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A Recipe: Plant-Based Banana Chocolate Muffins (Gluten-Free)

These muffins may look plain on the outside, but there’s a decadent rich chocolatey centre hiding inconspicuously inside each one. Because chocolate makes everything better, don’t you think?!

They’re great for people with allergies, being vegan and dairy-free, paleo-friendly and gluten-free. They are also full of nutritional goodness; rather than flour and dairy they’re packed with bananas, almonds and flax seeds. Bananas are packed with potassium, magnesium and manganese, and B vitamins including B6 and folate. Almonds are a great source of magnesium, calcium and zinc (as well as many other minerals) and are also high in vitamin E. Flax seeds are super high in omega-3s, B vitamins and minerals including magnesium and selenium.

Did I mention that they’re super tasty too?

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Recipe: Chocolate Surprise Banana Muffins

Makes 10 muffins.

Ingredients

3 bananas (about 300g)
1/4 cup nut milk (I use cashew nut milk – you can make it yourself; it’s super simple)
2 tbsp maple syrup (or other liquid sweetener)
50g macadamia oil (or other high quality flavourless oil)
175g ground almonds
30g ground flax seeds
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp chia seeds

For the chocolate filling:
30g macadamia oil
20g cacao powder
20g maple syrup

What To Do

Preheat your oven to 170ºC.

Blend bananas, maple syrup, cashew nut milk and oil together until smooth. Add the ground almonds, ground flaxseeds and baking powder and mix well.

Put the 1 tbsp chia seeds in a bowl and add 3 tbsp water, stirring well. Leave for 10 minutes or so until the chia has formed a gel.

Separate 1/4 of the cake mixure and place in a separate bowl. If you want to be accurate, use scales. Otherwise guesswork is fine! Stir the chia gel into the larger cake mix portion.

To the 1/4 mixture in the separate bowl add 20g cacao powder, 20g maple syrup and 30g oil and stir until combined.

Put a heaped dessertspoon of cake mix into 10 muffin cases. You should be left with a small amount of cake mix. Using a teaspoon, make a well in the centre of each muffin.

Divide the chocolate mix between the 10 muffins, carefully filling the well in the centre using a teaspoon.

Top each muffin with a thin layer of the remaining cake mix, using a spoon to seal the gaps. You shouldn’t be able to see any of the chocolate mix.
pic12premuffin1 premuffin2 premuffin3 premuffin4 premuffin6Place in a pre-heated oven and bake for 25 minutes until golden.

Enjoy!

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Tips:

  • I used chia seeds to help bind them together as these muffins don’t contain egg. Flax seeds and bananas are also great binders though, so if you can’t find chia seeds just leave this step out.
  • If you think the assembly sounds like too much hassle, don’t stress. Just fill the cake cases with half of the plain mix, add a spoonful of the chocolate one and then top with remaining plain mix. They might not look quite so neat but they’ll still taste amazing!

5 Ingredient Chocolate Brownie Recipe (No Baking Required)

This is my new favourite thing to make. Aside from the fact that it tastes amazing, it is also super simple to assemble.

Now I love a cooked brownie, when the edges are crispy and the middle is molten, but there’s a bit of an art to it. Knowing your oven well and being super accurate with timings is the only way to catch the brownie in that tiny window between still-raw-and-gloopy-and-dissintegrates-upon-touch and overcooked-and-crunchy-and-dry-all-the-way-through. There’s also a lot more mess generated, and washing-up, with cooked brownies, and you need more time. Luckily, his cousin, the raw brownie, means none of this to worry about!

With this brownie, there’s no cooking. Hurrah! You can’t over- or under-cook it, and you don’t have to wait ages for it to be ready. Also, you only need 4 ingredients (plus salt). How awesome is that?! The other great thing is you can make this in small batches rather than having to make a tray full. If you’re greedy like me and can eat 24 brownies in 24 hours, this is a great way to exercise some restraint – just make less!

I also imagine that these would keep much longer than normal brownies which dry out over time, but I’ve not been able to resist eating them long enough to find out. They will definitely keep for a week in the fridge or freezer in an airtight container, and I can’t see any reason why they wouldn’t last longer if you have more willpower than me.

This recipe makes enough for 6 pieces. You will need a food processor or high powered blender.

Ingredients

100g walnuts (approx 1 cup)
60g macadamias (a very full half cup)
10 medjool dates, stones removed
1/2 cup cacao powder
1/4 teaspoon salt (recommended but optional)

Method

Grind the walnuts and salt into a flour. Add the cacao and mix well. Blend the dates in a few at a time until the mixture has formed small crumbs.

Roughly chop the macadamias by hand. Stir into the mix.

Line a container with baking paper. Tip the mix into the container and press down firmly. Place in the freezer before cutting into pieces (it will cut into pieces better if it is cold).

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Store in the fridge or freezer.

You can eat straight from the freezer, or allow to warm to room temperature. I dust extra cacao powder on the top to serve but this is optional.

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Yum!

Roasting, soaking, sprouting, activating, or eating raw – a guide to eating nuts

Nuts are super nutritious, and packed full of vitamins and minerals. Not only that, they are darn delicious. They’re surprisingly versatile ingredients too – they work equally well in sweet and savoury dishes, and you can even use them to make non-dairy milk, butter, and cheese. Plus they are used to make the most amazing raw desserts.

There’s a few different ways to buy nuts, but the two most common options are raw and roasted. As I’ve become more interested in learning about whole foods I’ve come across a lot of recipes that talked about soaking nuts, which seemed to add a lot of time to the recipes. When I started investigating raw food, and I found that the term “activated” also came up a lot, and recipes advised using activated nuts. How on earth do you activate a nut, I wondered? And more precisely, why would I bother when (most) nuts are perfectly tasty in their raw state?

The scientist in me wanted to know more. I like to understand things rather than following mindlessly just because I vaguely remember reading somewhere that something was better for me. I wanted to know what all these methods actually mean, what the point of them was, and whether there’s anything behind it.

Or is it just another fad?

Nuts in their natural state

Nuts grow on trees, and have a hard shell that takes a good set of nut crackers plus some considerable hand strength to prise open. Commercial farmers can use machinery to crack them open. The resulting nut once the case is removed is the raw nut.

It’s worth clarifying that raw in this instance means uncooked. Raw in the raw food sense means not heated above 46ºC. This can be a little confusing, for example with cashew nuts, which are often steamed open. These nuts are still referred to as “raw”, since they are uncooked, but they are not strictly speaking raw in the raw food sense as the steaming would have involved heating them above 46ºC. (You can buy cashews that have been cracked open by hand and are truly raw, but they are considerably more expensive.)

Nuts and phytic acid

As well as all their nutritional goodness, raw nuts also contain phytic acid, or phytate. Phytate is the molecule that plants use to store phosphorus, and it is particularly high in bran, seeds and nuts.  Once digested, the phytate in raw nuts, which cannot be digested by humans as we do not have the phytase enzyme, binds to minerals, particularly calcium, iron, and zinc, but also magnesium and manganese, preventing us from absorbing them in the gastrointestinal tract. Phytate has been described as an anti-nutrient for this reason. (If you want to read more about phytate read here and here). Diets high in phytate are thought to cause iron deficiency (see here).

As well as binding to minerals, phytate is also thought to inhibit digestive enzymes such as pepsin (here), trypsin (here) and amylase (here). This is why large quantities of raw nuts can be hard to digest.

Whether you should worry about phytic acid depends on how much you intake. If you just eat a small handful of raw nuts a day, it’s probably no big deal. But if you’re vegan and eating huge quantities of almond butter, cashew cheese and raw (nut-based) cheesecake, you eat a vegetarian diet packed with lentils and wholegrains, or you’re anaemic or suffering from calcium or iron deficiency, then you may want to consider reducing your phytate intake. That doesn’t mean cutting back, it just means preparing your nuts (and also pulses and other wholegrains) a little differently.

All of the ways described below are ways of preparing nuts so as to reduce the phytate levels and make the nuts easier to digest, and allow us to absorb more nutrients.

Roasting Nuts

Roasted nuts are probably the most readily available nuts after raw nuts. Roasting reduces the phytate content of nuts, although there’s not much research available regarding specifics of how the nutritional content of nuts changes when you roast them. It is also thought to improve their digest-ability.

If you do want to eat roasted nuts, you’re far better off roasting your own. That way they’ll be fresher (and tastier), and you can control the oven temperature. Because nuts contain polyunsaturated fats it’s thought that roasting at lower temperatures are better. Also, nuts which contain asparagine, such as almonds, need to be kept below 130°C to avoid producing acrylamide, which is a neurotoxin and carcinogen. (For more information see here and here).

Roasted nuts that you buy from the supermarkets are often not roasted but deep fried. (If they don’t say dry roasted, then they’re not!) There ain’t nothing healthy about that!

Soaking nuts (or “activating” them)

Another option for reducing the phytate content of raw nuts is to soak them. Soaking is a precursor for germination, and the seed uses enzymes to break down the phytate. Soaking time can vary depending on which nut you’re soaking, but overnight is a general guideline.

If you soak the nuts for long enough, they should begin to sprout (germinate). I have never tried this but expect it would take several days. The water should be changed every 12 hours or so (more if it is a very hot day) to help prevent them rotting.

You can eat nuts that have been soaked. They are still crunchy but have a more “crisp” bite than a crunch. They are great for adding to salads or snacking on, but will only keep for a couple of days. They won’t work in recipes that call for raw or roasted nuts though because they are too wet. To enable them to be suitable for baking, they need to be dried out.

Dehydrating nuts

Dehydrating is a method of drying soaked nuts out without cooking them, and uses low temperatures for long periods of time to achieve this. There is a specialist piece of equipment called a dehydrator that can be used, or a fan oven at a low temperature (lower than 50ºC) with the door ajar to allow the moisture to escape, or even leaving them in the sun. Dehydrating nuts takes upwards of 12 hours. Once dried out the nuts resemble raw nuts in flavour and appearance but have more crunch and are slightly drier.

If nuts aren’t dehydrated for long enough then they can go mouldy inside because of the moisture that remains.

Activated nuts

In some health food shops you can buy activated raw nuts. These are nuts that have been soaked (activated) then dehydrated and packaged for sale. They are considerably more expensive than ordinary raw nuts because of the extra time and effort that has gone into preparing them.

The Conclusion?

All this preparation is taking place to make nuts easier to digest, and that can’t be a bad thing. That said, it does require a bit of effort, and if you don’t notice any problems eating raw nuts you’ll probably think it’s not worth the trouble. However, consider this. Whilst you may think it sounds like a modern fad, most traditional cultures soak, sprout and ferment nuts and grains and have done for centuries. It’s not that it’s been invented, more re-discovered. Also, nuts don’t come ready shelled in convenient packs at the supermarket. Back in the old days, if we wanted 500g of nuts for a recipe, we’d have to find a nut tree and then sit and crack them all open by hand ourselves. No doubt this helped limit how many we actually consumed. Nowadays we can consume kilos of them without a second thought. This makes it more important to prepare them properly than if we were just having a small handful now and then.

I try to soak my nuts if I’m adding them to a salad and planned far enough in advance! Soaking is a requirement for making nut milk anyway. As for raw desserts, because of the huge quantities of nuts required, I’ve started using activated walnuts and almonds because I can buy these in bulk. If I just want a quick snack though, I’ll often eat raw nuts straight out of the jar. Perfection is just too hard!