- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2003

In their search for low-fat sauces, chefs around the country have embraced the vegetable puree.

Go to an upscale restaurant for a special dinner. Choose the handmade ravioli with a trio of sauces. On first bite, the sauces taste rich, but not from cream. Instead, the ravioli is set on individual vegetable purees of beet, carrot and turnip lightened with a bit of low-fat yogurt.

Such simple purees are successful as sauces only when very fresh vegetables are used. Since little fat supplements these purees, vegetables must be naturally delicious to start with.

Garden fresh is best. I tried pureeing the first early peas and tender scallions from my garden. I blanched them briefly (a 30-second dip in boiling water) to heighten the green color. Next I pureed them with rosemary, thyme and a hint of honey. They were delicious as a sauce but a little on the runny side.

Hardier vegetables that could stand up to a little baking were next. (Baking can thicken puree by evaporating moisture.) I wanted something that could be a side dish for a grilled entree.

Carrots, beets, parsnips, sweet potatoes and yams were great successes. Steamed briefly, pureed, baked for 20 minutes or so, then piped into mounds, they can easily grace the most elegant dinner plate.

I also found that proper seasoning enhances rather than detracts from the essence of the vegetable, and that simple herbs and spices — used with a light hand — seem to work best.

Some chefs season purees with fruit juices, including lemon, lime and apple, or use a swirl of nonfat, plain yogurt or buttermilk to contrast the vegetable’s sweetness. I tried a variety of methods, as you will see in the recipes that follow.

Baked carrot puree with mint and cardamom

A dash of cardamom helps flavor this simple puree, which is baked with honey and mint. Taste the carrots after steaming and add more honey if they are still a bit bitter.

7 cups well-scrubbed, sliced carrots

cup honey or to taste

2 tablespoons minced fresh mint

teaspoon ground cardamom

Salt substitute, ground pepper

1 egg, lightly beaten, optional

In large pot fitted with a steamer basket, steam carrots until just tender, about 8 minutes. Drain well to remove excess water and puree carrots with cup honey, mint and cardamom until smooth and thick.

Season to taste with salt substitute and pepper and add more honey if carrots are bitter. Stir in egg, if using, then turn mixture into lightly oiled, 1-quart baking dish and bake in 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.

Makes 8 servings.

Baked sweet potato puree with fresh ginger

My favorite puree combines steamed sweet potatoes, orange juice and fresh ginger root. It’s especially good with roasted entrees.

3 large sweet potatoes or yams, cut into 2-inch pieces

1 teaspoon grated ginger root

teaspoon ground cinnamon

teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

In large pot fitted with steamer basket, steam sweet potatoes or yams until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain well to remove excess water, then remove skins.

Puree with ginger root, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon peel and orange juice until smooth and thick. Turn mixture into lightly oiled, 1-quart baking dish and bake in 350-degree oven for 20 minutes.

Makes 6 servings.

Balsamic beets

The simplest puree is also the brightest in color since it is made with garden-fresh beets.

2 pounds beets, trimmed, scrubbed and quartered

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

Salt, ground black pepper

In large pot fitted with steamer basket, steam beets until just tender, about 15 minutes. Drain well to remove excess water, then puree in blender or food processor. Stir in vinegar and honey and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Tribune Media Services International

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