Healthy Cooking: Love and sweetness in a low-sugar dessert

When I was younger, I fantasized that my imaginary boyfriend, Simon LeBon, would propose (beach, roses, gigantic diamond) on Valentine’s Day. Then I got a real boyfriend, and imagined he would propose (beach, roses, gigantic diamond) on Valentine’s Day. Then my real boyfriend proposed one August (backyard, roses, gigantic barbecue grill) and we spent the next Valentine’s Day romantically selecting roofing tiles. As we approach our 26th Valentine’s Day together, I’m still conflicted about which would make me swoon more: an extravagant getaway or a new dishwasher?

If ever there was a cookbook that understood the dissonance between indulgence and practicality, it's "Half the Sugar, All the Love: 100 Easy, Low-Sugar Recipes for Every Meal of the Day" (Workman Publishing, $22.95) by Jennifer Tyler Lee and Anisha Patel. Filled with recipes that sound like cheat-day choices — Salted Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake Bars, anyone? — it replaces most or all of the added sugar in traditional recipes with healthy fruits and vegetables. And their Chocolate Pudding is the perfect Valentine's Day dessert for my sweet-toothed, yet health-conscious, hubby.

Dark chocolate chips and unsweetened cocoa powder give the pudding its deep, rich flavor. After several test batches, I determined that my preferred, not-too-bitter chocolate chips were a premium brand made with 67% cacao. I expected the same premium brand would also make the best unsweetened cocoa powder, but I was wrong. It tasted harsher than the generic store brand cocoa powder I pulled from my pantry. Lesson learned: More expensive doesn’t mean more yum. Also: Use the ingredients you already have.

Rather than rely on full-fat dairy, this pudding uses avocado (which you can’t taste at all!) whipped with unsweetened almond milk to create a velvety texture. The omission of cow’s milk makes the pudding nearly vegan. If you or your loved one is completely dairy-free, simply choose vegan chocolate chips. Place all of the ingredients in a blender, whirl, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. It really couldn’t be easier.

The authors suggest topping the pudding with their maple-vanilla whipped cream, made from real maple syrup, vanilla and a cup of heavy whipping cream. This is where we have to agree to disagree. If I have any criticism about this cookbook at all, it’s that the authors aren’t as careful about fat as they are sugar. I will look the other way when it comes to the avocados, because their heart-healthy monounsaturated fat actually helps reduce bad cholesterol. But readers, I love you too much to encourage the consumption of heavy cream.

If you need a topper for your chocolate pudding, use one of my favorite healthy cooking hacks. Cut up two bananas into 1-inch pieces, place them on a plate, and freeze them for an hour. Scrape the frozen pieces into a blender, add 2 tablespoons of non-dairy milk, and blend until the bananas turn into a chilled whipped treat. Spoon over the pudding and serve immediately, before the topping and your restraint melt. It’s a guilt-free indulgence that shows real love for your valentine, and yourself. And yes, we can offer it to Simon LeBon, too.

Excerpted from “Half the Sugar, All the Love” by Jennifer Tyler Lee and Anisha Patel, MD, MSPH. Workman Publishing, 2019.


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