Undercover Veggies

“Eat your veggies or you can’t have dessert”, might be one of the most common threats made at the dinner table. Indeed, dessert is everything that vegetables are not: it is sweet, it is delicious, and it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside; while veggies, especially if made poorly, tend to be bland, boring and at times, bitter. Vegetables and dessert might seem to be on opposite ends of the culinary spectrum, but employ a little ingenuity and you can bring the two together in perfect harmony.

The trick is to judiciously choose vegetables that already have a high sugar content, like beets and carrots. Many Indian desserts employ grated vegetables cooked with milk and sugar to make halwas. The best-known example of this is of course, the famous gajar ka halwa, although it can very well be made with other vegetables like bottle gourd (lauki) or beetroot. The variety of gourd called the ash gourd is candied to make the super sweet petha or the ubiquitous tutti-frutti, used in cakes and ice creams.

It is not just a high sugar content which can make a vegetable eligible for the pastry kitchen. The creaminess of an avocado makes it perfect for cake fillings or frostings. Chocolate and avocado frosting is a great vegan alternative which puts the fattiness of avocado to great use. And speaking of chocolate, the earthiness of beetroot pairs particularly well with dark chocolate and can be paired into a cake or a brownie, super moist from all that grated beetroot. You could sneak other ingredients into a brownie as well, as in this “Impostor Brownie”. Read on till the end to find out.

“Impostor Brownies”

Nodee Chowdhury was my senior in college. She is a doctor, a foodie and a gifted cook with a particular flair for baking. Her blog Dreams of Cocoa is full of recipes both savoury and sweet, seasoned with clever puns and a cheerful personality. The recipes are incredibly detailed and contain numerous pictures that efficiently guide the beginner cook through the entire process. Many of her recipes seek healthy alternatives which try to cut down on calories without compromising on flavour, and her magnificent healthy cheesecake tart, and healthy chocolate chip cookies are perfect examples of the same. It is no surprise, therefore, that her blog features quite a few desserts that use vegetables.  https://dreamsofcocoa.wordpress.com/author/smilingnodee/

Healthy Cheesecake Tart (Courtesy : Dreams of Cocoa)

Carrots have a high sugar content, which is why honey glazed carrots work so well as a side dish. Apart from Indian desserts like gajar ka halwa, carrots also make their way into one of the most famous veggie cakes ever, the famous carrot cake. The cream cheese frosting that classically accompanies a carrot cake lends it a level of sugary fattiness which makes it a real treat.

Nodee Di’s healthier version, though, ditches the frosting. But that is all for the better, because the absence of frosting allows the natural sweetness of the carrots to shine through, accented with notes of cinnamon (you could add other spices like ginger and nutmeg as well) and the textural bite of walnuts and raisins. What we end up with is a healthy, not too sweet dessert with a complex flavour profile. If you are in the mood for a little indulgence, go for the frosting by all means. But if you want a guilt-free version, check out her recipe. https://dreamsofcocoa.wordpress.com/2018/10/23/24-carrot-cake/

Carrot Cake (Courtesy : Dreams of Cocoa)

Pumpkin seems to be everywhere during the autumn season, from Jack-o-Lanterns to bevarages to desserts. Quick aside, the original pumpkin spice latte doesn’t contain any pumpkin; it is so called because this warm spice blend is used in the classic autumn dessert: the pumpkin pie. The filling is made of a mixture of pumpkin puree, eggs, milk, sugar and the pumpkin spice, which contains a mix of spices quite similar to the one used in the carrot cake. As a result, both desserts share an orange hue and a gentle warmth of spices against the background of a subtle sweetness.

 As always, this version makes some tweaks to the classic recipe, swapping the usual pie crust for a mixture of almond flour and crushed ginger biscuits, which highlights the ginger notes in the filling. She also cuts down on sugar. “I don’t think there’s any need to overwhelm the natural sweetness of the pumpkins”, she says. And absolutely right she is, too. What we get as a result is similar to the carrot cake: complex with a muted sweetness that won’t make you feel too guilty about having a second helping. https://dreamsofcocoa.wordpress.com/2018/09/13/autumn-showers-and-pumpkin-power/

Pumpkin Pie (Courtesy : Dreams of Cocoa)

So far, we have talked about two classic desserts which traditionally use a vegetable. This last one, though, is different. A brownie is the ultimate treat for a chocoholic, with no veggie in sight. These “Healthy Brownies” swaps the flour for chickpeas, which makes it gluten-free and protein-rich at the same time. Plus, half of the sugar in the recipe is replaced with stevia (a sugar substitute), and the use of caramelised white chocolate adds another dimension of flavour. “It is an impostor brownie, a Trojan horse if you will, containing nutrition inside”. A must try, this one! https://dreamsofcocoa.wordpress.com/2018/08/30/impostor-brownie/

So yes, give veggies a chance. Using the right techniques, even the most mundane veggies can metamorphose into stunning confections that bewilder the brain and please the palate.


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