I love health-conscious cookbooks, and that is why I’ve been meaning to share something from Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health with you for a while now. The book is all vegetarian and sometimes vegan, with a focus on nutrient-rich, honestly good-for-you ingredients.
There is a tofu mole recipe in there that we really enjoy, as well as a pomegranate-glazed tofu, and plenty of others with the corners of their pages folded down, waiting to be tried or retried. It has definitely been a worthy addition to my cookbook shelf and search for plant-based eating ideas. I know any cookbook can provide inspirations and flavor combinations that can be adapted to meet health goals, but there is something I particularly like about writers focusing on and spotlighting the strengths of truly healthy foods.
I’ve been playing with the book’s recipe for baked apples for a while now, and that is why you’ll notice the photos in this post are from several attempts with different ingredients. Finally, I hit on a combination worth sharing, which is what you see in all the apple pictures. It fits perfectly into the theme behind Granola Meets Grits: a recipe healthy enough to fit in on the West Coast with a flavorful Southern twist.
This is an easy, light fruit dessert with just a kiss of bourbon, nice enough to serve to guests in my opinion. (You can take that opinion fairly seriously, because most of the time I completely ignore any and all desserts that do not contain chocolate.) You could also incorporate these into a brunch menu; they’re definitely not too sweet or desserty to enjoy for breakfast, brunch, or a snack. The apples bake into an amazingly tender texture with that warm, un-crisp apple flavor you associate with pie or cider.
A few notes: if you use pears instead of apples, make sure they are ripe; the oven will not soften them much if they start out hard. If you use peaches, consider lowering the oven temperature to 325 or 350, and checking them after 15 or 20 minutes, since they are a softer texture to begin with.
Moosewood’s recipe calls for heating the dried fruit on the stove in the apple juice, but it seemed to work better for me to let it sit in the juice and bourbon at room temperature for a few hours. Maybe it is just my personal preferences, but I felt a little bit like the heating process was robbing the apricots of some of their flavor.
Lastly, I don’t like a whole bunch of filling, so this is written to make just what fits in the crevices of the fruit (as pictured in the apple photos in this post). If you want to mound it higher, just increase the apricots, pecans, bourbon, and lemon zest proportionately.
This recipe is vegan, grain-free, gluten-free, and has no refined sugar. It’s also nutritarian-friendly if you leave out the maple syrup… and don’t drink the boozy apple juice. :)
Bourbon Apricot Pecan Baked Apples
(Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health)
2 whole apples, pears, or peaches
4 dried apricots
1 cup apple juice
2 Tbsp. raw pecans, chopped
1 and 1/2 tsp. + 1 Tbsp. bourbon (divided uses)
3/4 tsp. lemon zest (about 1 small lemon)
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (about half a small lemon)
2 tsp. maple syrup (optional)
1. Combine the apricots and apple juice in a tiny saucepan. Heat at a medium temperature on the stove until just boiling or close to it. Remove from burner and set aside for 5-10 minutes. (Or, instead of heating, let the apricots, apple juice, and 1 Tbsp. bourbon sit at room temperature on your counter for 3-4 hours before beginning the rest of the steps. I think the dried fruit retains more flavor that way, personally. Add more than the 1 Tbsp. of bourbon to the juice if you want more than just a kiss of its flavor.)
2. Preheat the oven to 400.
3. Cut the apples, pears or peaches in half from top to bottom. Remove the pit, core, and any parts that you won’t want to eat later. (A melon baller works perfectly for this task, but whatever you use, take the time to pick out all the funny little core pieces. It is much easier to remove inedible parts now instead of when you are eating the dish after baking!)
4. Place the fruit halves cut-side-up in a nonreactive baking dish. If they won’t sit upright as much as you’d like them to, slice the round side of the fruit slightly so that it will sit flat in your dish.
5. Remove the apricots from their liquid. (Set the liquid to the side.) Coarsely chop the apricots, and stir them together with the pecans, lemon zest, and 1 and 1/2 tsp. bourbon. (Again, you can use more bourbon if you want a stronger, boozier flavor.) Fill the hollowed out cores of the fruit with the apricot and pecan mixture, and mound it up on top.)
6. Add 1 Tbsp. lemon juice to the apple juice that you used to soak the apricots. If you heated the apricots on the stove in the first step in just the plain apple juice, add your 1 Tbsp. bourbon to the rest of the liquid here now.
7. Pour the juice and bourbon mixture into the baking dish so that the apples are sitting in it. Drizzle the maple syrup over the cut surfaces of each apple half, but not over the apricot and nut filling.
8. Use foil to cover the baking dish, and put in the 400 degree oven. Check the apples for tenderness after 30 minutes by pulling back the foil and poking one with a fork. They will probably need to bake, covered, another 10 or 15 minutes to soften, maybe even more. The Moosewood folks say not to worry if the apples explode- they will still taste good. :)
9. Spoon the baking liquid over the fruit before serving. You can enjoy these warm, room temperature, or cold.
Happy Memorial Day! We’re headed down to Mobile Bay this evening. I’ve never been, but I’ll let you know how our time near the Azalea City turns out. I hope you enjoy your long holiday weekend too!