BY MELISSA D'ARABIAN, Associated Press
According to my grandmother, fruit is God's candy, making it the perfect ending to a meal. I agree with Grandma—fruit is a lovely, healthy way to end a meal. But I'll also confess that the dessert lover in me sometimes craves something a smidge fancier. And by fancier, I mean with chocolate.
Berries are the perfect dessert fruit because their flavor is concentrated and bold, and they are both sweet and just a tiny bit tangy. Berries are gorgeous and elegant, which is important when it comes to pulling off fruit as a true dessert and not some sort of healthy consolation prize (try serving sliced apples at your next dinner party and you'll see what I mean).
Plus, berries are rich in antioxidants, high in fiber and low in calories. Raspberries, for instance, have just about 60 calories per cup. And despite their sweet taste, they pack only about 5 grams of sugar, but a whopping 8 grams of fiber. All of which means this dessert isn't just tasty, it's filling, too.
Perhaps the best benefit to making berries the star of dessert is that there's a little wiggle room to add a few bells and whistles. One of my favorite fruit dessert strategies is to whip up a simple syrup (just water and sugar heated until they come together in a thin syrup) with cool flavors. Think about adding interesting spices, such as cardamom with vanilla bean and black pepper, or herbs, such as mint or basil and lemon zest. Then just drizzle your way to dessert magic.
Add a tablespoon of liqueur or wine to the syrup—think orange liqueur or Marsala—and the flavors really pop. A few drops of almond extract or even cocktail bitters also are great. Only a tiny bit of a flavorful syrup is needed, but be aware that you are adding a bit of (worthwhile) sugar. Just before serving, use a vegetable peeler to shave off a few shards of deep, almost bitter chocolate, and you've just turned simple fruit into a weekend-worthy dessert.
BITTERS AND BERRIES
Start to finish: 20 minutes, plus steeping
1/3 cup raw coconut sugar
1/3 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons angostura bitters
1/2 vanilla pod, sliced open lengthwise, seeds scraped out
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
2 tablespoons orange juice
4 cups mixed fresh berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and/or blackberries)
Very dark chocolate bar, to shave
In a small saucepan over medium, heat the sugar and water, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Stir in the bitters, vanilla pod and seeds, orange zest and juice, then cook for another 1 to 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Remove from the heat and allow to steep at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours. Discard the vanilla pod. Refrigerate if not using right away.
Divide the berries among 6 dessert cups. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the syrup over each berry bowl. Top with shavings of dark chocolate.
Nutrition information per serving: 110 calories; 20 calories from fat (18 percent of total calories); 2 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 20 mg sodium; 24 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 19 g sugar; 1 g protein.
Food Network star Melissa d'Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook, "Supermarket Healthy." http://www.melissadarabian.net
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Banner image: This March 21, 2016 photo shows fresh berries served with a sugar syrup spiked with cocktail bitters and garnished with shavings of dark chocolate in Concord, N.H. Flavored simple syrups are an easy way to transform berries into a delicious and still healthy dessert. (AP Photo/J.M. Hirsch)