During an English high summer Nadine Abensur takes a stroll down memory lane, and turns the humble brownie into a deliciously healthy treat.
I’m in Richmond upon Thames, meandering through childhood streets, taking it all very easy, I must say, so allow me please to meander my way into this recipe. You know how I like to prattle on. It’s therapeutic.
I don’t suppose London is the obvious choice for a health kick but here I am moments from the river, surrounded by parkland and it feels like holiday paradise to me. I’m here to visit family and friends and to help clear out my mother’s apartment. In fact, much has already gone, most of the kitchen paraphernalia for a start. So writing a recipe for this column poses challenges. No scales, no measuring jug, spoons, cups.
This wouldn’t bother me in the least but it’s you I worry about.
Still, between us, we’ll get there. I’ll improvise, I’ll talk you through, you’ll hazard a guess, follow your instincts. Here is a recipe as easy as these summer days are long. It’s 9.00 pm and the sun is high. I never would have guessed the visceral pull of this place, nor the depth of the space occupied by its people, but year in, year out, the pull is stronger, the old friendships deeper, more poignant, joyous.
Anyway, coming back to the health bit: I’ve resolved to use these weeks to spend more time on the things that usually bookend work – ballet/ballet barre classes almost every day – bliss – there are dance studios everywhere. I’ve even had classes at Ballet Rambert – can you imagine! And I’m walking, walking, walking. All of this calls for a slightly modified approach to eating because, I can tell you, the temptations are nefarious and many. The much discussed collapse of retail is startlingly evident here. Shop after shop (most of my favourite haunts) have moved or closed down. And in their place – and I can hardly believe the extent of it – are huge eateries. I can’t call them restaurants. Acres of large bakeries and patisseries, all with a continental origin – French (of course), Italian or Danish. Now, I have my food foibles and there are a good many things I avoid but I am no zealot when it comes to exclusions of the culinary kind. If the health obsession of Byron Bay can make me more than a little wilful, the excess here is nudging me to a wholesome place I’ve been known to deride.
Hence these “brownies”. I came across them sometime ago, sitting – at the hairdresser’s I think – long enough to get the gist, not long enough to take precise notes, so these are made up and not bad at all, you’ll see.
In the normal scheme of things, I prefer to go cakeless than settle for an ersatz variety but seeing as sweet potatoes are one of my staples, the idea of turning them into pud appealed, so here goes:
4 large sweet potatoes
Jar of crunchy peanut butter
8 tblspns organic cocoa
8 tblspns maple syrup (or more to taste)
1 tspn sea salt
A hanful of chopped toasted walnuts (if you have them)
Cupful of dark chocolate chips (optional)
Take the large sweet potatoes, the pink fleshed variety. Since I can’t weigh them, let me say that they are each about 15 cm long, 5 finger thick wide. Bake them for 35 – 40 minutes at 200 C till the flesh gives way to the touch. Peel off the skins which will come away at the gentlest pull.
Mash the potatoes in a large bowl, till fluffy. Add a whole jar (yup, a whole jar) of crunchy, peanut butter. Mine weighed 340g. Stir through voluptuously. Now add about eight tablespoons of the best, organic cocoa you can lay your hands on. Again, if you’re going to go for chocolate, go for it. Don’t skimp. I’d rather eat a small piece of something that actually does what it sets out to do, then be left hankering, chasing for flavour, satisfaction. Having said that, taste, adjust to your palate. Then pour in the maple syrup – what shall we say? Eight tablespoons? That should do it! Taste and see. You may want less. Or more. Then, because I’m a fashion victim and I doubt that anyone can resist the all rounded appeal of salt and sweet, scrunch in some sea salt.
Now, I didn’t have them but if I had, I’d have added a handful of gently toasted walnuts and – don’t tell anyone – probably a handful of dark chocolate chips too. So do me a favour. Try that for me and let me know how it goes.
Either way, line a deep, flat tray (iPad size, not much bigger) with baking parchment, lightly brushed with oil. Spread the fluffy, nutty, chocalaty mix over and bake for 35 – 40 minutes at 180C. This will have the effect of forming a crust on top, while leaving the insides, soft and moist, characteristics which qualify these for browniedom.
Allow to cool in the tin (although a little warmth is always appealing in a brownie, don’t you think?).
Then if you imagine I’ve gone the whole dairy free, sugar free, grain free hog, think again. I ate mine with a dollop of lactose free yoghurt. But that’s another story.
A word of advice: cut into 16 pieces. That’s all I’m saying.
Lots of love xxx
Nadine Abensur is the owner of Art Piece Gallery in Mullumbimby: artpiecegallery