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Cool Down With Cool Fare

July 20, 2006
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Three cheers for summer! We've waited all year for such weather; sure, it's hot outside, but before you know it, you'll be back indoors cooking a warm meal for winter.

Summer is super for salads and cool soups, but there's no reason to skip out on dessert. There's also no need to overheat the kitchen to make a delectable finish to your lunch or dinner.

Read on, as Michael van Straten offers some fresh -- and refreshing -- ideas in The Healthy Jewish Cookbook.

Cinnamon-Baked Plums With Orange Mascarpone Sauce

This succulent dessert came originally from the Agen region of France, where it is made with the unique prune plums, before they're dried to make the best prunes in the world. Victoria plums were the best alternative we could find in England, and the result was a light, delicately flavored, and healthy dessert -- the perfect end to any meal.

unsalted butter for greasing
12 French prune plums, or other sweet, small eating plums, cut in half and pitted
1 cup full-bodied, kosher red wine
3 cinnamon sticks
2 Tbsps. brown superfine sugar
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1 large sprig (about 12 leaves) of mint, coarsely torn

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Generously butter a large pie dish and lay the plums, cut-side down, on top.

Pour in the wine, add the cinnamon and sprinkle with the sugar.

Cover with foil and bake until the plums are soft, about 25 minutes.

Gently mix the orange juice and mascarpone together.

Serve with the mint leaves scattered over the plums, and the mascarpone sauce on the side.

Serves 6.

Stuffed Prunes With Coconut Sauce

Every Jewish comedian will have at least one joke in his repertoire about constipation and the popularity of prunes in Ashkenazi cooking. While there's no doubt that prunes can have a laxative effect, this is greatly over-estimated as you need to eat around 12 of these highly nutritious dried fruits at one sitting for this to happen.

1 cup kosher red wine
1 Tbsp. honey
16 pitted ready-to-eat prunes
16 whole almonds, shelled
2/3 cup coconut milk

Put the wine into a wide-bottomed pan. Add the honey and heat, stirring constantly, until dissolved.

Make a lengthwise cut halfway through each prune and insert an almond into each cavity, pressing the sides of the prune gently to close.

Place carefully in the wine mixture, in a single layer.

Bring the wine to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the prunes and place in a serving dish.

Boil the wine until slightly reduced. Add the coconut milk and heat gently.

Pour sauce over the prunes for serving.

Serves 4.

Cherry Clafoutis
1/4 cup unsalted butter
18 oz. (about 21/2 cups) black cherries, pitted
1 Tbsp. finely chopped lemon balm leaves or lemon verbena (if unavailable, use 1/2 Tbsp. dried verbena or 1/2 Tbsp. lemon zest)
3 eggs
1/3 cup plain whole-wheat flour
13/4 cups low-fat milk

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Grease a large, shallow, ovenproof dish with a little of the butter. Put the cherries into the dish, along with the lemon balm.

Whisk the eggs. Melt the remaining butter and whisk into the eggs. Still whisking, sift in the flour, then add the milk.

Pour the egg mixture over the cherries and bake until set, about 45 minutes.

Serves 4.

Ginger-Lemon Sorbet

Sorbets have long been a favorite in all Jewish communities. Because dairy ice-cream cannot be eaten as part of a kosher meat meal, fruit-based water ices are wonderful, refreshing and palate-cleansing alternatives. Particularly in the Ashkenazi societies in the United Kingdom and North America, the water ice has become a bit of a joke, as it's nearly always served during elaborate banquets at weddings and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs.

2 tsps. ginger extract (if unavailable, use 2 tsps. juice squeezed from freshly grated ginger root)
3/4 cup sugar
juice of 2 large (or 3 smaller) lemons

Put the ginger extract and sugar into a saucepan with 13/4 cups cold water.

Bring slowly to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and simmer for 3 minutes. Cool completely and add the lemon juice.

Put into an ice-cream or Sherbet-maker, and follow the machine instructions. Alternatively, put into a bowl and leave in the freezer until half-frozen.

Whisk until smooth and return to the freezer. Repeat the whisking and freezing routine once more.

Leave in freezer until needed.

Serves 6.

Persian Fruit Salad

This is another typical Sephardic fruit recipe that combines fresh and dried fruits. This dish is traditional on Tu B'Shevat.

3 bananas, peeled and sliced
3 oranges, peeled, segmented and all inner skin removed
1 cup dates
1 cup prunes
1 cups dried figs
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup orange-flower water
1/4 cup chopped almonds

Put all the fruit (fresh and dried) into a large bowl.

Mix together the orange and lime juice and orange-flower water, pour them over the fruit, and turn gently until well-combined, ensuring that the bananas are especially well-covered with the juice (this prevents them from browning).

Leave for at least two hours.

Sprinkle with the chopped almonds.

Serves 8.

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