Appetites: The natural flavors to make life sweeter

Very chocolate maple brownies from "Sweet Nature."
Very chocolate maple brownies from "Sweet Nature: A Cook's Guide to Using Honey and Maple Syrup" by Beth Dooley and Mette Nielsen.
Courtesy of Mette Nielsen

Sweeter than sugar, maple syrup and honey can do the job for your next recipe. Minneapolis chef Beth Dooley says they're healthier and better for the natural world.

Dooley recently published "Sweet Nature: A Cook's Guide to Using Honey and Maple Syrup" with photographer Mette Nielsen. The cookbook takes advantage of these flavors in each of the recipes featured.

"They do way more than just white sugar. They have nuanced flavors," Dooley said. "We use them as seasoning because they can ramp up the flavors of other dishes. They do more than just sweeten things."

Maple and maple sugar have a lower glycemic index, said Dooley. That means our bodies process them differently than white sugar.

Environmentally speaking, maple trees provide shelter to animals, capture carbon, and hold and return nutrients for the soil. Bees that produce honey offer pollination, another essential ecological service.

Combine those benefits with the fact that they require less processing than white sugar, and Dooley said maple and sugar are much better for the environment.

Click the audio player above to hear the conversation with MPR News host Tom Crann.

Here are a few sample recipes to try from "Sweet Nature."

Very chocolate maple brownies

2 cups maple sugar
1 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup
4 eggs
10 ounces bittersweet or unsweetened chocolate
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Powdered sugar for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment or generously grease with vegetable oil.

With an electric beater, cream together the maple sugar, butter and maple syrup and then beat on high for at least 5 minutes. Then beat in the eggs one at a time.

Carefully melt the chocolate in a double boiler set over low heat or in the microwave, being careful not to scorch, until smooth.

Stir the melted chocolate into the butter mixture, then stir in the flour and salt and beat on medium for about 5 minutes. Turn into the prepared pan; smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out clean, about 40 to 45 minutes. Garnish with the powdered sugar and cool on a wire rack before cutting.

Sweet tip: If the maple sugar seems too coarse, grind it to become fine in a food processor fitted with a steel blad or a spice grinder.

Sticky lamb ribs

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup honey
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
Zest and juice of 1 orange
3 pounds (2 racks) lamb Spare ribs

In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, honey, garlic, chili powder, paprika, cumin, salt, vinegar, orange zest and juice.

Put the ribs into a large plastic bag and add the marinade. Seal the bag, pressing out the excess air. Place this on a plate and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.

Sticky lamb ribs from 'Sweet Nature'
Sticky lamb ribs from "Sweet Nature: A Cook's Guide to Using Honey and Maple Syrup" by Beth Dooley and Mette Nielsen.
Courtesy of Mette Nielsen

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the ribs into a shallow baking dish and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Pour the marinade into a saucepan.

Bake the ribs for 1 hour. Meanwhile, set the marinade over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, and reduce the liquid by half.

Remove the ribs, spoon off excess fat and pour the sauce over the ribs. Return to the oven, uncovered and bake until the ribs are caramelized and sticky, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the ribs from the oven and let sit for about 5 minutes; then cut into individual ribs.

Sweet tip: Lamb ribs, aka lamb spareribs or Denver ribs, are one of the most cost-conscious cuts of lamb. Substitute them for baby back pork ribs.

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