Category Archives: Dessert

Raw Brownie Bites with Hemp Seeds

raw hemp seed brownie bites

When WTTW’s cult restaurant review show Check, Please! announced they were looking for a new host, I knew I had to apply.  My family has been watching the show for over 10 years and it’s how we were introduced to great Chicago restaurants like Noon O Kabab, Icosium KafeCoobah, and Kabul House.  The show features a diverse, rotating cast of everyday Chicagoans sitting around a table and sharing their favorite restaurants with each other, in a way that’s both honest and accessible.  In my audition video, I tried to showcase my hosting skills and culinary expertise by taste-testing the difference between wine and cough syrup, eating a salad and laughing in front of the mirror, and trying to shove as many sugary Italian cookies into my mouth as humanly possible. (It makes more sense if you watch the video below, I promise.)

While I love a fistful of sweet and crumbly Italian cookies as much as any other Chicago gal (whose parents met on Taylor Street, no less), this week I decided to mix it up by creating a satisfying raw treat to have on hand when I get the craving for something sweet.  Made with just a handful of pantry ingredients, these Raw Brownie Bites with Hemp Seeds take only minutes to make and no baking or precise measuring is required.  I’m a fan of savory breakfasts like dal, eggs, soup, or even leftovers, but these little bites have found their way into my early morning routine as well.  Truth be told: “breakfast dessert” is a common phrase in our apartment.

These raw brownies are really just fruit and nut bars where dates and walnuts are pulverized in the food processor and cocoa powder is added to give them that chocolatey goodness.  These could also be shaped into little balls and then rolled in hemp seeds to look like truffles.  Either method is great to make with kids since eating the batter is strongly encouraged and hands are the preferred tool for mixing.  You can eat them immediately, but they greatly improve in flavor and texture after an hour or two chilling in the fridge.

In addition to helping you avoid the food coma that traditional baked goods can induce (at least in the quantities I consume…see video), Raw Brownie Bites with Hemp Seeds are Omega 3 powerhouses since both walnuts and hemp seeds provide the essential good-for-you fats.  Hemp seeds have become my little best friends when it comes to adding protein quickly to vegan and vegetarian dishes.  They have a bit of a strong taste in smoothies, but the cocoa here masks it beautifully.

Check, Please! has narrowed down the pool of potential hosts from over 1000 to a list of 17 finalists–and I’m included!  Now it’s up to the public to vote for their favorite candidate to help choose the next host to showcase great restaurants and interesting diners in this fabulous food city.  Voting for the next host of Check, Please! continues through April 17.  Check out the great applicants here, but you know, vote for me. 😉 In the meantime, I’ll be on the edge of my seat, snacking on mini brownies.

Raw Brownie Bites with Hemp Seeds
makes 25 mini brownies

1 1/2 cups walnuts
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons hemp seeds, divided
1 1/2 cups pitted Medjool dates (about 15 dates)
1/2 cup cocoa powder or raw cacao powder
pinch of sea salt

1. In the food processor, pulse walnuts and 1/4 cup hemp seeds until finely ground, but not smooth. Add dates, cocoa/cacao powder and sea salt and blend until the dates are pulverized and a crumbly mixture forms.

2. Remove from food processor and press into a ball. Press mixture evenly into an 8 x 8 glass baking dish, using the bottom of a measuring cup to make the top smooth. Sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of hemp seeds on top and lightly press down. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours to let the brownies firm up. Cut into small squares and store in the fridge.

Black Lava Cakes

black lava cake

I know, I know.  I don’t normally tempt you with delicious-looking desserts like this.  As the name “Urban Chickpea” implies, you often find healthy, plant-based dishes on this site featuring greens, some new-fangled squash or maybe just a big plate of beans.  Today, however, I’m sharing a rich, decadent recipe for a molten lava cake spiced with cinnamon and cayenne and topped with the perfect contrast of sea salt.

Except…surprise!  The main ingredient in this cake is black beans.  Insert catchphrase here!

Now, I didn’t invent the bean dessert trend (check out some notable versions on Joy the Baker and My New Roots), but I like to think that I’m crushing it with this upscale, wholesome twist on the ’90s restaurant cliche: molten lava cake. Hey, as a friend told me, in the food world, somethings are ubiquitous because they are delicious.  (I was talking about St. Germain and she was talking about bacon, but I think we could both agree that the rule applies to gooey chocolate desserts as well.)

In addition to being made from protein-, fiber-, and iron-packed black beans, these cakes are gluten-free, vegan, and sweetened with maple syrup, not sugar.  So while they are still a dark chocolaty indulgence, they are filled with wholesome nutrients as well, like Omega-3s from the chia seeds.  Individual ramekins keep the portions in control, to prevent you from pulling a Miranda Hobbes and eating cake out of the trash.  After melting the chocolate, you just buzz up the ingredients in the food processor and the cakes are ready to go in the oven.  Feel free to play around with the flavors in this recipe.  I go coconuts for cinnamon and cayenne with dark chocolate, but you could try adding orange zest, a splash of frangelico or even more vanilla to make this cake suit your tastes.  Also, you can definitely omit the brown rice flour if you don’t have it on hand.  Without it, the cake will have a fudgier, more brownie-like consistency that’s equally delicious.

I’m typically not much of a dessert person (clarification: I don’t make them, but I definitely eat them) but I was inspired to create this recipe because I wanted to serve something special for a my new supper club, Seek.  It’s an underground dining event in Chicago that features a multi-course, whole foods-based vegetarian meal in a secret location.  Last weekend, we held an Anti-Valentine’s Day dinner and I figured what could be a more perfect dessert for jaded, cheeky urbanites than a rich chocolate cake for one?  Check photos from Seek’s Anti-Valentine’s Day dinner here.  The dinner and recipe were also featured this week in the wellness newsletter Vital Juice!

Come on, Treat Yo’ Self 2012.

Black Lava Cakes
makes 4 small cakes

1 tsp. chia seeds
3 tsp. water
1 4-oz. bar of dark chocolate (70 – 80% cacao), chopped into rough 1/2″ pieces
1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 c. maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. cinnamon (I recommend Vietnamese Cinnamon: it’s stronger and spicier)
pinch of cayenne
1/4 heaping tsp. fine grind sea salt
1/3 c. cocoa powder
1/4 c. brown rice flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
4 3-oz. ramekins
coconut oil and extra brown rice flour for prepping ramekins

Optional garnishes:
scoop of coconut-based vanilla ice cream
hiwa kai black lava sea salt (or black sesame seeds or coarse sea salt)
blackberries

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Mix chia seeds and water in a small bowl and let sit for five minutes.

3. Meanwhile, set aside four pieces of the chopped chocolate. Put the rest in a metal or glass bowl and place over a pot of simmering water to melt. Set aside.

4. In the food processor, combine black beans, maple syrup, vanilla, lemon juice, cinnamon, cayenne, fine sea salt, melted chocolate, cocoa powder and chia mixture. Process until smooth. Let sit five minutes in the food processor.

5. Oil the ramekins with coconut oil and dust with brown rice flour. This is an optional step if you want to unmold the ramekins after baking.

6. Add the 1/4 c. brown rice flour and baking powder to the processor and pulse to fully combine. Fill each ramekin with the mixture about 1/2 – 3/4 full. Push a piece of the reserved chopped chocolate into the center of each. Bake at 350 for 20 – 30 minutes. Let cool a few minutes before serving. Top with scoop of ice cream, hiwa kai sea salt and blackberries.

Cantaloupe Food-Processor Sorbet

Cantaloupe food-processor sorbet

When I’m at the market and I see a fruit or vegetable I haven’t tried before, I’m compelled to buy it.  Basically, I’m the culinary version of an early adopter of technology, just think of, say, opo squash as my iPad.  I tried it first, and soon I’ll be trying to convince you all why you can’t live without it.  However, this approach is occasionally ill-advised.  Like yesterday, when I met the Microsoft Bob of the produce section: the muskmelon.

I should have known from its name.  I mean, you there, reading at home, are already disgusted by the muskmelon and you haven’t even seen it.  Nevertheless, I was intrigued by its unwieldy appearance that looked like what you would get if you bred a cantaloupe with an ogre.  After giving it a brief sniff to rule out the presence of its promised “musk,” I tossed it into my cart, hauled it home and sliced it open.

Ighhh.  The flesh looked like a cantaloupe’s, but while it had all of that cantaloupe-y flavor, it had none of the sweetness.  I dotted around my kitchen looking for anything to help remedy my mistaken purchase.  Inspired by a refreshing cantaloupe Italian ice that I’d recently had at Mario’s, I decided on a muskmelon sorbet, adding lemon, lime and mint to brighten it up.  I don’t normally like to use white sugar, but this was a muskmelon emergency.

So last night, as I let my muskmelon experiment chill in the freezer, I headed off with my friend Jess to mingle with conscious foodies at a book launch party for Fair Food, a book that outlines a plan for a better, sustainable food system in this country.  My frozen dessert sensors must have been on, because I fortuitously met Alison Bower, owner of Ruth and Phils Gourmet Ice Cream.   And just like when someone has a growing rash, runs into a doctor in public and makes her take a look at it right then and there, I immediately gushed to Alison my muskmelon/sorbet fiasco.  Alison offered a suggestion for my sorbet in case it came out less than ideal, “You can always turn it into a blended cocktail.”  WHAT.  No wonder she’s a pro.

When I gave my sorbet the final buzz in the food-processor this morning and gave it a taste, it was lovely: smooth and melon-y, with a slight kick from the tart citrus.  Yet it did just seem to be screaming for a shot of tequila on top.  Thanks Alison.  Good thing I made a quart of it and can enjoy it both ways.

The neat thing about this sorbet is that you don’t need an ice cream maker to make it, you just blend the ingredients, freeze them and then blend them one more time before serving.  The texture is slightly icier than store-bought sorbet, but that makes it light and cooling, and of course you don’t have added dairy, eggs or vegan fats to make it heavy like ice cream.  By pureeing the whole melon, rather than using a fruit juice, all the fiber and nutrients like beta-carotene and potassium are preserved.  This particular muskmelon desperately needed some sweetness, but if your cantaloupe is sweet, you could forgo the sugar or add a few teaspoons of agave for a more natural option.  If you are brave (read: obstinate), try this with a muskmelon; otherwise, give it a try with a more reliable member of the muskmelon family: the cantaloupe.

Cantaloupe food processor sorbet
Cantaloupe Food-Processor Sorbet
Makes about 1 quart

5 cups of cubed cantaloupe or muskmelon, rind and seeds removed (from 1 small melon)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 sprig mint
juice from 2 limes
juice from 1 lemon
pinch of salt

1. In a small pot, heat the sugar, water and mint, until the sugar just dissolves. Set aside to cool. Then discard the mint sprig.

2. In a food processor or blender, puree the melon, sugar water, lime juice, lemon juice and salt until very smooth. Pour this into a glass baking dish and put in the freezer for at least 4 hours or until frozen.  Stir occasionally; it will make the final step much easier.

3. Take the baking dish out of the freezer and let it sit on the counter for at least 5 minutes.  Using a spoon or a knife, break up the frozen mixture and put it into a food processor.  Pulse to break up the ice crystals, then puree until smooth and velvety.  Scoop and serve directly from the food processor.  Store any extra in a container in the freezer and just let it sit for a few minutes on the counter before scooping.