The very first time I ever came across stevia was while wandering the supplements aisles of Whole Foods and saw packets of Sweetleaf. I wrote it off immediately until revisiting the subject years later in a college sustainable agriculture course. Two representatives came in to present on their new natural no-calorie sweetener, Truvia, which consists of xylitol and a compound found within stevia that doesn't leave a bitter aftertaste. While I was very skeptical of the overall sustainability of growing immense quantities of the plant in order to produce tiny amounts of product, it did make me question the health for consumers (if not the efficiency in production) of no-calorie sweeteners concocted in a lab.
Then, my host on the farm in Italia pointed out to me that she grew stevia! Granted, the leaves really do have a slightly bitter flavor, but they were fun to munch or add a few to my tea. I was sold. It was easy to grow, not concocted exclusively in a lab from chemical components, and could be used to sweeten my favorite foods. I have dabbled a bit, and like Sun Crystals (if you can still consume raw sugar) and NuNaturals liquid, but can't really afford it and have opted for a greatly inferior Whole Foods brand. Trader Joe's powdered stevia concentrate is also rather pleasant, but still has a slight aftertaste.
Stevia rebaudiana, the sweet species with origins in the South America, can be found in semi-arid habitats of tropical and semi-tropical zones. While traditionally used for medicinal purposes or steeped as a sweet tea, we have now proceeded to extract the sweet bits out of the leaves to use, helping to avoid the distinct bitter aftertaste. The SOS Kitchen Challenge for February is to use stevia, I definitely have embraced this one wholeheartedly. Visit the webpage for more info on health benefits and types of stevia products.
In a burst of creativity, I bring you...
Meyer Lemon Polenta Slices (serves 4 - gf/vg)
1/2 cup medium ground cornmeal/polenta
3/4 cup almond or soy milk (plain or vanilla unsweetened)
1/2 cup water
25 drops liquid stevia
1 tbs raw agave nectar
juice and zest of one meyer lemon
1. Bring water and milk to boil. Add cornmeal, stir, and bring back to a boil. Lower heat to med-lo and stir every now and then. Cook until thick and polenta is soft (and not too gritty).
2. Add agave, stevia, and lemon and cook just a couple of more minutes.
3. Pour into a small greased baking dish. Refrigerate an hour. Make coulis while waiting.
4. Cut into eight triangles. Heat a little nut oil in a skillet on slightly-above-medium heat. Pan fry each triangle, flipping after a few minutes on one side. Put two triangles on each plate.
1 cup frozen whole strawberries
2 tbs water
10 drops liquid stevia
1 tbs agave (optional; my strawberries were very tart)
1. Heat all ingredients over medium heat until mix boils. Reduce to low and simmer until condenses slightly and strawberries are essentially mush.
2. Remove from heat and allow to cool. When cool, food process until smooth.
3. Drizzle over plated polenta. Add a scoop of fruit-sweetened vanilla Soy Delicious and Enjoy!