What for dessert? How about oats, couscous, rice, millet, rye, or corn-meal? While most American cooks think of grains only as staples for dinner, Europeans (especially those who live around the Mediterranean) and Asians have known for ages that tender, nutty, chewy grains are wonderfully nutritious – and versatile – for dessert.

Take rice, for example. Plumped in warm sweetened milk (soy, almond, or coconut), these kernels transform into a rich, creamy pudding – an age-old comfort food. Creamy Coconut Raspberry Risotto (pictured at right) is just one possibility. Consider the case with oats. Steamed and rolled, this familiar breakfast grain mixes beautifully with fruits and sweeteners and adds flavor and crunch to cookies and fruit crisps such as Ginger Pear Oatmeal Crisp. Oats are also rich in fiber, complex carbohydrates, and essential nutrients. Plus, they’re low in fat.

Further afield, grains such as cornmeal, couscous, and millet add texture, flavor, and nutrition to all kinds of desserts. In Italy, cooks add cornmeal to cakes and biscotti for an appealing grainy texture and sweet flavor. Tunisian and Moroccan bakers create jewel-like masterpieces by mixing couscous with fresh and dried fruits, nuts, and sweeteners, and sprinkling the lemon yellow granules with ruby red pomegranate seeds.

When cooking grain-desserts, there are basically two things to keep in mind: the form of the grain and whether you want to use it raw or cooked. If you plan to use whole grains, such as rice, millet, or wheat kernels, you should first soften them through cooking before adding them to the dessert.

Cereals, such as cornmeal and oatmeal, are already cracked and rolled, which lessens the* cooking time. As a result of this, they can be folded into batters and doughs in their dry form, as with the Cornmeal Shortcakes with Honey-Poached Apricots.

Milled grains, like wheat, barley, and rye flours, are obviously used in their dry form. And, with the exception of unbleached all-purpose flour and whole wheat pastry flour, most of them are heavy and will yield very dense desserts. Therefore, our recipes often call for some unbleached all-purpose flour to lighten the batter or dough. For example, Apple Rye Gingerbread uses equal parts rye, whole wheat pastry, and all-purpose flours to create a rich, hearty flavor but light texture.

Instead of simply limiting yourself to a savory supper of grains, think of rice, couscous, millet, and other cereals as a good way to make delicious but healthy and satisfying desserts. The eight simple recipes on the following pages just begin to explore the possibilities.

GINGER PEAR OATMEAL CRISP

Serves 6

Fresh and ground ginger infuse a warm spicy flavor. Apples can substitute for the pears. For added crunch, toss sliced almonds into the oat mixture before baking.

  • 4 medium ripe pears (about 1 3/4 pounds)
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/3 cup granulated cane juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup corn oil
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel, core, and chop pears into 1/2-inch dice. Place pears in large bowl and toss with honey, 3 tablespoons water, lemon juice, and fresh ginger. Transfer fruit mixture to 11-by-7-inch baking dish.
  2. Combine oats, flour, cane juice, ground ginger, and salt in medium bowl. Add oil and mix until crumbly
  3. Sprinkle oat mixture over pears and bake until fruit juices are bubbling and topping is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

MULTIGRAIN PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES

Makes about 18 cookies

Minutes from the oven, these hearty grain cookies snap when you bite into them. If stored in an airtight container, they’ll become chewy. To keep them crisp, place the container in the freezer. Spectrum Spread, a dairy-free butter substitute, is essential in this recipe.

  • 3/4 cup granulated cane juice
  • 1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup Spectrum Spread (dairy-free pressed canola oil)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup rolled wheat flakes
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil two baking sheets.
  2. Use electric mixer or large spoon to blend cane juice, peanut butter, and Spectrum Spread in medium bowl. Stir in 1/4 cup water and vanilla extract.
  3. Combine oats, wheat flakes, pastry flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl. Stir dry ingredients into peanut butter mixture until well blended.
  4. Working with 1 tablespoon of dough at a time, roll dough into small balls. flatten them with your palms, and place about 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until cookie edges are golden. Immediately transfer cookies to wire racks. (At room temperature, cookies will last several days; in freezer, they will be good for several weeks.)

CREAMY COCONUT RASPBERRY RISOTTO

Serves 8

Each rice kernel in a traditional Italian risotto retains a tiny uncooked core that makes the rice fairly chewy. If you prefer a softer texture, cook the rice to desired consistency, adding water as necessary.

  • 3 cups unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup rice syrup
  • 1 cup arborio rice (Italian medium-grain rice)
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen unsweetened raspberries, plus 8 raspberries for garnish
  1. Bring coconut milk and rice syrup to boil in medium, heavy-bottom saucepan. Immediately reduce heat to low.
  2. Place rice in another medium heavy-bottom saucepan set over medium-low heat. Add 1/2 cup hot coconut milk mixture and stir until absorbed. Continue cooking rice in this manner, adding hot coconut milk mixture in 1/2-cup increments when pot seems dry, and stirring often, until rice is tender and all liquid has been absorbed, about 30 minutes.
  3. Remove risotto from heat and gently stir in 1 cup raspberries. Spoon risotto into individual bowls, garnish each with one raspberry, and serve warm.

PUMPKIN MILLET CUSTARD WITH DATES

Serves 8 to 10

Make sure you dig to the bottom of this rich and creamy custard to reach the chewy layer of dates. Reheated, this dessert makes a wonderful winter breakfast. Kudzu is a powdery thickener and is sold in natural foods stores.

  • 1/2 cup millet
  • 3 tablespoons kudzu
  • 3 cups plain soymilk
  • 4 ounces silken tofu
  • 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil 2-quart baking dish.
  2. Bring 1 1/4 cups water to boil in medium saucepan. Add millet and simmer, partially covered, 12 to 15 minutes, or until water has been absorbed and millet is tender Remove from heat, cover, and set aside.
  3. Dissolve kudzu in 1/2 cup soymilk in large bowl. Puree tofu in food processor or blender until creamy and smooth. Add tofu to kudzu mixture, along with remaining 2 1/2 cups soymilk. Whisk in pumpkin puree, maple syrup, cinnamon, salt, vanilla extract, and dates.
  4. Fluff millet with fork to separate grains. Fold into pumpkin mixture and then transfer to prepared baking dish. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until pudding is set and no longer wobbles in center Serve warm or at room temperature. (Pudding can be refrigerated overnight and reheated just before serving.)

PISTACHIO COUSCOUS CAKE WITH COFFEE RUM SYRUP

Serves 8

The delicate grains of couscous keep this Turkish cake surprisingly light. Some of the coffee rum syrup is added to the cake batter, and the rest is poured over the baked cake as it cools. Toasted hazelnuts or almonds can easily substitute for the pistachios. If desired, serve with mock whipped cream (silken tofu whipped with a dab of tahini and a little honey).

  • 1/2 cup couscous
  • 1/2 cups shelled pistachio nuts, toasted
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup strong brewed coffee
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil 8-inch round cake pan.
  2. Bring 1 cup water to boil in small saucepan. Stir in couscous, remove from heat, cover, and set aside.
  3. Place pistachio nuts, flours, baking powder, and baking soda in work bowl of food processor Pulse until mixture is coarsely ground and has consistency of coarse sand. Transfer mixture to large bowl.
  4. Whisk together coffee, honey, and rum in small bowl. Add 3/4 cup coffee rum syrup to dry ingredients, along with oil. Stir well to combine.
  5. Fluff cooked couscous with fork to separate grains. Gently fold couscous into batter. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until cake is golden and just beginning to crack on top.
  6. Remove cake from oven and prick top with toothpick. Gradually pour remaining 3/4 cup coffee rum syrup over cake. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Cake can be wrapped tightly in plastic, refrigerated for up to 2 days, and then brought to room temperature before serving.)

APPLE RYE GINGERBREAD

Serves 6 to 8

Rye flour is a traditional ingredient in Boston brown bread and gives this gingerbread an especially hearty flavor. For a chunky fruit-filled gingerbread, add two cored, peeled, and sliced apples and some raisins to the batter. For a flavorful breakfast, cut a square of gingerbread in half, toast it, and top it with unsweetened applesauce and soy yogurt.

  • 1 cup rye flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 1/4 cups unsweetened applesauce
  • 3/4 cup molasses
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil 8-inch square baking dish.
  2. Combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in medium bowl. Stir together applesauce, molasses, and oil in large bowl.
  3. Gradually add dry ingredients to wet mixture and stir until blended. Pour batter into prepared pan, smooth top with spatula, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out dean. Cool pan on wire rack. (Cake can be wrapped tightly in plastic and kept at room temperature overnight.) Cut cake into squares and serve.

CASHEW CHOCOLATE CHIP PUFFED GRAIN BARS

Makes 15 squares

These crisp crunchy bars hit the spot when you’re looking for a light and healthy snack. Feel free to mix and match different puffed grains and nuts to come up with your own special combination.

  • 1/2 cup barley malt syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 cups puffed grain cereal (such as millet, rice, and wheat)
  • 1/2 cup roasted cashew pieces
  • 1 cup dairy-free malt chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly oil 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish.
  2. Combine syrup and salt in small saucepan. Heat mixture until it begins to foam, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. Place grains in large bowl with cashews. Pour warm syrup over cereal-nut mixture and toss to combine. Mix in chocolate chips.
  4. Press cereal mixture with your hands into prepared dish and bake for 10 minutes. Let cool on wire rack and cut into squares. (Squares can be refrigerated in an airtight container for several days.)

CORNMEAL SHORTCAKES WITH HONEY-POACHED APRICOTS

Serves 10

Cornmeal gives these drop biscuit shortcakes a nice nubby texture that soaks up the syrup from the apricots. Dried figs, prunes, pears, or peaches also work well in this recipe.

  • 2 cups dried apricots
  • 1/3 cup honey, plus 2 tablespoons 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 long strip fresh lemon peel
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup corn oil
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil two baking sheets.
  2. Place 2 cups water in small saucepan. Add apricots, 2 tablespoons honey, cinnamon stick, and lemon peel and bring to boil. Reduce heat, partially cover, and simmer 12 to 15 minutes, or until fruit is plump and tender. (Apricots and syrup may be refrigerated overnight in an airtight container.)
  3. Combine cornmeal, flours, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl. Combine 1 cup water with remaining 1/3 cup honey and corn oil in large bowl. Gradually add dry ingredients to liquid mixture and stir until blended.
  4. Using a 1/4-cup measure, drop batter onto prepared baking sheets, leaving at least 3 inches between each shortcake. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until shortcakes are puffy and golden brown. Cool shortcakes completely on wire rack. (Shortcakes can be stored at room temperature overnight in an airtight container.)
  5. To serve, horizontally split each shortcake in half Place bottom half on plate, cover with some of apricots and their syrup, leaving behind the lemon peel and cinnamon stick. Put top half of shortcake over the fruit. Drizzle with a little more poaching syrup. Serve immediately.