I have a friend who is allergic to quite a few things, with nuts and eggs being at the top of the list. She’s always terribly apologetic about this and tells me not to cook for her (fat chance), which drives me nuts (tee hee!), because she’s also extremely awesome – intelligent, creative and kind, and clearly deserving of delicious food. And, actually, I don’t find nuts and eggs all that difficult to work around most of the time
Of course, it does become a trifle more challenging when I’m experimenting with raw foods, because raw food recipes have nuts in everything, replacing flour, biscuits, and even dairy. Which, actually, is fascinating, and it’s entirely possible that I just accidentally went online and ordered a whole book of raw food desserts, but that’s beside the point. Anyway, I’m not the world’s greatest nut fan (though there are those who would say I am more than a little bit nutty), but I am most definitely fond of things chocolatey, which brings me to a favourite new discovery of mine: cacao beans!
Cacao beans are basically proto-chocolate. They are the primeval fluid from which chocolate, bubbling, evolves. OK, this may not be entirely true. I’ve been cooking non-stop for the last 8 hours, and am possibly a little silly. But they certainly are the things which, after a certain amount of processing which I knew once but have temporarily forgotten, get turned into things like cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and of course CHOCOLATE.
Cacao beans also behave pretty much exactly like nuts for culinary purposes, with the useful exception being that they don’t give people like my friend anaphylaxis (which was never my favourite nutty property anyway).
You do see where I’m going with this, don’t you? The lovely Hannah over at Wayfaring Chocolate keeps creating all these lovely raw truffle / cookie recipes which are really irresistible in this weather. I looked at the ones made of dates and dried cherries and cashews and thought, I wonder what would happen if I used cacao beans instead of the cashews?
It turns out that what happens is I get very, very tired of shelling cacao beans, and then wish I’d shelled a lot more, because these little sweetmeats are amazing – dark and chocolatey and neither too sweet nor too bitter, with a definite cherry kick to them. You can’t taste the dates – they are basically acting as sweetener and glue – and you don’t really taste the Stealth Oats, hanging out in there, making you healthy when you aren’t looking. I can’t express how delicious these are, and I’d never had known this if my friend wasn’t allergic to nuts...
(And before I get on to the recipe, I feel I should reiterate that this really is Hannah’s recipe – I changed one ingredient, and increased the quantities slightly, but that really was all I did.)
Your Shopping List75 g cacao beans, or 70g cacao nibs if you don’t want to spend fifteen minutes shelling beans 50 g rolled oats 100 g mejdool dates 100 g dried sour cherries
Now what will you do with it?
First, shell your cacao beans. I do this by soaking them in hot water for a few minutes until they swell and I can get a sharp knife under the skin and peel it off. Some you can get off with your fingernails, but others will fight you to the last cacao nib, and if you are me, you will probably have several near-misses with the knife. Don’t worry, it’s worth it!
Stone the dates. No, don’t throw stones at them, that isn’t nice. Don’t get them high, either. That may or may not be nice, but it’s certainly not legal, and I’m fairly sure they can’t consent to that sort of thing anyway, which is definitely not nice. What I’m actually suggesting you do with these dates is remove the stones from them. It’s possible that the dates don’t think that is very nice either, but if we keep anthropomorphising the dates we are never going to get anywhere with this recipe so we’re going to stop now.
So much verbiage for a recipe which really is only two sentences long.
Put dates, cacao beans, dried cherries and oats in the food processor and process until they go from being finely chopped objects into a big cohesive ball that is careening around the food processor in a somewhat alarming fashion and looking as though it could escape at any moment. Stop the food processor, get out the giant truffle ball, and pinch off bits the size of medium-sized marbles and roll them into balls. Refrigerate or eat at once. I recommend the latter.
This recipe is vegan, low-GI and nut-free, but what is really important is that it is unbelievably good and I now want to try it with every kind of dried berry known to man. And then with dried apricots, dried pears, dried apples, and so forth. I am so very, very taken with this cacao+dried fruit truffle concept that you wouldn’t believe it.
You could make this recipe gluten-free by replacing the oats with cashews or rolled quinoa if you could find it. Then it would be high protein as well, and practically a dietary requirement! I do think you could use this as a template for just about any combination of fruit, nuts or cacao you like – just keep the quantities fairly standard. Actually, I’ve been doing just that, ruthlessly adapting Hannah’s truffle recipes to suit my own ends. So far, I am finding that there’s nothing wrong with any combination I’ve tried that can’t be fixed with a bit of brandy, marsala, kirsch or cointreau, but then, I am a bit of a lush when it comes to cooking. You do need to think about keeping similar proportions of dry and sticky ingredients, and if your mixture isn’t sticky enough and you aren’t the sort of person who likes adding alcohol to everything, you could use agave nectar or honey if it needs to be sweeter, or orange, apple, or any other suitable juice if you don’t want too much of a sugar kick.