Serving up vegetables - for dessert?

November 12 2014

While dessert might be typically considered the realm of tasty treats like chocolate, fruit, caramel, pastry and delicious dollops of ice cream, many more intrepid chefs are starting to think up creative ways to squeeze a few more veggies on to our plates. Our dessert plates, to be precise.

At first, this might seem a bit odd - a plate of peas or a broccoli florette really don't match our expectations for a final course. However, veggies have actually been a common sight on the dessert menu for centuries. Sweet potato pie and carrot cake are two examples that we regularly eat today without thinking twice.

Speaking to Restaurant Central, chef Elizabeth Falkner pointed out that vegetables for dessert is something that spans both history and cultures. In Japan, for instance, purple sweet potato is regularly used in desserts, while in southern France, there is a famous tart made with Swiss chard.

"The crossover has existed for centuries and continues to evolve as fashion in food evolves and cycles. From the modernist cuisine, chefs have felt freer to compose savoury and sweet ingredients together," she explained.

Vegetables can bring a lot to a dessert. Most have a mildly sweet flavour, while their textures and colours can add plenty of interest. Think how the bright green colour of kale or refreshing crunch of celery could make a dessert truly unique. Getting it right is simply a matter of finding flavour pairings that work. A few adventurous taste testers can also help.

Chef Falkner shared some of the most memorable vegetable desserts that she has eaten - or made - over the years. These included sweet corn ice cream, roasted pepper sorbet and  a parsnip cake with a Thai basil infusion.

Plus, who says desserts need to be super-sweet? Cheese has always been a popular way to wrap up a meal, so some savoury bites need not look out of place on a dessert menu.

Vanessa Roenspies, a pastry chef at Model Milk in Calgary, calls vegetables the 'hidden gems' when it comes to baking. "I"m personally not a fan of overly sweet desserts; I use vegetables to add depth and balance to my creations," she says.

One of her top veggie-based dessert is a beet red velvet cake with chèvre icing and sweet pea ice cream.

Finally, with so many diners looking for health-conscious meals, a few vegetables on the dessert menu might be just what your customers are looking for. From fibre to potassium, vitamins and healthy fats, vegetables are chock-full of goodness. Plus, they typically offer a lower calorie count than other ingredients.

"I truly believe that eating what is right for our bodies is important," says Andrea Harling, executive chef at Brava Bistros. "We have lost sight of the quality and importance of cuisine," she adds.

Chef Harling believes that food should be both creative and nutritious - so she makes sure her meals contribute to a person's five-a-day, even the desserts. Her latest menu includes items like chocolate pate with beet and cherry gelee, beetroot ice cream, whipped local honey and beetroot powder.