What is a healthy dessert?
Some fruit, I guess, but not much else. But if you, like me, like a bit of sweetness to end a meal, this one may be a good choice.
Yes, there is sugar in it, but not much. Indeed, you would be using a sugar that has a low glycaemic index, that is, it does not spike your blood sugar levels too much.
And this sugar has been sitting on our larder shelves for ages: I'm talking about gula melaka, which is a palm sugar that our mothers and grandmothers relied on and which I now learn has a glycaemic index of just 35.
Compared with honey's 55 and white sugar's 68, this is not bad at all.
Besides, it has a mellow and nutty taste, unlike the empty flavour of white sugar.
Not only that, but gula melaka, being an unrefined sugar, also has high levels of potassium, zinc, iron and magnesium. It is a natural source of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and C.
Our mothers would break up this sugar, which usually comes in cylindrical blocks, to make a thick syrup for dessert drinks, to pour over glutinous rice cakes or to sweeten coconut for fillings in nonya kueh or cakes.
These days, I make a jelly with it.
And believe it or not, jelly, which is a dessert that harks back to my childhood, is nutritionally recommended.
Today, I make jelly out of gelatine sheets or powder - not from the traditional agar agar, which is made from seaweed, nor the flavoured jelly crystals that come in packets.
I prefer the soft texture of gelatine to agar agar, which is crunchy and traditionally used in local jellies.
Doing it from scratch, rather than relying on packaged jelly powder, means you can control the sugar content and use natural flavours rather than the artificial flavours of packaged products.
Jelly may have gone out of fashion these days, but it is still championed by nutritionists. A spokesman from the British Nutrition Foundation has been reported saying jelly can be good for you.
If you add lots of fruit to it, you can get children to eat it and, at the same time, satisfy the recommended five servings of fruit or vegetables we are supposed to eat a day.
It is also easy to eat and a good source of calories, so it is good for people recovering from illnesses.
Besides, gelatine contains some protein.
But I like jelly simply because it is lovely to have it slipping down the throat, especially on a hot day.
It can also be made in advance, useful if you are hot and harried when entertaining guests.
To go with it, I top it with sorbet, which can be described as healthy.
It has been my dessert of choice for a long time because it is cold and flavourful, but without the satiating richness of cream.
I feel that the flavour of the fruit, or whatever you may choose to make it with, shines through, unadulterated by the cream found in an ice-cream recipe.
Here, I make a sorbet using coconut milk (skimmed or a mix of full-fat and skimmed varieties).
Another option: You can top the jelly with a coconut sauce.
Mix a paste out of one tablespoon of flour and a little water. Add this to the coconut milk and cook it till it thickens. Add a pinch of salt and spoon a little of the coconut sauce over the jelly.
In such ways, you can have your dessert and eat it too.
Gula melaka jelly and coconut sorbet (Serves four to six)
- 2 cups water
- 2 tbs palm sugar or gula melaka, roughly chopped
- 3 tsp gelatine powder
- 1 pandan leaf, tied into a knot
- 1 tsp rum
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 cup water
- 2 cups coconut milk (skimmed, or a mix of skimmed and full-fat)
- A pinch of salt
- Place the water, chopped palm sugar and pandan leaf in a pan and bring to the boil. Stir until the palm sugar completely dissolves, then add the gelatine powder and stir again till it also dissolves. Add the rum.
- Fish out the pandan leaf and pour the jelly mixture into glass bowls or moulds and refrigerate until they set.
- Place the sugar and water in a saucepan, and stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the coconut milk and remove from heat.
- Allow the mixture to cool completely.
- Pour the mixture into a baking pan and freeze until it is frozen at the edges.
- Remove from the freezer and, using a fork, stir to break up the ice crystals, then return it to the freezer. Repeat this two or three times. (Alternatively, use an ice-cream maker.)
- To serve, place a scoop of sorbet on top of the jelly.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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