For a lot of people who are not familiar with certain “restricted” styles of diet (compared to their own) it must seem a little strange that some of us choose to eat a in a “different” way. Many who choose to eat differently do so because certain foods cause hard-to-handle allergies and their health demand it.
My family and I are vegetarian (we occasionally eat egg) because we were brought up that way according to religion and tradition, and have chosen to continue that way. Vegetarianism is no longer a strange concept in most parts of the world, but I still do get questions about being vegetarian even from fellow Indians who don’t seem to be able to grasp that I can eat and be happy without ever experiencing meat or fish!
When I first started baking, I used to try to avoid using eggs if I could, and I still do this a lot. If you bake you would know that eggs are a big part of many bakes and substituting for them wasn’t easy. It took me some time, a lot of patience, going back to my high school science reading and quite some experimenting in the kitchen (which weren’t always a success) before I managed to get quite good at baking without eggs.
So I always admire cooks / bakers out there who are vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, and on other restricted diets and come up with baking recipes especially which cater to their special dietary requirements and are good to eat. If you have ever tried “alternative” baking you will know that it is not only difficult to reproduce the texture of regular bakes but also have them taste as good.
There are a few bakers who have managed to do this well and blog about it too. Ricki Helleris one such baker and her blog (you might remember it as Diet Dessert and Dogs) reflects this in her collection of recipes.
Sellers Publishing recently sent me a copy of her latest cookbook “Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free: Allergy friendly vegan desserts” and this was one more chance for me to explore an “alternative” style of cooking/ baking dessert. Ricki Heller’sbook is all about showing you that you don’t have do without dessert just because you are trying to stay within a special diet or eating healthy.
All the 100 recipes in Ricki Heller’s book (like those on her blog) are vegan and stay true to her own attempts cook with natural ingredients and avoid processed foods, and also be gluten-free, refined sugar free, and anti-candida. This means these desserts have a lower glycemic index than most “regular” ones and are healthier too. Many of the recipes in this book are also grain-free, soy-free, corn-free and nut-free, or offer options to make them so if they aren’t.
First off, the book has a lovely layout with one recipe per page, well laid out and lots of beautiful photographs. Another plus is that many recipes in her book are, and I quote her, “ healthier versions of traditional favourites” and the ingredients used in them are available in most health food stores [in the U.S] and do not include what Ricki Heller calls “out there recipes like seaweed cookies, miso frosting, or maitake mushroom pudding”!
Ricki Heller** starts her book by telling us why, when and how she became vegan and eventually gluten-free as well. Then she talks about how one can start baking gluten-free, the various flours and other ingredients that can be used in gluten-free baking and how they work. She also provides a recipe for her own All-Purpose Gluten-free Flour Mix which she uses in all her bakes, although she does say other packaged Gluten-free Flour Mixes work just as well.
She also provides a list of natural sweeteners, binders, natural egg substitutes, non-diary alternatives, choices of fats to use in bakes and tips on making your vegetable, fruit purées and nut butters, grinding flours at home and how to best store naturally sweet and gluten-free bakes.
The book also has a section on bake ware and useful tools to have in your kitchen. All the recipes have ingredient amounts given in cup measures as well as in weight or volume measure. This makes me very happy as I’m a “cup measure” girl and my kitchen scales rarely get used.
The recipes are divided under Breakfast Bakes (and toppings for pancakes and waffles); Cookies, Squares Bars; Cakes, Cupcakes, Toppings Frostings; Cheesecakes, Pies, Tarts Puddings; Raw No-Bake Treats.
The recipes in the book include Gingered Apple Muffins, Lemon-Blueberry Scones, Grain-free Coconut Flour Biscuits, Sunshine Breakfast Loaf, Butterscotch Chocolate Chip Cookies, Brownies Blondies, Apple Cake, Cinnamon Crumb Coffee Cake, Vanilla Cupcakes (these are on the cover of the book, Recipes for Frostings, Ricki Heller’s Mother’s Cheesecake, Chocolate Satin Tart, Marbled Halvah, and Raw Frosted Lemon-Poppy Seed Squares.
Though the book is about eating gluten-free and making dessert with natural sweeteners, please don’t think it’s a book only for people with special diet needs. It’s for anyone who might want to eat a healthier dessert and who is open minded and willing to try something that’s different.
About the Author:
Ricki Heller is a vegan and a registered holistic nutritionist who cooks with only whole food and natural ingredients as can be seen on her blog which has over 600 gluten-free, allergy-friendly and sugar-free recipes.
She is also the author of the best-selling cookbook “Sweet Freedom” and an associate editor for Simply Gluten-Free Magazine. She has written articles for Clean Eating, Living Without, VegNews and other publications. Ricki Heller lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and two dogs.
I must say that I had a bit of difficulty initially trying to pick recipes to try out. This is because I live in a country where a lot of the ingredients Ricki Heller uses in her book, just aren’t available.
When they are available, they’re imported and extremely expensive. Carob chips/ flour, Chia seeds, Coconut butter, Coconut flour, Coconut nectar, Coconut sugar, Garfava flour, Whole Psyllium husk, Stevia liquid, Xanthan gum, Quinoa/ Quinoa flour, Sweet rice flour, Teff flour, Potato starch, Agave nectar, Molasses, Brown rice syrup, Maple syrup, Lucuma powder, etc.
But the good news is that we traditionally use a lot of gluten-free grain and flour in Indian cooking like Amaranth, Buckwheat, Millet, Sorghum, White and Brown rice flours, while oat flour is something you can grind at home from rolled oats. So you can always make your own gluten-free flour blend.
And if you’re really not that bound by diet restrictions like being sugar-free or maybe you’re not vegan but vegetarian you can always use alternatives and adapt these recipes to suit your style of cooking/ eating to make healthier desserts.
This is what I did when I chose to make Ricki Heller’s Banana Oats Bars. With this recipe, I couldn’t find some of the ingredients and substituted others while keeping this reci
pe gluten-free and naturally sweet.
So I substituted the stevia liquid and coconut sugar with powdered jaggery, using 1/2 cup of powdered jaggery which was just right.
I made my own almond butter by grinding raw almonds into a paste, and also ground rolled oats into a fine powder to make my own oat flour. I also used fresh grated coconut in place of unsweetened shredded coconut.
Given that fresh coconut contains a bit of moisture, it would probably be a good idea to reduce the liquid in the given recipe (the soymilk/ almond milk) by just a little for firmer bars.
Refrigerating these Banana Oat Bars after they cool down is a good idea (you can freeze them too) as they keep longer and become firmer.
There is much discussion about whether oats is gluten-free or not, but the verdict is that it is indeed gluten-free provided the oats has not been cross contaminated with gluten during processing. So if you cannot tolerate gluten then make sure that the oats you use is certified as being free from gluten.
One also needs to keep in mind that there are some people who cannot tolerate even gluten-free oats, so then this recipe would not be the one for them.
Ricki Heller describes these Banana Oat Bars as “almost like a homemade granola bar – not too sweet and equally suitable for breakfast, a snack on the go, or dessert. “
(This recipe is reproduced, with permission, from RickiHeller’s Naturally Sweet Gluten-Free.
Naturally Sweet & Gluten-Free : A Review, A Giveaway & Banana Oat Bars (GF, Diary-free, No Butter or Egg)
- 1/2 cup coconut sugar (40 g)
- 20 to 30 drops vanilla stevia pure , plain or liquid , or to tastes
- 1 tbsp flax seeds finely ground (15 ml)
- 1/4 cup vanilla soy almond milk unsweetened plain or or (60 ml)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract pure (5 ml)
- 1 tbsp almond butter natural smooth or sunflower , at room temperature
- 2 bananas medium , very ripe
- 1/3 cup raisins cranberries or dried (optional) (40 g)
- 1 1/2 cups oats old fashioned rolled (not instant or quick cooking) (160 g)
- 1/2 cup coconut unsweetened shredded (40 g)
- 1/4 cup oat flour whole (30 g)
- 1/2 tsp baking powder (2.5 ml)
- 1/8 tsp sea salt fine (0.5 ml)
- Preheat oven to 180C (350F). Line an 8u201d (20 cm) square pan with parchment paper, or spray with nonstick spray.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the coconut sugar, stevia, flax, soymilk, oil, vanilla and almond butter until the sugar is dissolved. Alternatively, powdr the coconut sugar so it will dissolve quickly.)
- Cut the bananas into chunks and add to the bowl. Using a potato masher or large fork, mash the bananas into the mixture, leaving a few little chunks (about the size of peas) here and there. Stir in the raisins, if using. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the oats, shredded coconut, flour, baking powder and salt. Pour the wet mixture over the dry and stir well to combine. It may seem too wet for a bar dough; this is as it should be.
- Scrape the mixture into the pan and smooth the top. Bake for 40-45 minutes, rotating pan about halfway through, until the top is dry and a tester inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool completely before cutting into 12 or 16 bars. May be frozen.