tremendous improvement in their diets – at times working wonders.

Called by some ‘the noblest food achieved by wheat’, burghul has become a much sought after food by vegetarian and other health-conscious people in North America.  Research has proven that this cereal is unequaled in food value. The cooking of the wheat preserves most of its nutrients, even when some of the bran is removed after the cooked grain is crushed.  The calcium, carbohydrates, iron, phosphorous, potassium, vitamin B and protein content are almost all retained. These are not lost when burghul is stored. It will last for years without loss of food value and any other type of deterioration.

All fruit and nuts go well together and are healthy foods – excellent for the diet.  Fruits contain natural sugars and are nourishing – ideal for the daily diet and are among the gentlest natural laxatives in the world.  As well, the fruit has a unique ability in relieving intestinal disorders and their juice helps to induce sleep. Some naturalists assert that fruits such as figs increase the strength of the young and help preserve the elder – making them look younger and less wrinkled.

Nuts are considered at the top of the list when it comes to healthy protein foods.  While they tend to be very high in calories and fat, most of the fat is poly-unsaturated or mono-unsaturated. Much used in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Indian cuisines, they are an excellent addition to vegetarian diets.

With honey, olive oil and yogurt, as other ingredients as well as a few spices, fruits and nuts make for healthy desserts in which one can glory in the sweet taste and at the same time know that healthy foods are being eaten.

Banana Yogurt Dessert

Serves 4 to 6

Simple to prepare, this dessert makes a healthy conclusion for any meal.

2 cups plain yogurt

2 tablespoons melted honey

2 medium bananas cut in half lengthwise and sliced in half-rounds

Thoroughly combine yogurt and honey in a bowl.  Stir in banana slices of half-rounds, then chill and serve.

Burghul and Pineapple Pudding

Serves 8 to10

A very versatile food, also known as bulgar or bulgar, burghul cannot be excelled as a nourishing food.  It has more food energy than cornmeal; more iron than rice; less fat than uncooked wheat; six times more calcium than cornmeal and three times more than rice; and more vitamins than barley, cornmeal or rice.

1 cup fine burghul, soaked for 10 minutes in warm water, then drained by pressing the water out through a strainer

1 can crushed pineapple (19 oz. 540 ml.)

1 1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup honey

2 eggs, beaten

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350° F.

In a casserole, place all ingredients then thoroughly mix.  Bake uncovered for 1 hour or until the top turns golden brown then serve hot. If a sweeter version is desired, after removal from the oven, drizzle with honey.

Date Fruit Cup Pudding

Serves about 4

In the Middle Eastern lands, where the date palm carries an aura of mystery and romance, there is a common belief that it is the oldest cultivated fruit tree in the world.

2 cups of water

1 cup chopped dates

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons raisins, washed

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1 tablespoon lemon juice

whipping cream or any non-dairy whipped topping (optional)

Place water in a pot and bring to a boil, then add dates and cook and stir over medium heat for 5 minutes.

Stir in the honey, raisins, and cloves and cook uncovered over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes stirring constantly or until thickened.  Stir in lemon juice then cook uncovered and stir for a further 3 minutes. Place in small dessert cups. If one does not fear the fat, top with whipped cream or a non-dairy whipped topping, just before serving.

 Figs in Syrup

Serves about 6

One of mankind’s most ancient foods, the fig is the second fruit mentioned in the Bible.  It dates back to the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve made garments from its leaves to hide their nakedness and restore their dignity

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons ground almonds

1 cinnamon stick

1/4 teaspoon aniseed

2 cups of water

1 pound dried figs

2 tablespoons slivered and toasted almonds

Place sugar, lemon juice, ground almonds, cinnamon stick, aniseed and water in a small saucepan, then bring to boil.  Drop figs into syrup, cover then gently cook over low heat for about 40 minutes or until figs plump up, stirring occasionally and adding more water if necessary.

Remove the cinnamon stick.  Transfer figs with their syrup to a serving bowl then sprinkle with almonds and serve.

Fig and Cheese Dessert

Serves 4

The Greeks associated figs with phallic worship, serving them at Dionysian orgies and the Romans employed figs in several love potions.

2 cups ricotta cheese

8 fresh figs, peeled

2 tablespoons crushed walnuts

2 tablespoons honey

Place 4 tablespoons cheese on each of 4 plates.

Slice and arrange two figs around ricotta cheese on each plate.  Sprinkle walnuts over cheese and figs, then drizzle with honey and serve.

Fruit Dessert

Serves 6

In North Africa desserts are made delicious by being soaked in honey or with honey as an ingredient.

1 large plum, diced

1 medium apple, peeled, cored and diced

1 medium peach, diced

1 cup diced cantaloupe

1/4 cup raisins, rinsed

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 cup honey, melted

1/2 cup water

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 cup couscous

2 tablespoons coarsely ground pistachios

Combine plums, apple, peach, cantaloupe, raisins, lemon juice, honey and water in a saucepan then cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes.  Add olive oil, cinnamon, and couscous, then, stirring often, cook over low heat for 10 minutes or until couscous is done, adding a little water if necessary.

Transfer to a serving platter then allow cooling for 1 hour. Sprinkle with pistachios just before serving.

Pomegranate and Almond Delight

Serves 6

Quick and easy to prepare, this simple dish is attractive to look at, tasty and healthy,

seeds from 4 medium pomegranates

1 cup slivered almonds

5 tablespoons soft honey

2 teaspoons orange blossom water

Thoroughly mix all the ingredients until the honey coats all of the pomegranate seeds and almonds; then place in a serving platter and chill before serving.

Pomegranate and Rice Dessert

Serves about 6

To remove the seeds, the pomegranate is pressed and rolled by hand on a hard surface then the stem with the surrounding pulp is removed.  The outer skin is then lightly scored with a sharp knife from top to bottom at one-inch intervals. After this, the fruit can be easily broken in pieces with the fingers and the ovules removed.

1/2 cup brown rice, rinsed

1/2 cup raisins, rinsed

1 3/4 cups water

4 tablespoons of liquid honey

1 cup pomegranate seeds

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped into small pieces

1/2 teaspoon orange or rose blossom water

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Place rice, raisins, and water in a saucepan then bring to boil.  Turn heat to low, then cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until the rice is cooked, stirring a number of times and adding a little more water if necessary.  Turn off the heat, stir then re-cover and allow to sit for 30 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl and allow to cool, then stir in remaining ingredients, except cinnamon.  Cover with plastic wrap then chills in a refrigerator for an hour. Just before serving, sprinkle with cinnamon.

Stewed Apricots

This sweet is very good for spreads on toast or for dessert.  Stewed apricots will keep, in a refrigerator for a long period of time.

4 cups chopped dried apricots

8 cups of water

4 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Place apricots and water in a bowl then allow to soak overnight.

Transfer to a saucepan then bring to boil.  Cook over medium heat for 35 minutes then Stir in remaining ingredients, adding more water if necessary.  Bring to a boil then cook for further 10 minutes or until the apricots turn into a paste, adding more water if necessary.

Yogurt-Date Pudding

Serves about 10

Raisins can be substituted for the dates.

10 slices whole wheat bread, cut into small pieces

1 cup chopped dates

2 cups plain yogurt

1/2 cup melted honey

4 tablespoons pulverized almonds

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

3 eggs, beaten

Thoroughly combine bread and dates in a mixing bowl then set aside.

In another bowl, combine remaining ingredients, then pour over the bread and dates.  Thoroughly combine, then place in a greased casserole and bake in a 300° F preheated oven for 50 minutes. Serve hot from the casserole.