One time while I was at a party that I had made most of the food for, including a few chocolate cakes (this cake, to be specific), a girl came up to me and asked if there was sugar in the cakes. I told her of course there was sugar in the cakes. They’re cakes! Chocolate cakes! She gave me the most bewildered look. It was as if she couldn’t possibly comprehend the words that had just come out of my mouth. Finally she spoke, “but I thought you were a nutritionist?!”
I think there are a few schools of thoughts when it comes to treats.
The first, is that treats should be treats and one should enjoy the ‘real’ thing from time to time in all it’s refined sugared and saturated fatted glory. The second, that we can make some small modifications to our treats in order to make them slightly more ‘healthy’ – subbing in a natural sweetener or a whole grain flour perhaps, yet still enjoying these things more or less in moderation. Then there are those who are in the these-cookies-are-whole-wheat-so-it’s-cool-to-go-gangbusters or this-cheesecake-is-raw-and-organic-so-I’munna-demolish-that-sucker camp.
(this, by the way, is a favourite topic of debate between my beloved sister-in-law and I)
I mostly tend to favour the first camp. Treats should be treats, and I’m going to indulge occasionally (like most weekends) in something I really enjoy. I do also frequently visit the second camp. I’ll use pretty much any whole grain flour in any recipe, and I’m always up for an adventure with a natural sweetener so long as it meets my criteria for being ‘real’ and ‘good’. It should also be noted that what I consider to be a treat has really evolved over the years. However, I am a chronic and unapologetic eye-roller at the last school of thought.
(You’ll noticed I haven’t addressed artificially sweetened or low-fat treats. That’s because I don’t consider them to be in the ‘real’ or ‘good’ food categories.)
And so here we are, with brownies made from beans. Brownies made from funny little adzuki beans, and sweetened with nothing but a handful of soft, caramelly Medjool dates. Brownies that had me reaching for the pan again and again for just one more slice, not because I was throwing caution to the wind since they’re made from beans and dates, but because, you guys, these brownies are the BOMB!
These brownies are everything a brownie should be. They’re dense and fudgy. They’re deeply and darkly chocolately. They’re soul-satisfyingly good. And I hope that since we’ve known each other for a while now, you believe that I wouldn’t be pushing some socks-and-Birkenstocks hippy food on you unless it was genuinely really really tasty. Trust me. You want these.
But before you go eating the entire pan, let’s talk about nutrition. Yes, these are grain free. Yes, these are naturally sweetened (aside from a smattering of very dark chocolate sprinkled over the top). No, you shouldn’t eat the entire pan.
Medjool dates are wonderful things. They truly are nature’s candy. They’re sweet and caramelly, and they are jam packed with sugar. 100g of Medjool dates (about 4 pitted) contains roughly 265 calories, 75g carbohydrates, 2g protein, and only traces of fat. Of that 75g carbohydrates, about 90% is sugar, which is mostly in the form of glucose and fructose. This means that of those 265 calories, about 240 come from sugar. So when we’re baking with dates and saying ‘this recipe has no sugar!’ what we’re really saying is ‘this recipe has no REFINED sugar!’.
But don’t let the calories stop you from eating dates! They are also an excellent source of dietary fiber (about 7g in that 100g serving), and dates are especially rich in soluble fiber, which is the kind that helps maintain healthy blood cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar levels. Plus dates are rich in a host of different vitamins and minerals (more info after the recipe), so eat ’em up! In moderation.
I ran this recipe through a nutrition calculator for those who are curious. The above nutrition label is for 12 servings, which is what I sliced my brownies into. So you can see they’re pretty good – good enough to not feel guilty about reaching into the pan for just one more brownie. But I’d keep it at that. To me, these are in that second camp; made from beans, naturally sweetened, and definitely a treat to enjoy in moderation, albeit in relaxed moderation.
I do hope you enjoy them as much as I did! Now go make some brownies!
One year ago: Cauliflower Pea Soup with Mint and Lemon
Two years ago: Cottage Cheese Muffins and Chocolate Raspberry Torte
Three years ago: No (refined) Sugar Chocolate Coconut Granola
Fudgy Adzuki Bean Brownies Recipe:
The credit for this recipe goes to my friend Kellie, and if you aren’t already following her blog you definitely should be. I’ve modified her version just slightly, moving from a sugar / date combination to all dates, and eschewing the nut butter she uses for extra olive oil. Kellie has also tried and tested a vegan version using chia eggs.
Little brown adzuki beans are slightly on the sweet side, making them a great choice for this recipe. If you can’t find them or don’t have them on hand, you can substitute the same amount of black beans, another popular choice for grain-free brownies. I bring the entire thing together in my trusty food processor, which makes this recipe one bowl and easy as can be. A small amount of chopped dark chocolate scattered over the top isn’t necessary, but is totally delicious.
1 1/4 cup cooked adzuki beans
100g pitted Medjool dates
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4Tbsp coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil
40g (4 squares) 85% chocolate, roughly chopped
Preheat your oven to 180°C / 350°F. Line a 8×8 or 8×9 baking pan with parchment paper, or grease well.
In the bowl of a food processor combine the pitted dates and adzuki beans. Pulse until they’re broken up and well combined. Add the vanilla, cocoa, oil, and eggs, and run the food processor until the batter is very smooth. Don’t be surprised by how liquidy it is.
Scrape the batter into the prepared baking pan, and then scatter the chopped chocolate over the top. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the edges are set but the middle is still just very slightly jiggly. You can bake them a bit less for fudgier brownies if you like. Remove from the oven and cool for about 10 minutes before you cut into them.
Adzuki Beans are a good source of folate, dietary fiber, protein, phosphorus, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, potassium and vitamin K.
Dates are a great source of natural sweetness. They are calorie dense, but also rich in antioxidant polyphenols, dietary fiber, potassium, copper, and manganese.
All text and photos © The Muffin Myth 2014