This winter, the start of the holiday season coincided with a sudden abundance of fruit on my liliko’i vines, planted last year during a Permablitz at my house. I decided to invent a vegan holiday dessert using the mouth-puckering goodness from the juice of the fragrant passion fruit. I’ve never been one of those women crazy for chocolate and instead gravitate towards fruit desserts. One of my old favorites used to be lemon bars, but since becoming vegan years ago, I can’t remember the last time I tasted one, as the traditional recipe requires egg yolks. So, for a holiday inspiration I decided to invent a vegan version using liliko’i juice instead of citrus.
Like any foodie, I knew the first step was to research on the internet to find out what people were doing to get that creamy, custard texture in lemon bars without using eggs. I discovered several options. One recipe used silken tofu (the kind found in a box), another used a slurry made from soaked flax seeds, and another used Agar flakes and cornstarch. I tested several different methods and the outcome I liked best used the Agar. Agar (also known as Kanten in Japanese) is a plant-based gelatin made of a variety of sea vegetables with strong thickening properties (found at health food stores).
Here is the final recipe I created, adapting a lemon bar recipe from the Veganomicon Cookbook. I replaced the cornstarch with arrowroot powder, a plant with the same starchy properties, since most corn is GMO these days. I also reduced the amount of sugar (I like to really taste the fruit) and added nuts to the crust. The result is a perfect square of tropical tangy delight. These treats are delicious, vegan, and celebrate our local flavors.
Vegan Liliko’i Bars
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup powdered sugar (using powdered makes the crust fluffier)
- 1/4 cup arrowroot powder
- 1 cup vegan butter
- 1 cup pecans
- 2 cups water
- 3 tablespoons Agar Agar Flakes
- 1 cup sugar (organic is best)
- 1 cup fresh liliko’i (passion fruit) juice (use up to 1/2 cup more if you like it tart)
- 4 tablespoons arrowroot powder
- 1/2 cup soy milk
Lightly grease a 9 by 13-inch baking pan.
Prepare the crust:
If you have a food processor, pulse together the flour, powdered sugar, and Arrowroot powder (just mix in bowl if you do not). Add the vegan butter in spoonfuls and blend 8 to 10 seconds. Add the pecans and then pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. If you don’t have a food processor, cut the vegan butter into the flour mixture using a knife and used chopped pecans.
Put crust dough into the prepared baking pan and press firmly into an even layer. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake the unfilled crust for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, and let cool.
Prepare the filling:
In a saucepot, soak the Agar Flakes in the water for 15 minutes. While it soaks, use a fine strainer to separate the juice from the seeds of the liliko’i fruit. With a whisk, mix the arrowroot powder into the liliko’i juice to dissolve.
When the Agar flakes have been soaked for 15 minutes, turn on the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil for about 10 minutes, it takes awhile before the Agar is completely dissolved. Add the sugar and boil until it has dissolved, about 2 minutes. Turn down the heat and add the liliko’i arrowroot mixture, then add the soy milk. Whisk constantly until the filling thickens, about 5 minutes. Be careful that it does not come to a rapid boil but bubbles slowly.
Pour the filling into the prepared crust. Let cool for 20 minutes and then refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or overnight, until the filling has set. Slice in squares and serve.