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Chewy no-bake round disks of almonds and cherries can be used to hold any of the fresh fruits of summer. Photo by Sue Doeden

No bake ... no sweat with cherry tarts

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One of my favorite summer treats -- requiring no more prep than a good rinsing -- is to sit down with a big bowl of bright, plump cherries and simply enjoy them in their natural form.

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It's only fitting that one of the simple pleasures of summer becomes part of a simple, good-for-you and very tasty dessert. Even the most dedicated bakers often look for simplified recipes during the summer months, as they try to avoid standing by a hot oven or stove top. But whether you're a beginner in the kitchen or a discriminating foodie, with little time or effort, you can put together this no-bake cherry dessert that will impress family and friends.

The first time I made the little Cherry Tarts, I served them to friends in my Simple, Good and Tasty Book Club. Each month we read a book focused on local, organic, sustainable, fair trade, healthy food issues and then get together to discuss. In June, we read Mark Bittman's "Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating With More Than 75 Recipes." In his book, Bittman, author of the weekly New York Times column, "The Minimalist," explains the links among diet, health, the environment in general and climate change in particular and suggests simple lifestyle changes that, when carried out, can make a difference.

One of Bittman's recommendations is that we should "eat less of certain foods, specifically animal products, refined carbs, and junk food; and more of others, specifically plants, in close to their natural state."

Using this as a guiding principle, Bittman maintains we can do our part to help heal the planet as we improve our health, lose weight and even spend less at the checkout counter.

It was a recipe in "Food Matters" that inspired No-Guilt Cherry Tarts.

Cherries, a plant food, are not only sweet and juicy, they are a natural superfood. Cherries are filled with powerful nutrients and antioxidants that research suggests might help people live a longer, healthier life. In fact, a growing body of science reveals that cherries, when compared to other fruits, have an extremely high level of disease-fighting antioxidants. Cherries also are a source of fiber, vitamin C and other important nutrients.

A cherry pitter can be a lifesaving tool when it comes time to prepare the fruit for their place on top of "crusts" made of almonds and dried cherries. Pitting the cherries, with juice splattering and stone-like seeds flying, can be a bit messy. Just wear an old red shirt or an apron, and if you don't want to get your fingers stained with cherry juice, wear plastic gloves for this job.

These individual cherry tarts require no special pans. You'll have no frustration trying to roll out pastry crust. No need to turn on the oven, either.

Chewy no-bake round disks of almonds and cherries can be used to hold any of the fresh fruits of summer. A light coating of dark chocolate on each crust helps hold the fruit in place and gives the dessert a touch of decadence.

Everyone in my book club gave this dessert a thumbs-up. And why not? It's a sensational summer treat that can be eaten with no guilt.

No-Guilt Cherry Tarts

1 1/4 pounds whole fresh cherries

1 tablespoon sugar

1 cup whole raw almonds, toasted

3/4 cup dried cherries

1 to 2 teaspoons of water

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate

Plain Greek yogurt and fresh mint sprigs,

for garnish

Rinse cherries. Remove stems and pits. Use a paring knife to cut each pitted cherry in half. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with sugar. Refrigerate.

In the bowl of a food processor, grind almonds until they are very finely chopped. If you don't have a food processor, chop the almonds very fine by hand using a sharp chef's knife. Put the ground almonds into a mixing bowl.

Put the dried cherries into the bowl of the food processor and pulse until they are chopped. Add a teaspoon of water and continue to pulse. The chopped dried cherries need to become sticky enough to adhere to the ground almonds. Add another teaspoon of water if necessary, and pulse. Add the sticky mixture to the almonds in bowl. Use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to combine the almonds and cherries, forming the mixture that will become the crust for the tarts.

With moist fingers, form 8 (3-inch) rounds, using 2 tablespoons of nut and dried cherry mixture for each one. Place the rounds on a waxed paper-lined baking sheet or platter. At this point, crusts can be refrigerated, tightly covered, for a day or two or, they can be stored in the freezer for up to a month.

When ready to serve, melt bittersweet chocolate in a small heavy saucepan over low heat or in a glass bowl at low power in the microwave. Stir the chocolate frequently, until melted and smooth. Brush each tart crust with an even layer of chocolate. Top with fresh cherries. Garnish with a small dollop of yogurt and a small sprig of fresh mint. Makes 8 tarts.

Recipe inspired by "Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating With More Than 75 Recipes." Simon and Schuster Paperbacks. 2009.

Tips from the cook

--Toast whole raw almonds by spreading them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven. Remove from oven and immediately transfer to a dish to cool.

--I use a 3-inch round cookie cutter, packing the "crust" ingredients into the center to form the disks. If you don't have a cookie cutter, use a pencil to trace around a small bowl or a glass on waxed paper or parchment paper to make 8 (3-inch) rounds. Pat the almond and cherry mixture inside each circle to form the tart crusts.

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