By Petra Heinze, Yoga+
Ever notice how your hand automatically reaches for something sweet when you are under pressure or feeling blue? Sugar hits the spot when a quick fix seems in order. But it’s a roller-coaster ride—the higher the lift, the harder the crash; in the aftermath you end up more stressed and depressed than before. Does this mean we should deprive ourselves of sweets completely?
According to Ayurveda, sweets are one of the six tastes necessary for a balanced diet. If we deny our body the sweetness it needs in small quantities, then the balance among the tastes is disrupted, and we tend to overindulge by way of compensation. Some measure of sweetness is necessary to preserve balance.
If you balance sugar with protein, fat, and carbohydrate, it won’t have a jarring effect on the body because it will enter the system more slowly. Consequently, you’ll be spared the rapid rise and equally rapid fall in your blood sugar level, which causes emotional highs and lows.
I have collected a few of my all-time favorites to satisfy both Western and Eastern palates. They’re delicious and healthy. Most are high in protein—in the form of dairy and nuts—though some non-dairy recipes are included (for more vegan desserts, click here). The recipes offer a choice of sweeteners and incorporate seasonal fruits, as either ingredients or toppings. Unless otherwise specified, the recipes serve 4–6 people.
Of all Indian sweets, kheer is considered to be the most sattvic. It is delicate, mild, nourishing, and easy to digest, so it keeps the mind light for meditation.
1⁄2 gallon whole milk
3⁄4 cup rice (preferably basmati)
1⁄2 cup sugar or other sweetener
1⁄4 cup grated fresh or dried coconut (optional)
1⁄4 cup raisins (optional)
1⁄4 cup cashews (optional)
1⁄4 teaspoon coarsely ground fresh green cardamom
10 strands saffron, ground
1⁄8 cup slivered almonds (for garnish)
On high heat, bring the milk to a boil. If you are using lowfat milk be careful, as it scorches easily. Put the rice in a strainer and rinse it with cold water before adding it to the boiling milk. Stir the mixture, making sure the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom, until the milk starts to boil again. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Then reduce the heat to low. While the rice is cooking, crack the cardamom pods and grind them with a mortar and pestle. Then grind the saffron separately in the mortar with 1⁄4 teaspoon water. When the rice is done and the milk is thick, turn the heat off and stir in the green cardamom and saffron. Add the sweetener of your choice and the coconut, raisins, or cashews. Pour the kheer into a serving dish and garnish it with almonds. It may be served warm or cold.
This is so nourishing that it is almost a meal in itself.
11⁄2 cups souji (cream of wheat)
3⁄4 cup turbinado sugar
1⁄3 cup ghee (clarified butter)
1⁄2 teaspoon fresh green cardamom powder
3 tablespoons golden raisins
4 cups cold water
3 tablespoons coconut (optional)
3 tablespoons slivered almonds (optional)
3 tablespoons cashews (optional)
Mix souji and ghee with your hands. Spread it evenly in a 9″ x 13″ cookie sheet and bake at 350º for 5 minutes. Stir, and return the mixture to the oven for approximately 10 minutes (or until the mixture turns pinkish-brown).
Put the roasted souji mixture in a half-gallon pot with the water. Stir well, and cook over medium heat, partially covered, for approximately 5–7 minutes, until it’s really thick. Add the sugar and cardamom. Stir until the mixture becomes thin again. Cook it for another 5–7 minutes, partially covered. When it thickens, stir in the raisins. Pour the mixture onto a greased platter and top with your choice of almonds, cashews, or coconut, patting the topping down. Let the halva cool for about 30 minutes before cutting it. You can either chill it or serve it at room temperature.
Fresh, sliced strawberries make a tasty and colorful topping for this scrumptious dessert.
3 cups paneer
1⁄2 cup nonfat milk powder
1⁄4 cup confectioners’ sugar or ground sugar
Cashews and pistachios (for garnish)
Blend the milk powder and paneer in a food processor until smooth, then mix in the sugar by hand. Spread the mixture evenly in a greased casserole dish and pat it down. Bake at 350º for 5–7 minutes until the top has a pinkish-brown tinge. Let it cool, and cut it into diamonds, hearts, triangles, squares, or any shape you like.
1⁄2 gallon milk
1⁄4 teaspoon green cardamom powder
10 strands saffron, ground with
1⁄4 teaspoon water
1 tablespoon rosewater or 1 drop rosewater essence
1⁄2 cup sugar or other sweetener of your choice (optional)
To prepare the sauce, bring the milk to a boil, turn the heat to low, and simmer until it is reduced by half. Add the sweetener, rosewater, saffron mixture, and green cardamom powder. Stir well, and pour it over the rasmalai. Top with finely chopped pistachio and cashew nuts. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving.
Peanut Butter Cookies
A classic treat for kids of all ages. Packed with protein, they’re great anytime.
3 3⁄4 cups whole-wheat flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄2 cup nonfat milk powder
1 cup butter
1 cup peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups turbinado sugar
Milk as needed
2 cups chocolate chips or peanuts (optional)
Blend butter, sugar, peanut butter, vanilla, and baking powder. Sift the dry ingredients together. Add them to the butter mixture with the peanuts or chocolate chips (if you are using them), and mix with your hands. Add milk as needed to make the dough soft.
Make 1-inch diameter balls, and put them 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet. Press down with your fingers or the palm of your hand, and bake at 350º for 10 minutes. Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies.
Take these highly nutritious treats along whenever you think you may need an extra boost.
1 cup ground sunflower seeds
1⁄2 cup chopped walnuts
1⁄4 cup carob powder
1⁄4 cup honey or rice syrup
8 ounces paneer
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1⁄4 cup chopped dates (optional)
Ground almonds or coconut
Mix the ingredients in the order listed. If you are using dates, add them to the dry ingredients. Form the mixture into balls, and roll them in the ground almonds or coconut.
Apple Crisp with Paneer Whip
An all-American favorite that’s a perfect way to end a meal. For variety, use peaches or nectarines.
8 big apples
3 tablespoons whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
1⁄8 teaspoon nutmeg powder
1⁄4 cup turbinado sugar (optional)
Peel and core the apples. Slice them thin. Mix the dry ingredients and roll the apple slices in the mixture.
1⁄4 cup whole-wheat flour
1⁄2 cup rolled oats
5 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons sugar (optional)
1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1 cup granola
Mix the whole-wheat flour and rolled oats. Cut the butter into the mixture, and add the sugar, cinnamon, and granola. Mix well with your fingers.
Put the apple slices in a 9″ x 9″ baking dish. Add the topping and gently pat it down. Bake it at 425º for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350º and bake until the top is golden brown and the apples are done—approximately 30 minutes. It can be served either warm or cold, with or without paneer whip.
This simple topping is excellent on fruit salads. It’s best fresh. After a day or two, you may need to thin it with whey, milk, or water, and blend it again.
1 cup paneer
1⁄3 cup milk (either whole or 2 percent)
1 teaspoon honey (or sweetener of your choice)
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla
Blend until smooth. Add more milk for a thinner consistency, as desired. For variety, substitute fresh fruit such as strawberries or mango for the sweetener, or try blending in a few dates and ground almonds.
This delectable custard makes an elegant party dessert, yet it’s easy to make.
2 cups whole milk
11⁄2 tablespoons white flour
1 tablespoon agar-agar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons sugar
1⁄2 pint heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla
1⁄4 cup slivered almonds
1 cup sliced strawberries
To make the custard, bring the milk to a boil in a heavy pot. Mix the flour with a little water and add it slowly to the boiling milk, stirring constantly until the milk boils again. Turn the heat down, add the agar-agar, and let the mixture boil for five minutes. Then stir in the sugar and vanilla, and keep stirring a few minutes more. Cool the custard for 15 minutes before filling the serving bowls one-third full. Put it in the refrigerator until it sets—approximately 30 minutes.
Whip the cream until it forms peaks, then add the sugar and vanilla.
Just before serving, top the custard with whipped cream and garnish with slivered almonds and strawberries.
Petra Heinze is a native of Germany who spent several years as head cook in an ashram before going to India to learn from professional cooks, Ayurvedic physicians, and yoga practitioners. She draws on traditional family recipes and her knowledge of spices to create dishes with the distinct flavors and health-promoting qualities of Indian vegetarian cooking.