New Year’s Guide to Legumes (including Chocolate Cake!)

‘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:

chocolate bean cake, great gluten-free cake recipes, dairy-free cake recipe, cake using beans, using beans and legumes in baking, Christian parenting, feminist parenting

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.
5 eggs
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:

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!

easy dal recipe, cooking with lentils, cooking with split peas, vegetarian recipes

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.

Optional garnish

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.

Spice mix

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?

easy legume recipes, easy dal recipe, easy moroccan vegetarian tagine, Christian parenting, feminist parenting, black eyed beans recipe

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.

And do check out the fairly busy Sacraparental Facebook page, and my Pinterest page (particularly for the domestic genius wannabe strand of things!). 

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44 comments on “New Year’s Guide to Legumes (including Chocolate Cake!)”

  1. Frank Reply

    I’ve just discovered kombu! It’s a type of seaweed from japan, and if you cook legumes slowly with a piece of kombu, it helps with digesting them. I did a test batch of chickpeas and can report the ones cooked with kombu were a lot less musical!

  2. angela humphrey Reply

    I can barely sleep for how amazing that cake is – and the particular problem of how did anyone think to do that?! I was just astounded that it even LOOKED like a cake. Keep it up T., I will never doubt again.
    Keen to try making it sometime too.

  3. Georgie Rynhart Reply

    I’ve been learning to cook vegetarian for our house guest, while trying to satisfy the rest of the family – both a steep learning curve for me and good for all of us! One meal that has universal appeal to both the little kids and the rest of us is bolgnaise made with red lentils instead of mince: diced onion and garlic, saute with a little oil, throw in a couple of cans of tomatoes, lashings of basil, a cup of red lentils, some water (not sure how much, I eyeball it and add more if needed), salt and pepper (and a little soy sauce if you like), simmer till mushy. Delish! Swapping out the mince for brown lentils when making lasagne is also good.

    And I’m so gonna make that cake too 🙂

  4. not a wild hera Reply

    A little update: I think the original recipe comes from here:
    judging by the photos and dates!

    Instead of putting everything in a blender, though, there are 18 steps to making the cake, so I think Mads has done us all a huge favour in simplifying the method!

    I bragged about the cake all morning at a compost-party (really) and everyone seemed to enjoy it (they couldn’t graciously seem anything else, but I’m going with it being genuine 🙂 ).

  5. Daina Reply

    I am going to give this a go today as my stepfather is coeliac and I have other friends who have various intolerances. Going to try a tin of cannellini beans as I’m not quite brave enough to try something more highly flavoured. I bought some coconut oil to try since so many people seem to be raving about that at the moment, and might try that too – keep an eye out for the update…

    • Daina Reply

      The update: made with a tin of cannellini beans (since I know they are bland in taste and texture), coconut oil, raw sugar, half vanilla & orange essence (since I ran out) and orange juice instead of water to continue the jaffa theme. Mixture was much more liquid than I am used to but cooked up fine and quicker than I expected to give a very moist cake. I really liked it (the slight citrus flavour was good and lightened it a bit I think). Kids couldn’t really tell the difference and I love that it had more protein in it than a white flour cake would have. Hubby summed it up “this is as good a dairy and gluten free cake as you could get”. Might be a bit too moist for lunchboxes (although I will try muffin sized as I think that might help) but would be a brilliant after-school snack. Love that it is cheap compared to the expensive gluten-free flours you can buy, no texture issues, good flavour. I want to try it with chickpeas from scratch as that would make it way cheaper than anything tinned.

      • not a wild hera Reply

        Brilliant! Thanks for the report, Daina!

        I like the orange idea – I think the cake def needs some more flavour, so I’ll try that next time I reckon.

        Anyone else got a report?

        • Frank Reply

          I made it! I used 3/4 c glucose, some squirts of stevia and 3/4 c cocoa to replace the volume of sugar. It was nice and chocolatey! I also missed the water as I didn’t think a tablespoon would make much difference. Got rave reviews from the whanau

          • not a wild hera

            Oh great! Yes, I agree about the water, glad to know you tried it without. I figured the amount of water on the rinsed beans must be about the same as the 1T in the recipe!

      • Daina Reply

        Tried with coconut oil, vanilla essence and a little coconut essence. Yummy! Also cooked in muffin trays for 10 minutes and definitely easier for little hands as there is a better ratio of solid outside to soft inside. Wasn’t organized enough to soak some chickpeas yesterday so that experiment will have to be next time.

        • drdaina Reply

          Haven’t had a chance (i.e. been organized enough ahead of time) to try chickpeas from scratch yet but did have a brainwave part-way through today and added desiccated coconut. In my mind it improved them by reducing the stickiness. I would say 1 cup of coconut in the full recipe (I just stirred in a little to the last couple of muffin-sized ones but I would estimate 1 cup in the full recipe).

  6. Alex Reply

    So, after several days of feeling sceptical, my curiosity has got the better of me… My attempt is in the oven. I followed Daina’s citrus lead and went with orange extract (had some left over from Christmas cooking). I don’t own a food processor or any machine large enough to just bung it all in together, so I used my stick blender to blitz the beans with half the oil, and then added that to the rest of the ingredients that I mixed using my hand beater. Fingers crossed that was sufficient to eliminate lumps. It is a very liquidy mix, isn’t it? I’ll let you know how the taste test goes.

    • Alex Reply

      Thumbs up from everyone here, too – orange was definitely the dominant flavour, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I could still see specks of beans as I took the cakes out of the tins (they did sink back a lot, but didn’t stick) but nobody could notice them while eating, and my husband – a connoisseur of chocolate cakes – was more than happy with the finished product.

        • Alex Reply

          I tried it again at the weekend using some almond essence in the cake and honey-flavoured buttercream on top and in the middle. In my mind it was going to taste like a toblerone in cake form… it didn’t, quite, but it still tasted good and disappeared quickly. I think next time (I’m sure there’ll be a next time!) I might try a more natural means of injecting flavour – I found the almond and orange essences a little too overtly artificial, if you know what I mean…

          • not a wild hera

            I’m LOVING hearing all these updates!

            Yeah, I know what you mean about ‘essences’.
            I take it you have two identical cake tins? Must get a set myself!

          • Alex

            Yes: I have two sets of sandwich tins in different sizes – my standard ones (c. 7inch in diameter) get used most often; my monster ones (c. 9inch) generally only get used for Big Birthday Cakes!

  7. Pippa Reply

    This sounds good, I might give it a go for you. A challenge for you though Thalia, I have a friend who is currently dairy, wheat and egg free for her daughter’s allergies… Any choc cake recipes to suit her?!

    • Frank Reply

      If you google gluten free depression cake you will find heaps of good chocolate cakes! Most GF flour mixes can be used to replace wheat flour in cakes. Dairy of course you can use rice/almond/soy milk and dairy free spread or oil. Eggs are the hard one. If it’s just a couple of eggs, then you can use egg replacer, or some recipes have banana instead.
      But if you want an AMAZING raw cheesecake that is free of all of those things, try this one:

      • Frank Reply

        I asked on an allergy group and got this one:
        Not healthy but for a long time this was my go to cake . Makes a very large cake

        Frans chocolate cake
        3 cups of Gf flour ( I used healtheries baking mix
        2 tsp baking powder
        2 tsp baking soda
        2 cups sugar
        2/3 cups cocoa
        1 tsp salt
        2 tsp vanilla
        2/3 cup of oil
        2 tsp vinegar
        2 cups of water

        Combine ingredients (sift dry first) then bake at 180 degrees for just over an hour or until cooked.

        Hope it helps!

        • Pippa Reply

          Ooo thanks, might have an experiment with that. I will also check out the cheesecake too.

  8. angela humphrey Reply

    i. This is great! So many people have made it, I am so behind!
    ii. You should write a food blog Thalia .
    iii. AWESOME to have an opportunity to say you were at a compost party.

    • not a wild hera Reply

      i. So cool, eh? Unlike you to be behind on baking!
      ii. I think I’ve now written down ALL my food wisdom, so it would be a short blog. Can I just do a couple of posts each January and read YOUR food blog, lovely A? 🙂
      iii. I know!

  9. Miriam Reply

    Finally got around to making this today – big double batch with beans cooked from dried that needed to be used pronto. Added a tsp of cayenne pepper to the double batch to go for a chilli chocolate flavour, which was delicious but perhaps a tad too much on the spicy end of the spectrum – think a 1/4 tsp in a usual batch would be perfect. Was surprised at just how moist the cake was and how quickly it cooked. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Daina Reply

    A big tick for using dried chickpeas (soaked & cooked first) to cheapen it up further.

    Also I stumbled across this recipe for gluten-free chocolate chip cookies made with chickpeas and made it at the same time – delicious straight from the oven. I’m not that flash so I substituted peanut butter for almond butter and golden syrup for maple syrup but they were yummy! Will be interesting to see what they are like tomorrow (if any survive that long). Made about 16 which ordinarily wouldn’t last long in our house anyway, so maybe their keeping properties are irrelevant.

      • drdaina Reply

        Update – they didn’t keep well. Amazing straight out of the oven but only make as many as you want to eat immediately 🙂 Or maybe they would be OK reheated the next day? Wouldn’t want to put them in lunch boxes as is though.

        • not a wild hera Reply

          Hold on, are you talking about the chickpea cookies again? I have been enjoying them over a few days – though I agree they’re much better straight away – but I also prefer a cakey biscuit to a crunchy one, just personally, so probably have a higher tolerance for the softness of these. Usually more sugar, more fat, more cooking time = crunchier, better-keeping cookie, so could be worth experimenting for those who like the chickpea idea?

          • drdaina

            Yes the cookies. Eating a whole batch fresh for afternoon tea wouldn’t be an issue here (and I wouldn’t feel bad about it given the ingredient list), but as it is I wouldn’t double the recipe to save some for lunch boxes. I agree that a bit of playing around with the recipe might help with that but just haven’t had a chance yet, I really don’t think I could have cooked them any longer so it would have to be a bit of playing with ingredients – using a base of chickpeas is always going to incorporate a certain amount of moisture though.

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