Kate Walker is a retired educator who enjoys cooking, quilting, reading, writing and travel! She believes that there is always "thyme" to cook and to sit down as a family for the evening meal. Cooking together is a wonderful way to bring family and friends together to enjoy food and each other. With a good recipe and a spoonful of thyme wonderful things can happen! Visit Kate at her blog A Spoonful of Thyme at www.aspoonfulofthyme.blogspot.com.
I am fortunate to live in the world's largest garden: California's Central Valley! This valley actually provides one quarter of America's food. Living here makes it easy to find an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. With the variety of fruits and vegetables available, it also means that there is no excuse for not eating healthy.
Last year I learned about a small group of Central Valley farmers who had formed an alliance with the goal of providing affordable, chemically unaltered food and delivering it to consumers within hours of harvest! Each week, the alliance, Abundant Harvest Organics, provides an unlimited variety of organically grown seasonal fruits and vegetables in a "veggie box". I learned about foods that I had never eaten and that were not familiar to me. This week when I was reviewing the list of items we were to receive, I noticed something called stevia was in the box.
Stevia is a natural sweetener that is also calorie-free.
Photo by Kate Walker
Since I had never heard of stevia I decided that some research was in order. I learned that stevia is a non-caloric herb that is extremely sweet. It can be over a hundred times sweeter than sugar. It was an important crop in England during World War II when sugar was being rationed, and has been used in Japan for many years as a sweetener. In the United States, stevia has only recenlty been approved as a sweetener. Before it was approved by the FDA in 2008, it was strictly sold as a dietary supplement. (Learn more about this landmark announcement.)
Stevia leaves yield sweetness, which can vary depending on its soil conditions, climate and time of harvest. And the best thing about stevia? No calories! One leaf will sweeten a glass of iced tea, lemonade or coffee. To enhance a fruit salad or salad dressing, add some fresh leaves that have been chopped.
Since stevia is a natural sweetener, I wanted to take two different approaches: I used stevia to make a simple syrup and also a liquid sweetener.
Stevia Simple Syrup
• 1/4 cup fresh stevia leaves
• 1 cup warm water
1. Pour one cup of warm water over gently bruised stevia leaves. Let the mixture sit for 24 hours and then refrigerate. (A teaspoon of ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin C powder, may be added as a preservative.)
Stevia Liquid Sweetener
• 1 tablespoon dried stevia leaves
• 1 quart boiling water
1. Pour boiling water over leaves and allow infusion. Freeze the mixture in ice cube trays for future use.
2. This mixture can also be refrigerated, but then it must be used within a few days.
I also decided to use stevia as an ingredient in two refreshing summer drinks: a Lime-Mint Spritzer and a Mojito!
Cool off with a refreshing Lime-Mint Spritzer on a warm afternoon.
Photo by Kate Walker
• 2 to 3 large mint leaves, finely chopped
• 2 teaspoons Stevia Simple Syrup
• Lime juice from two limes
• 6 ounces lime-flavored Perrier
• Ice, crushed
1. Place mint in a glass measuring cup and press them with the back of a spoon to release the oils. Add syrup and stir. Then add lime juice and sparkling water. Pour over crushed ice and serve.
2. Garnish with lime slices and mint leaves.
A warm evening, friends for dinner and a cool mojito round out the day.
Photo by Kate Walker
• 6 to 8 mint leaves
• 4 to 5 stevia leaves
• 2 teaspoons sugar
• 3 to 4 ounces soda water
• Lime juice from one lime
• 3 ounces light rum
• Cracked ice
1. Place herb leaves and sugar into a glass measuring cup. Add a splash of soda water. Gently muddle them until the sugar is dissolved and you can smell the mint. The mint should be well bruised.S
2. Add the lime juice, rum and additional soda water to taste. (I added 3 ounces of soda water.) Pour into a shaker and shake well over ice. Strain and serve over cracked ice.
3. Garnish with mint leaves and lime.
Great food, good conversation and a refreshing sparkling beverage is a wonderful way to spend a summer evening with friends!