The most important thing to remember about healthful cooking - if it doesn't taste great, it doesn't get eaten.
Of course, sweetening up a recipe is a surefire way to make it more appealing, but this tactic all too often gets a suspicious glance from healthy cooks, especially as studies increasingly link refined sugars to obesity.
But that doesn't mean healthy recipes can't have a sweet touch.
Ellie Krieger, host of the Food Network's "Healthy Appetite," manages that by adding sweetness to many her recipes using the unrefined sugars found in ingredients such as fruit, which offer other nutritional benefits in addition to taste.
For example, her recipe for chicken with mango barbecue sauce gets its character from the sweet combination of mango and molasses. Mango not only is sweet, it's also an excellent source of fiber and vitamins C and A.
The molasses also adds a distinct flavor to the dish, offering hints of warm gingerbread and baked beans. And the thick syrup - the most popular sweetener is the U.S. until the 1920s - is a good source of copper, magnesium and iron.
And talk about flavor appeal. The sauce has the Caribbean trifecta of sweet, tangy and peppery.
Krieger serves this easy-to-make barbecue sauce over slices of broiled boneless, skinless chicken breast. The recipe makes about 3 cups of sauce, one of which is used as a quick marinade. Another 1/2 cup tops the chicken, leaving the rest for another meal (it's delicious as a dip for vegetarian chicken-style nuggets).
Almost any fruit can be used to sweeten a sauce. Dried fruits add sweetness with a bit more depth because of their earthy, concentrated flavors. Juices work as well, but you'll miss out on many of the nutrients that come with the whole fruit.
Just remember, even healthy sugars are high in calories, so use them in moderation.
Chicken with mango barbecue sauce
(Start to finish: 1 hour 45 minutes, 30 minutes active)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced (about 1 cup)
1 red bell pepper, diced (about 1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 cup low-sodium tomato sauce
1 mango, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 to 3 jalapeno peppers, minced (for a less intense version, discard seeds first)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 3/4 pound each)
In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the bell pepper, garlic, salt, black pepper and allspice, then cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes more.
Stir in the vinegar, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, lime juice and tomato sauce and cook for another minute. Transfer the mixture into a blender and add the mango and jalapenos. Blend until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids).
Let the sauce cool several minutes, then transfer 1 cup of it to a zip-close plastic bag. Add the chicken and let marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Preheat the broiler.
Put the chicken on a broiler pan and discard the marinade in the bag. Broil the chicken on high for about 12 minutes, turning once.
Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let the meat rest for 5 minutes before slicing. Spoon about 1/2 cup of barbecue sauce over the chicken slices and serve.
Makes 4 servings.
- Recipe from Ellie Kriege