Three sweet recipes with a sugar-free twist

January in many states is synonymous with harvest festivals–Sankranti in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, Lohri in the Punjab, Pongal in Tamil Nadu. And let’s be honest, celebrating without sweets isn’t fun. However, if you’ve given up sugar for medical or cosmetic reasons, there’s no reason to abstain from dessert altogether. Instead, look for a relatively healthier, lower calorie sugar substitute, stevia.

Unlike saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose, which have been linked to cancer, stevia is considered a safer option for people who prefer not to eat sugar. “Stevia leaves are around 200 times sweeter than traditional white sugar, and people have used them for centuries as a herbal supplement,” says renowned nutritionist Pooja Makhija. She adds that stevia doesn’t wreak havoc on sugar levels in the body like table sugar does, making it ideal for people with diabetes who miss an occasional sweet treat.

Read also | Meet the next generation of sugar substitutes

One word of caution: sugar-free doesn’t mean calorie-free; moderation, as always, is the key. But if you can limit yourself to a bowl or two, these three warm and heartwarming desserts, courtesy of Chef Sanjeev Kapoor, are a great way to ring in the season of plenty.


Black carrot halwa without sugar

Preparation time: 10-15 minutes
Cooking time: 25-30 minutes
Servings: 4

10-12 black carrots, washed, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons of ghee
2 cups of low fat milk
Half a cup of stevia
1 teaspoon of powdered green cardamom (elaichi)
8-10 slivered almonds + garnish
8-10 pistachios, blanched, peeled and chopped + garnish
Raisins for garnish
Silver warq for garnish

Heat the ghee in a non-stick, deep-bottomed saucepan, add the black carrots and mix well. Sauté 2-3 minutes.
Add the milk and mix well. Cook until carrots are tender, stirring occasionally.
Add the stevia and cook 2-3 minutes. Add the powdered green cardamom and mix well.
Add the almonds and pistachios. Mix well and cook, 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Garnish with raisins, almonds, pistachios and silver warq. Serve hot.


Sweet pongal without sugar

Preparation time: 15-20 minutes
Cooking time: 25-30 minutes
Servings: 4


1 1/2 cups rice, soaked
Half cup of split skinless green gram
3 teaspoons of stevia
2 and a half cups low fat milk
1/2 cup date puree
3 tablespoons of pure ghee
Half a cup of grated coconut
A quarter of a teaspoon of grated nutmeg
4 tablespoons of raisins
12-15 cashews
A quarter of a teaspoon of powdered green cardamom

Dry roast the split green gram lightly in a kadai. Wash and drain.
Boil the milk with a cup of water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the roasted split green grams and the boiling rice pudding. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat, simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally or until the rice and split green grams are cooked through. You can also cook under pressure.
Add the date paste and continue to stir to prevent it from sticking to the bottom. Add half the amount of ghee and continue cooking over low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
Heat the rest of the pure ghee in another pan and lightly brown the coconut. Add the nutmeg, raisins and cashews. Mix well. Add this to the cooked pongal. Add the stevia, green cardamom powder and mix well.
Serve hot.


Preparation time: 11-15 minutes
Cooking time: 26-30 minutes
Servings: 4

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons + 3 tablespoons of ghee
2 tablespoons of white sesame seeds
A quarter cup of gum resin (gondh)
Half cup of almonds
Half cup of cashews
Half a cup of lotus seeds (makhana)
A large pinch of powdered ginger
4 tablespoons of stevia


Heat 2 tablespoons of ghee in a nonstick skillet, add whole wheat flour and cook over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes or until fragrant and lightly browned. Sauté in between.
Meanwhile, dry toast the white sesame seeds in a separate pan until lightly toasted. Transfer them to a plate and set them aside.
Heat 2 teaspoons of ghee in the same pan, add the gum resin and roast for 1 minute or until puffed up. Transfer to a large plate and set aside.
Heat the rest of the ghee in the same pan, add the almonds and sauté over medium heat for 4-5 minutes. Coarsely grind in a mortar and pestle. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Add the cashews to the same pan and sauté until lightly browned. Coarsely grind in a mortar and pestle and transfer to another bowl and set aside.
Add the lotus seeds to the same pan and roast until crispy. Transfer to another bowl and set aside.
Transfer the whole wheat mixture to a large bowl, add the toasted sesame seeds, almonds, cashews and lightly crush the lotus seeds with your hands and add to the bowl.
Lightly crush the gum resin with your hands and add it to the same bowl. Add the dried ginger powder and stevia and mix well.
Store in an airtight container and serve as needed.

Read also | Nokshi’s Marrow: The Sweet Tradition of Edible Art

Rachel J. Bradford