If your summer kitchen motto is "minimum effort, maximum effect," sorbets may be your ultimate desserts. Featuring the essence of fruit, they reflect our current emphasis on natural ingredients, simplicity and lightness. And best of all, they take minutes to make and are virtually fat-free.

The ancient sorbets of China and India were little more than snow, honey and fruit pure'e. The Persians and Arabs learned the process, and eventually introduced it to Europeans. In the 17th century, the French developed fruit and sugar syrup sorbets recognized as classic today.

In this century, Americans have long had a love affair with ice cream. While our affection for ice cream is far from disappearing, in the '70s and '80s many began to cut down on it because of fat and calories. This has led the way for commercial sales of hundreds of light frozen desserts, many in the form of frozen yogurt, sherbet and sorbet.

The essential ingredient in sorbet is the fruit. Seasonal fresh fruit, preferably organic, is ideal, though good quality frozen fruit can be substituted. No matter what your source, the fruit should be ripe, fragrant and unblemished. Frozen organic blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and peaches are available in specialty stores and health food stores under the Cascadian Farms label. To my palate, their flavor is incomparably more vivid than supermarket counterparts.

The amount of sweetener and citrus juice needed in a recipe depends on the natural sweetness of the fruit and personal taste. Syrup contributes to the satiny texture of sorbet, and nature's ready-made source is maple syrup. Another natural syrup alternative is barley malt sweetener. For a contrast to the smooth texture of sorbet, grainy date sugar and maple sugar crystals contribute sweetness and texture. These sweeteners are available in natural food stores. Sorbet served as a dessert should be sweeter than if it is served as a palate cleanser between courses.

Though freezing sorbet mixtures in an ice cream machine does yield a more "authentic" smooth texture, and you are welcome to do so, all you really need for the sorbets is a food processor. Frozen fruit pure'es, juice blends or diced fruit are processed just before serving, yielding vivid flavors and fine textures. Remember that sorbet melts quickly, so it is best served immediately.

If, for presentation or convenience, you opt to refreeze the sorbet, you may do so several hours ahead of time. For fanciful desserts, pipe sorbet into hollowed-out citrus cups or pipe into individual small mounds and freeze.

Mousses can also be a light alternative to ice cream. The following contemporary mousse recipes are egg-free and highlight individual fruit pure'es. If you are feeling decadent, whipped cream makes sinfully rich mousse. Alternately, try the mousse with whipped skim milk. Comparing calories, one tablespoon of heavy cream is 50 calories while one tablespoon of skim milk is barely six calories. If you use skim milk in these recipes, you'll save more than 125 calories per serving, and greatly reduce the grams of fat per serving.

Mousse made with whipped skim milk became popular in spas and four-star restaurants in the '80s when industrial immersion blenders hit the market. Now household immersion blenders are available through television mail-order sources and at many department stores, kitchen equipment stores and malls.

PINEAPPLE LIME SORBET

(4 servings)

1 1/2 cups ripe pineapple pure'e

1/2 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

2 teaspoons grated lime zest

2 tablespoons honey

4 mint sprigs for garnish

Combine pineapple pure'e, lime juice, orange juice, lime zest and honey in a bowl and mix. Pour into ice cube trays and freeze.

At serving time, drop the cubes through the feed tube of a food processor until cubes are reduced to an icy powder. Serve immediately in iced goblets and garnish with mint.

Per serving: 77 calories, .5 gm protein, 20 gm carbohydrates, .3 gm fat, 0 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 mg sodium

PEACH RASPBERRY SORBET

(4 servings)

2 cups chopped fresh peaches, frozen

2 cups frozen raspberries

3 tablespoons orange, berry or apple juice

3 tablespoons maple syrup

Combine ingredients in a food processor. Pulse several times, then process into slush, scraping sides of the container. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 215 calories, 2 gm protein, 55 gm carbohydrates, .3 gm fat, 0 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 27 mg sodium

GRAPE SORBET WITH FROZEN GRAPES

(4 servings)

1 2/3 cups white grape juice

1/2 cup frozen apple concentrate, preferably Granny Smith

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon honey

16 black seedless grapes, halved and frozen

Pour grape juice in an ice cube tray and freeze. Combine apple concentrate, lemon juice and honey in a food processor and blend until mixed. Drop grape juice cubes through the feed tube and process until mixture has a snowy consistency. Serve in 4 iced goblets and garnish with frozen grapes.

Per serving: 80 calories, .9 gm protein, 20 gm carbohydrates, .2 gm fat, 0 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 11 mg sodium

CRANSHAW MELON SORBET

(4 servings)

Also try this with Charentais, a small melon available at specialty stores.

2 pounds ripe sweet CranshawSTART NOTE cap? cs END NOTE melon

1/4 cup date sugar

Peel and seed melon and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Spread on a tray, cover and freeze until firm.

At serving time, drop melon cubes through feed tube of food processor with motor running. Add sugar and reduce cubes to a snowy powder. Serve immediately in iced goblets.

Per serving: 126 calories, 2 gm protein, 31 gm carbohydrates, .6 gm fat, 0 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 20 mg sodium

BASIC NONFAT MOUSSE CREAM

(6 servings)

An immersion blender fitted with a whipping nozzle is required to make high, fluffy peaks. The skim milk must be icy cold or it will not whip at all. Chill mixing container and milk in the freezer for about 30 minutes before whipping. Use within 10 minutes after making, or the cream will return to a liquid state.

1 cup icy cold skim milk

Freshly ground nutmeg

Insert the blender shaft fitted with a whipping nozzle into the container and turn on the motor. Whip into high fluffy peaks, while moving the shaft around the container for 1 to 2 minutes. Use immediately.

Per serving: 16 calories, 1 gm protein, 2 gm carbohydrates, .2 gm fat, .1 gm saturated fat, .7 mg cholesterol, 21 mg sodium

MANGO MOUSSE

(6 servings)

2 firm ripe mangoes (2 pounds)

1 lime

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 recipe Mousse Cream (above) or 1 cup chilled heavy cream

Peel and seed mangoes and cut six long slivers for garnish. Coarsely chop remaining fruit. With a zester, remove strips of lime zest and squeeze 2 tablespoons lime juice. In a food processor or blender, combine mango, lime juice and maple syrup, and process until smooth. (May be prepared to this point several hours ahead.)

At serving time, whip heavy cream or skim milk to soft peaks and fold into mango pure'e, leaving marble swirls of orange and white. Serve in chilled goblets with lime zest and mango slivers.

Per serving: 134 (257*) calories, 2 (2*) gm protein, 33 (32*) gm carbohydrates, .5 (15*) gm fat, .1 (9*) gm saturated fat, .7 (54*) mg cholesterol, 36 (29*) mg sodium (* with heavy cream)

PAPAYA MOUSSE WITH HONEYED PECANS

(6 servings)

3 tablespoons chopped pecans

1 tablespoon honey

2 ripe papayas (about 2 pounds)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons date sugar

1 recipe Mousse Cream (above) or 1 cup chilled heavy cream

Combine nuts and honey on a small baking tray, stir to mix, and spread out on tray. Bake at 350 degrees until nuts are toasted, about 12 minutes. Cool and break apart.

Skin and seed papayas and cut into 1-inch cubes. In a food processor or blender, combine papaya, lemon juice and date sugar and process until smooth. (May be prepared to this point several hours ahead.)

At serving time, make Mousse Cream or whip cream to soft peaks. Fold papaya pure'e into cream of choice. Serve in iced goblets and garnish with pecans.

Per serving: 130 (252*) calories, 3 (2*) gm protein, 27 (26*) gm carbohydrates, 3 (17*) gm fat, .3 (9*) gm saturated fat, .7 (54*) mg cholesterol, 26 (19*) mg sodium. (* with heavy cream)

TWO BERRY MOUSSE WITH FRUIT BROCHETTES

(6 servings)

1/3 cup fresh or frozen unsweetened raspberries

1/3 cup fresh or frozen unsweetened blackberries

2 tablespoons maple syrup

12 1-inch cubes fresh pineapple

12 strawberries, hulled

2 kiwi fruits, peeled and cut into 12 pieces

12 1-inch cubes fresh papaya

1 recipe Mousse Cream (above) or 1 cup chilled heavy cream

In separate batches, pure'e raspberries and blackberries in a blender or food processor. Pass each through a fine sieve to remove seeds and sweeten each with 1 tablespoon maple syrup.

At serving time, thread 6 bamboo skewers with 2 pieces of each fruit. Whip Mousse Cream or whip heavy cream to soft peaks. Divide in half. Fold berry pure'es into cream and divide among chilled dessert plates. Place a fruit skewer on each plate and serve.

Per serving: 86 (209*) calories, 2 (2*) gm protein, 20 (19*) gm carbohydrates, .5 (15*) gm fat, 0 (9*) gm saturated fat, .7 (54*) mg cholesterol, 35 (29*) mg sodium (* with heavy cream)

Yamuna Devi lives in Washington and is the author of "Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking" (E.P. Dutton).