Over the last few years, healthy eating has suddenly become fashionable. Cold-pressed juice places are popping up in all major cities, there are restaurants specialising in porridge or greek yoghurt and healthy eating cookbooks are turning into bestsellers. Yet at the same time there seems to be a backlash against healthy eating. Whenever I check my twitter feed there will be at least one person having a go at the healthy eating trend, ridiculing any recipe that purports to turn classic dishes or treats into healthier versions of their former selves. Frankly, I am finding this absurd.
The main supporting argument against the healthy eating trend is usually that everything in moderation is fine and that it makes more sense to eat sugar and butter-laden treats once in a while than to come up with alternative recipes that we can enjoy ‘guilt-free’ but that are bound to fall short of our tastebuds’ expectations. Yet we only need to look at how much portion sizes have increased and how little most people move in their day-to-day life to know that moderation alone may not be enough to stop (let alone try to reverse) the obesity pandemic. At the same time, I think we should also acknowledge just how far healthy eating has come over the last 20 years. Thanks to blogs like Green Kitchen Stories, Sprouted Kitchen or 101 Cookbooks, just to name a few, it is easier than ever to find inspiration and recipes for dishes and treats that are as healthy as delicious.
I am the first to admit a certain weakness for cake (when people ask me why I go running, my standard response is “So I can eat more cake”). And there is little I look forward to more when staying with my parents than a slice of my mum’s sourdough bread slathered with lots of butter. And I love pizza and pasta. But I also happen to really like courgetti. Of course it is not the same as pasta. No one claims it is. But it is delicious nonetheless. And Sprouted Kitchen’s lentil ‘meatballs’ most definitely don’t taste like meatballs. But I keep on making them anyway. Because they taste so damn good. At least once a year I even give them a North African twist, using the same spices my brother uses to make his famous Kofte, so my vegetarian nephew and niece can also enjoy the Kofte that form part of our Christmas Meze spread with the rest of the family. I also think that homemade almond milk tastes better on granola than cow’s milk. And I happen to like these brownies, made with medjool dates, almond butter and ground almonds, as much as their butter-, sugar and refined flour-laden cousins.
I think there must be a middle ground. It is most certainly better for us to enjoy certain dishes and treats in moderation. But I also think there is nothing wrong with generally making small tweaks to our diet to try and eat better. We can certainly do that by limiting our intake of some foods. But maybe, sometimes, we can also try and replace those foods that aren’t good for us in the first place. I also don’t believe that this requires any real sacrifice. I have had dairy-free cashew cheesecake that tasted so good I would happily give up eating any other kind of cheesecake. Wholemeal pasta or gluten-free pastas like chickpea flour pasta are delicious in their own right and thanks to a rougher texture sauce clings to them much better than to pasta made from refined flour. The fact they are also more nutritious is just a great side effect. And baking citrus cakes with grassy olive oil will actually make them taste better than making them with butter – it just amplifies the citrus’ bright flavour. As for my middle ground? Right now, it is one of these brownies, ideally still warm from the oven, topped with a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream that is definitely neither refined sugar nor dairy free.
Dark Chocolate Brownies with Medjool Dates and Almond Butter
Note: While I have not yet tried this I am confident the recipe would work equally well with other types of nut flours and nut butters. The one ingredient I would not substitute with anything else though are the medjool dates – their sweetness and soft texture is what makes this recipe.
150g pitted medjool dates (depending on size, this should be 6-9 dates)
200g dark chocolate (at least 70 per cent cocoa solids)
75g almond butter
1/4 tsp sea salt
75g almond flour
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and line a brownie pan with parchment paper.
Soak the pitted medjool dates in boiling water.
Chop the dark chocolate and melt it by placing it in a large bowl placed on top of a pan of simmering water.
When the chocolate is melted, turn off the heat and take the bowl off the saucepan. Drain the water from the dates and puree the dates using an immersion blender or a food processor until no lumps remain.
Whisk the almond butter into the melted chocolate. Fold in the date puree. Beat in the eggs one by one, waiting for each egg to be completely mixed in before adding the next egg.
Lastly fold in the salt and the almond flour.
Pour the brownie batter into the prepared pan and bake the brownies for ca. 20-25 minutes or until just set. Leave to cool completely in the pan. For clean edges on your brownies, cut with a very sharp knife, cleaning the knife between each cut.