by Cat, December, 2013
See also: 1. Ancient Medicine through Food
I recently signed up for a newsletter about using herbs and spices in cooking to boost and maintain health. Herbs are not only food but also natural medicine. One newsletter included a recipe for Sugar Plums (you know, from the poem with the line, “Visions of sugar plums danced in my head”), and that really captured my imagination.
This recipe is adapted from Herb Mentor News (1). Wrap them in cellophane tied with a ribbon, and give to guests. Or put a few out in a bowl. But store them in the fridge to protect the precious healthful nutrients.
While this is a healthful recipe, it is still chock-full of sugars from the dried fruit and maple syrup, so a little bit goes a long way. Please eat with moderation. I don’t recommend using dried cranberries (craisins) as they are sweetened with extra sugar or, in some cases, HFCS. But any other dried fruit will work well – mix it up. If you use dried prunes or dates, pit and then chop them first, before measuring.
I include the original mix of spices (cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and fennel), but you can try other spices too. For example, fenugreek, coriander, ginger, allspice. I recommend including cinnamon in any spice mix you choose, as it helps balance the effect of the sugar on insulin and blood-sugar levels. I highly recommend using only Organic spices, to avoid herbicide/pesticides and additives.
If you buy whole cardamom to grind at home, be sure to remove the hull and use just the tiny seeds inside. Cardamom has an amazing aroma and flavor, and in my Scandinavian tradition, is strongly associated with the Christmas holiday season.
There are two different kinds of cinnamon available in stores: cassia (the kind sold in the spice section of most grocery stores) and Ceylon cinnamon. Cassia has a stronger scent. If you can find it, start with the whole cinnamon scroll or stick and grind in a spice grinder. The single scroll (stick) is Ceylon cinnamon; the double scroll is cassia cinnamon. Each type has its own set of healthful benefits; when cooking sweet treats, I use Ceylon cinnamon, as it has more beneficial effect on insulin and blood-sugar levels. See my article Spices & Herbs: Ancient Medicines, for more, including photos.
Coconut flakes are delicious, but those found in the baking section are probably sweetened before packaging, and I don’t recommend that, as the sweetener is probably HFCS. Read the label! I use desiccated raw coconut flakes with no additives.
Ingredients & Equipment
- 1 cup nuts (walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts – only one, or a mix)
- 2 tsp freshly grated orange zest
- 1 cup dried fruit (suggestions: currants, cherries, prunes, dates, apricots, apple)
- 2 tsp cinnamon powder
- 2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon cardamom powder
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- coconut flakes for rolling
- dry cast iron pan
- spice grinder (not a coffee grinder) or mortar and pestle
- heavy duty blender or food processor
- Pit the dates, and any other of the dried fruits with pits.
- Put the coconut in a shallow bowl.
- Roast the fennel seeds in a dry pan on medium high heat, stirring frequently. They are done when slightly browned and they smell fragrant (it just takes a couple of minutes). When they are roasted, lightly grind them using a spice grinder.
- Place all but the coconut in a food processor and pulse until just combined and starting to stick together.
- Form into bite size balls; roll in the coconut.
- Store in the fridge and eat soon.
Herb Mentor News recipe: learningherbs.com/news_issue_105.html