Serving fruit for dessert can be both virtuous and decadent
According to my grandmother, fruit is God's candy, making it the perfect ending to a meal. I agree with Grandma -- fruit is a lovely, healthy way to end a meal. But I'll also confess that the dessert lover in me sometimes craves something a smidge fancier. And by fancier, I mean with chocolate.
Berries are the perfect dessert fruit because their flavor is concentrated and bold, and they are both sweet and just a tiny bit tangy. Berries are gorgeous and elegant, which is important when it comes to pulling off fruit as a true dessert and not some sort of healthy consolation prize (try serving sliced apples at your next dinner party and you'll see what I mean).
Plus, berries are rich in antioxidants, high in fiber and low in calories. Raspberries, for instance, have just about 60 calories per cup. And despite their sweet taste, they pack only about 5 grams of sugar, but a whopping 8 grams of fiber. All of which means this dessert isn't just tasty, it's filling, too.
Perhaps the best benefit to making berries the star of dessert is that there's a little wiggle room to add a few bells and whistles. One of my favorite fruit dessert strategies is to whip up a simple syrup (just water and sugar heated until they come together in a thin syrup) with cool flavors. Think about adding interesting spices, such as cardamom with vanilla bean and black pepper, or herbs, such as mint or basil and lemon zest. Then just drizzle your way to dessert magic.
Add a tablespoon of liqueur or wine to the syrup -- think orange liqueur or Marsala -- and the flavors really pop. A few drops of almond extract or even cocktail bitters also are great. Only a tiny bit of a flavorful syrup is needed, but be aware that you are adding a bit of (worthwhile) sugar. Just before serving, use a vegetable peeler to shave off a few shards of deep, almost bitter chocolate, and you've just turned simple fruit into a weekend-worthy dessert.
• Food Network star Melissa d'Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook, "Supermarket Healthy." http://www.melissadarabian.net