Cooking with stevia

Blueberry Traybake [Photo: Felix Cesare]

Stevia is the answer if you want your sweet treats with less calories.

For the past few years I have focused on creating recipes that eliminate the use of processed sugar and unnecessary fats.

Although there are a number of alternative natural sweeteners available, such as agave, maple syrup, coconut sugar and honey, stevia is the natural plant-derived sweetener that contains no calories. It is an ingredient that can be used to satisfy sweet cravings without adding the extra calories and is, therefore, ideal for diabetics or anyone wishing to watch their weight.

Some classic dishes still need the bulk that sugar provides to achieve the right consistency of what we are traditionally used to.

In Japan, stevia has been the number one sugar substitute for a very long time. Stevia is a high-density sweetener that is about 200 to 400 times sweeter than sugar. It has been around for hundreds of years and was originally cultivated in the mountains of Paraguay. The plant is easily cultivated and uses less water than sugar cane (about one seventh).

Some time ago I spoke at length with internationally- known nutritionist Keith Ayoob, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. He believes that stevia is quite safe for children and also acceptable for pregnant women.

Check the label on your jar of stevia to convert the equivalent weight of sugar you require, as the conversion depends on the brand you are using.

Blueberry Tray Cake

250g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 vanilla pod
A pinch of freshly-grated nutmeg
A pinch of salt
Stevia equivalent of 150g sugar
4 eggs
2 tbsp olive oil
1 apple, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp apple organic vinegar
300g blueberries

Preheat oven to 160°C.

Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl. I like to sift my flour twice. Add the salt, vanilla, nutmeg and stevia. Mix well.

In a separate bowl, use a hand- held blender to beat the eggs, olive oil, apple and apple organic vinegar. Blend until the mixture is smooth.

Prepare a square ovenproof dish with baking spray. Use a large metal spoon to quickly and gently fold in the liquids into the dry ingredients. Do not overmix. Dust half the blueberries with flour and then add them to the mixture.

Pour the batter into the cake tray. Do not fill it to the top to allow room to rise. Put into a hot oven to bake, immediately after topping the cake with some more blueberries.

Bake at 170°C for 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven and before it cools down brush lightly with some organic maple syrup.

Rhubarb and Apple Jam

500g apples
500g rhubarb
Juice of 2 lemons
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 vanilla pod
Stevia (you will need the eqivalent of 100g sugar for this recipe)

rhubarb apple jam with stevia
Rhubarb and apple jam with stevia

Rhubarb is now easily available in Malta and I love the taste and colour of this jam.

As it has a low pectin content, I add the same quantity of apples to produce not only a sugar-free jam but one that is also free from artificial pectin.

Peel the apples. Mix together with the chopped rhubarb and lemon juice.

Cook over moderate heat until the fruit starts to soften. Add the lemon zest and vanilla. Stir frequently. When the fruit has softened, add the stevia.

Continue to cook until the jam has reached a thick consistency. The elimination of processed sugar produces a different consistency. Once this is achieved, pour the hot jam into sterilised jars while still warm.

Because of the absence of processed sugar, I like to store this jam in the refrigerator. I also love this jam puréed with a hand blender, leaving a bit of texture.

I use ingredients by Good Earth Distributors and fresh fruit and vegetables by Big Fresh Mosta

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