‘Stunning!’ said Angela, after her first bite, eyebrows to the ceiling. I think she was as much stunned by its mere existence – a cake with no flour at all, and instead, a can of beans – as by the pleasing form it took.
It is indeed the most surprising thing: a moist, rich, soft chocolate cake you can feed to just about anybody: gluten-free, dairy-free, grain-free, fructose-free and yet delicious.
It’s not the very best chocolate cake you can make. It has a fairly ordinary flavour, but the texture is just gorgeous. Light, moist and soft. Not at all dry, which is the worst thing in a chocolate cake, in my opinion.
You could dress it up with ganache, berries, ice cream, whatever you like, and it would become the star of your evening (or breakfast…) If you’d like to be able to cater for friends with dietary restrictions, it’s a brilliant one to add to your file.
It’s also extremely easy to make: put all ingredients in a blender, then pour into a cake tin. Seriously.
It’s full of eggs and beans (yes, really), which makes it great as a high-protein energy snack for the toddler in our house (my boy is too busy to eat, a lot of the time, so I like getting more food into him, and he’s a definite fan of this cake).
Kathy sent me the original recipe from Mad Food, and I have tweaked it slightly so a mixture of Mads’ and my versions are below:
Surprising Chocolate Bean Cake
1 1/2 cup cooked beans (canned is fine). Any kind seems fine. Mads uses kidney beans, I used one can of four-bean mix the first time, and a can of kidney beans the second time, both delicious. Kidney beans need much longer in the mixer.
1 tablespoon vanilla (a hefty slug because it needs the flavour – or you could substitute some other flavour profile)
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons canola or other neutral-tasting oil (I used rice bran oil)
1 cup sugar or 1 1/4 cup glucose (or more) or equivalent other sweetener
1/2 cup fairtrade cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder (usually contains wheat and therefore gluten, but gluten-free versions are available, so choose accordingly)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon water
Any optional accompaniments – icing, ganache, icing sugar, berries, yoghurt, ice cream… mmm…
Update: Read the comments for lots of great variations people have been trying!
Preheat oven to 180C (350F).
Prepare a cake tin for a cake that will stick to the sides given half a chance. Mads says: ‘I use a silicone mould that I lightly spray with canola oil and dust with cocoa powder. This cake is very moist and rich, getting it out of a tin, even a silicone one, takes good tin prep so whatever tin you use, oil and dust it well!’ I lined mine with baking paper.
Rinse the beans (if canned), drain well, then place all ingredients into a food processor until smooth.
Pour the mix into the cake tin and pop it in the oven for somewhere between 25 and 40 minutes, depending on your oven. It’s pretty easy to tell when it’s ready – it needs to stop wobbling, and for a prodding skewer or knife to come out clean.
Leave it to cool for a good while before you carefully turn it out.
It tends to rise dramatically, a guess a bit like a soufflé, and then settle back when it comes out of the oven, so it’s flat – which is good for decorating. One day I’ll make two and sandwich them with something delicious
Now that I’ve sucked you in with ninja beans (hiding sneakily in cake), let’s talk about dinner, ok?
Continuing on from our Guide to Gorgeous New Grains, here are some ideas for incorporating more legumes into our weekly menus.
Eating lots of legumes is a brilliant plan if you want to:
- save cash (whether canned or dried, beans are way cheaper than meat)
- reduce your environmental footprint
- have more variety in your weekly menu
- create yummy dishes from around the world, maybe even incorporating these meals into a wider investigation of other cultures or countries, especially if you have kids in your house
- cater easily for vegetarian or vegan friends
- become vegetarian or vegan yourself
When I first lived with vegetarians, I started vegetarian cookery by putting feta in everything. Delicious! But not actually the best way of getting your protein, it turns out.
So, inspired by living with at the Kilpatrick ranch, I tackled legumes. The first things I mastered – super easy! – were dal with red lentils, and African beans using black eyed beans. They’re a great place to start because neither need to be soaked, even if you’re starting with (extremely thrifty) dried beans. So here ya go!
Super Easy Dal
1 teaspoon each: fenugreek, cumin seeds, coriander seeds
1 teaspoon each ground cardamom, ground turmeric
oil for frying
fresh chili (optional)
a few cloves of garlic, to taste
2 onions, diced
250g (ish) yellow or red lentils (or ‘split peas’)
1/3 cup rice
1-1.25 litres (4-5 cups) vegetable stock
can of chopped tomatoes (optional)
Optional: a few cups of any chopped vegetables to make it a full meal in one pot.
fresh coriander (cilantro)
juice of a couple of limes
Toast the first three spices in a dry frying pan until fragrant, then grind or chop.
Fry the garlic and onions in all the spices and the oil.
Add lentils, rice, stock and optional tomatoes, simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add optional chopped vegetables as appropriate – early enough to cook so everything’s ready at the end of 40 minutes.
It’s ready when the liquid is all absorbed, the veges are cooked and the lentils are mushy.
You can change it up by changing the vegetables or changing the spice mix – just look up any other curry recipe for a different mix.
Garnish with coriander and lime juice, or anything you like (yoghurt for the dairy-eaters!)
‘African beans’ is a recipe originally from Kiwi Alison Holst, so I won’t swear to it being very African, but I’ve seen similar flavour combinations in a New Internationalist cookbook I have, so perhaps it’s not too Kiwified. This comes via Lois:
Lois’ African Beans
1½ cup dried black-eyed beans or adzuki beans (or whatever you like, but these are particularly good and nutty-tasting)
2 chopped onions
3-5 tablespoons tomato paste (or a can of chopped tomatoes – but then you will need to reduce the sauce a bit)
½ can (or so) coconut cream
2 teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoon (or more or less) chilli powder
1-2 teaspoons cumin
2t honey, maple syrup or other sweetener
Cook beans for 30-45 minutes in plenty of water.
Sauté onions in a little oil until soft.
Add all the rest of the ingredients, heat through and reduce if too watery.
Drain cooked beans and mix with sauce.
Serve with rice (or whatever!).
Both of these freeze well, so after your first go, quadruple the recipe and freeze lots for non-cooking nights.
Now, the next step is to save even more money by buying dried beans in bulk and soaking them (usually just overnight) yourself. But even without that – I go in fits and starts – you’ll feel particularly brilliant and amazing when you get into using canned beans and dried ones that don’t need soaking (red and yellow lentils/split peas, black-eyed beans, adzuki beans, among others).
Whether you use canned or dried, chickpeas are a gateway legume for skeptical diners, and everyone I know loves Moroccan flavours, so get this in you. The spice list might look daunting at first but once you’ve done it once you’ll be sweet.
Moroccan Vegetable and Chickpea Tagine
oil for frying
2 onions, diced
a few cloves of garlic, chopped or minced
a knob of ginger, chopped
4 kumara (sweet potato) or pumpkin (squash) or other root vegetable, diced
2 carrots, diced or sliced
1 cup dates, chopped, or a mixture of chopped dates and dried apricots
1 cup or more of vege stock, depending on how thick you want your sauce, and whether the mixture sticks when cooking.
Optional can of diced tomatoes
2-3 cups cooked chickpeas (or 2 cans)
Optional fresh green herbs for garnish – coriander is great.
This is an easy version of Ras al Hanout – feel free to buy a mix or do a more elaborate version if you like)
2 teaspoons each ground cumin, coriander, paprika, ginger and cinnamon (I don’t always add ginger if I’m using fresh as well – suit yourself)
1 teaspoon each ground white pepper and turmeric
1/4 teaspoon each ground chilli and nutmeg
This spice mix will probably do for two batches if you’re just cooking for 4 people at once. You can do a simpler version of cumin, coriander, ginger, cinnamon, but the full version is well worth the faffing around.
Chop 3 kumara into large forkful-sized chunks and the other kumara into much finer dice (if you want them to smoosh into a thick sauce – all big if not).
Chop the carrots into small dice or slices so they’re a different size from the kumara (just for prettiness)
Sauté the onions, garlic and ginger in a large pot. (You can do this on the stovetop and then finish the cooking in the oven if you have a pot that does both, or just do the whole thing on the stovetop if not.)
Add the chopped kumara and carrot, and diced dates (and/or other dried fruit) and mix in, sauté for another few minutes.
Add the dry spices, mix in, then add stock (and optional tomatoes), mix in and bring to a lively simmer for a minute, then turn down the heat, put a lid on, and either put in the oven at 180C (350F) for an hour (or until the veges are cooked), or keep on a very low simmer on the stovetop with the lid on.
Add the cooked chickpeas for the last ten minutes of cooking to heat through.
A proper tagine has a reduced, sticky sauce, and is cooked in a specially shaped dish (also a ‘tagine’), but as I don’t have one, I usually prefer to go for a stew consistency, with the onions and finely diced veges and fruit smooshing into a thick sauce around the larger pieces.
If you prefer the reduced sauce, don’t dice the kumara finely, don’t use so much liquid, and remove the lid of the pot for the last 10 or 20 minutes of cooking.
Best served on rice with green veges on the side. Enjoy!
Those are my gateway legume recipes, the first ones I mastered for each of those ingredients. I’m keen to hear your recipes and whether you’ve always known how to cook with beans or whether you’ve learnt along the way.
What are your tips and tricks?
I really didn’t intend this year’s New Year’s Guides to be so dominated by food, but I’m not hearing any complaints You may like to check out the matching guides to Gorgeous New Grains and to Smoothies. Or the entirely different guides to Supporting New Dads or Democracy.