Carb Solution: Valentine's Day - Cooking with Passion
Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as being overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources; not to mention the affect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].
Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for diabetics who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods that have low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts have been proven to actually increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.
A Quickie Glycemic Primer:
- The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.
- The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
Firstly, with few exceptions, the natural sugar found in most fresh fruit has no effect on blood sugar when consumed with the pulp of the fruit. Pulp is fiber, which slows the rate that fruit sugars are processed by the metabolism. Straight fruit juice, on the other hand, has little fiber and will cause an immediate spike in blood sugar. So fresh fruit can be a carb-counting chef’s best friend that will provide both flavor and sweetness. BTW, I tweaked the filling part of this recipe from one that I found on a website that supposedly focused on “sugar free” cooking; the original recipe still called for a half-cup of “sugar substitute of choice”. My choice was to ignore the addition of any kind of sweetener at all beyond the ripened passion fruit both in the cheesecake and the sauce topping. The omission was not missed. At best, sweeteners mask the natural flavor of fresh fruit; at worst, sweetening with refined sugar only adds empty calories to otherwise healthy fruit. America, sweeten coffee--not fruit! It’s a terrible habit.
Of course, passion fruit was an obvious choice for this month’s Valentine dessert recipe! Never mind that the fruit’s name has a religious origin as christened by the clergy who accompanied the first Spanish explorers to South America. They saw the fruit’s brilliant flower as a symbol of Christ’s crucifixion, sometimes referred to by Christians as The Passion of the Cross. The beautiful corona threads of the Passion Flower were seen as the crown of thorns, the five stamens were wounds and the three stigmas symbolized the nails on the cross. Not very sexy, I know, but it’s all in the presentation. So just make a short waiter-like introduction as you serve this dish i.e. saying simply Passion Fruit Cheesecake with a Macadamia Nut Crust. The word association alone should be enough to maintain the special mood of the evening; conversely, a candlelight history lesson would definitely put an evangelical damper on things!
Zealot priests aside, passion fruit is a wonderful ingredient, though this unique fruit does demand a few handling tips. Unripe passion fruit is hard with a smooth green skin that turns to a wrinkled purple as it ripens. Ripe fruit will also have a little give to it and feel quite a bit heavier in the palm of the hand compared to immature fruit. Extremely soft fruit is a sign of over-ripeness. Both the hard shell outer skin and white membrane surrounding the gelatin-like seeded fruit is not edible.
Every source on the ‘net describes the small seeds embedded in the gelatinous fruit pulp as crunchy and edible. Personally, I find the crunch unpleasant and distracting from the fruit’s unique flavoring. As a popular ingredient of professional mixologists and in its native South America, where fresh passion fruit is commonly used to make drinks, I can appreciate how those little seeds might settle to the bottom of the glass serving as an attractive garnish or rendered undetectable when blended into a smoothie. However, serving a toothpick tray with this dessert would definitely be a real mood breaker! It takes just a few extra minutes to strain the seeds out and insure a creamy-smooth texture. Besides, this attention to perfection is what defines the difference between a cook and a chef! After scooping out the pulp of 5 or 6 passion fruits, transfer them into a small, fine-mesh sieve and work the gelatinous pulp back and forth through the mesh with a wide mixing spoon until only seeds remain in the sieve. For this recipe, I seeded two batches of passion fruit separately – one amount to be blended into the cheese filling and a second batch for the thickened topping.
Incorporating macadamia nuts into the crust adds another source of sweetness that supports each bite of cheesecake. There is also something about macadamia nuts that make them special in an extravagantly wicked sort of way, which is perfect for the occasion! The other two “flours” in the crust are fine-ground oat and almond meal that are my usual low-carb solutions to a flourless crust. I also highly recommend chilling the filling-filled crust overnight; not only will the filling firm up, making for cleaner slices, but I also believe the flavor of a cheesecake improves given a little time to chill out in the ‘frig. This hypothesis is entirely anecdotal with absolutely no science or other contributing facts to support this opinion…but it’s true! Prepare the passion fruit topping during the dinner prep so it has a chance to cool to room temp during the main course. Drizzle each slice of cheesecake with a generous portion of the topping, then garnish with the fruit sliver.
"Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly." ― M.F.K. Fisher
Sugar-Free Passion Fruit Cheesecake
Yield: 1-9” cheesecake
1 cup unsalted macadamia nuts, ground fine
¼ cup oat flour
½ cup almond flour
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 Passion fruits, seeded pulp
Sauce and Garnishes:
2 TBS water
4 Passion fruits, seeded pulp
1 tsp arrow root
2 tsp lemon juice
Strawberries, sliced thin (garnish)
Strawberry Papaya, sliced thin (garnish)
Grind the macadamia nuts until fine in the processor, then add in both flours and butter. Mix until thoroughly blended.
Spread macadamia mixture over the bottom of a greased cheesecake pan, cover with waxed or parchment paper, then press down until evenly distributed. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl beat cream cheese until light and fluffy, then add eggs one by one, scraping down the sides between each and mix until all three have been combined. Next mix in vanilla extract and passion fruit pulp. Pour filling mixture into the crusted pan and bake at a low 325° for 35-40 minutes or until it sets. Best to chill overnight.
For the sauce: In a small sauce pan whisk together water, seeded passion fruit pulp, lemon juice and arrow root. Heat over low heat until mixture thickens, stirring constantly. Remove from flame and let cool to room temp.
Plating: Pour passion fruit sauce over individual slices of cheesecake, garnish with slivers of strawberry and papaya.