Chickpea dippers

Christmas is a time for buffet lunches and snacking, or at least that’s what seems to happen. My family seem to get through a lot of breadsticks at this time of year. But for sensitive eaters, that may not be such a good thing. Day 9 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent calendar is a great alternative to bread sticks, perfect for dipping in hummus, flavoursome dips or just nibbling by themselves.

Rather oddly, breadsticks are one of the things I really miss. Once I discovered my sensitivity to yeast, anything bread-related was out the question. Not only that, but many contain some form of dairy so the were doubly banned.

Crudities are obviously the healthiest thing to dip – fresh, crunchy veggies that add flavour and extra nutrients, but sometimes you just want something a little more firm, yet stodgy. These chickpea dippers hit the spot.

Chickpea flour is one of those wonder ingredients that makes life eating a plant-based diet so much easier. It’s also gluten-free, so perfect if you have a gluten intolerance. Apart from being packed full of plant-based protein, fibre and a whole host of nutrients, it has a useful stickiness when combined with water. In this case, it helps to create a soft dough with very little effort. But be warned – add too much and it ends up a sticky nightmare and you have to start again. So approach with great care.

Once baked, these dippers have a lovely savoury flavour; the sesame seeds on the top add an extra level of flavour. If you are sensitive to sesame, you don’t have to miss out. Use a neutral nut butter like cashew or even some olive oil. 

This recipe makes a modest 14-16 dippers. If you are catering for larger numbers, then just double or even quadruple the amounts and bake in batches. And add extra herbs and spices if you want to mix the flavour up.

I hope you give these a go. They are rather delicious and seriously moreish. Let me know how you get on.

Chickpea dippers (makes 14-16)

  • 150g chickpea/gram flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 tablespoons fresh coriander/parsley (optional)
  • 4-5 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Sift the chickpea flour and baking powder into a bowl and add the salt. Stir together well to combine. Add the tahini and rub in with your finger tips to create a breadcrumb-like texture. Add the fresh finely chopped herbs if you are using.

Add 4 tablespoons of water. Stir in with a spoon at first, then use you hands as it starts to come together to form a stiff dough.Knead for a couple of minutes to makes sure everything is well combined and coming together. If it’s too dry, add a little more water but be very careful. This dough goes from being too dry to too wet very quickly! Leave the dough to rest for 10 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Place a silicon mat or piece of baking paper on the worktop. Sprinkle a little chickpea flour on it, then place the dough in the middle. Sprinkle some more flour on the top, then roll out to a rectangle approx 1 cm thick. 

Transfer the dough to a non-stick baking sheet by turning the silicon mat over the sheet and carefully peeling the mat away. Lightly dampen the dough surface with water and sprinkle the sesame seeds over the top. Mark out 14-16 sticks with a knife then bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until firm and golden. 

Remove from the oven, transfer to a cooking rack and leave to cool completely. Finally, carefully cut the chickpea dippers out following the marked lines and trim the edges. Keep in an air-tight container for up to 5 days.

Raw gingerbread balls

Gingerbread is synonymous with Christmas, but sometimes it’s good to have something a bit different to the norm. So for day 7 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent calendar, I bring you raw gingerbread balls.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m a bit partial to a tasty energy ball. I’ve posted a few different ones over the years including yummy carrot cake balls and last years raw Christmas cake balls. 

Energy balls are great, especially if you have a sweet tooth as they hit the spot with sweetness but are free from shedloads of refined sugar. That’s not to say they’re sugar free, far from it! But the sugar is still bound up with the fibre in the whole foods so they give a slower, more sustained release. Much less stressful on your body and helps to avoid sugar lows.

I always see energy balls as a wonderful benefit of eating a whole-food plant-based diet. The flavours are intense and they’re just so enjoyable. But I know some people find them too much of a faff, or haven’t got the right equipment to make them. If that’s you, then let me introduce you to Charlotte of Frog Hollow Catering. 

I met Charlotte a few years ago through The Mumpreneurs Networking Club (MNC) and she then came along to my Eat Well Live Course. As with many trained chef, she had previously thought that rich, animal-based food was the best way of eating, until she had serious health problems. She discovered the benefits of eating whole, plant food and started to use her skills in a different way. She now has a fabulous business making energy bites and delicious raw cakes. And I mean delicious! 

Charlotte has a range of products you can check out on her website here, but if you want something super special for Christmas, she makes these gorgeous raw chocolate truffles that are dairy-free, vegan and contain no refined sugar, just lots of fabulous nutrients and deliciousness. Last order date before Christmas is 18th December, so don’t delay if you want some. Btw, I’m not on commission here, I just love what Charlotte does!

Right, back to the gingerbread balls. Ginger is an amazing ingredient to include in your cooking, particularly at this time of year with all the colds and viruses going around. It contains an array of phytonutrient compounds that help with all sorts of things including nausea and pain. It can also help support the immune system and reduce inflammation. 

Ginger can be a bit perky on the flavour side of things though; I certainly find it more fiery than other members of my family. One of the benefits of making your own gingerbread balls is that you can get the flavour to your own liking. I’ve set it at a moderate level, but if you prefer more of a ginger hit then feel free to increase the amount of ground ginger.

These balls do contain almonds; if you have to eat nut-free, replace them with sunflower seeds. The flavour will be slightly different, but still works really well. And don’t forget that if you are strictly gluten-free, please use gluten-free oats. 

I’ve coated some of these with sesame seeds; they’re not essential but add even more nutrients and make them slightly less sticky to pick up. Feel free to omit if you so desire.

These are also great fun to make with the kids as they can get their hands in and fully sticky. If you give them a go, let me know how you get on!

Raw gingerbread balls (makes 18 )  

  •  75g dates, stone removed 
  • 50g oats
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
  • 50g raisins
  • 100g almonds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons sesame seeds (optional)                                                   

Soak the dates in hot water for 10 minutes if they are very dry, then drain, retaining the water. Place all the ingredients apart from the sesame seeds into a food processor and blend until combined and sticky. Add a little soaking water if it’s too dry to bind.

Take a heaped teaspoonful of the mix out and roll it into a ball in the palm of your hand. Roll in sesame seeds if using. Repeat the process until all the mix is used up.

These balls will keep in an air-tight container for up to 7 days, or can be frozen. 


Low sugar flapjacks

As a rule, flapjacks are awesome. I’ve loved these super sweet bakes since being at school – my best friend’s mum made delicious flapjacks and she always had a big chunk in her lunchbox that she would kindly share with me. Bliss point was hit every time with that enticing sugar and fat combo (golden syrup and butter!).

These days, flapjacks remain enticing but are rarely suitable for a whole-food plant based way of eating, particular for specific health-related diets like the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis (OMS) programme. A wolf in sheep’s clothing (or the plant equivalent!), traditional flapjacks may appear to be the healthy option (with all those healthy oats) but the high refined sugar and large amount of butter or refined oils means it’s far from good for many people.

I’ve tried a few times to make my own dairy free, lower sugar flapjacks; this one is the best. It’s still super sweet, but the sugar comes in the form of coconut sugar and maple syrup, so less refined but still rich and enticing. I’ve used olive oil for the fat, plus a little ground flaxseed to help the mix stick together (and offer some extra anti-inflammatory omega 3). If you are gluten-free, then it’s easy to substitute gluten-free oats and flour. It’s a wonderful sweet treat, easy to make, and perfect for lunch boxes or after-school snacks.

So next time the need for a flapjack hits you, try this recipe instead for a healthier but still satisfying treat.

Low-sugar flapjacks (makes 9-12 square depending on how big you want them)
120ml olive oil
100g coconut sugar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
180g plain wholemeal/gluten free flour
150 oats/gluten free oats
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
100g raisins

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas mark 4. Line a 20x20cm baking tin with greaseproof paper.

Place the flour, oats, ground flaxseed, baking powder and salt together in a bowl and mix well. In another bowl, add the oil, coconut sugar, maple syrup and vanilla essence. Whisk well to combine. Pour the wet mix into the dry and stir together then add the raisins and stir again. The mix may feel a bit wet and stick together, but don’t panic. Tip the mix into the prepared tin and press down firmly into the bottom and corners, spreading it out equally to get a flat top.

Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes until the top starts to brown. Do not over-bake. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Cut into squares, then leave to cool in the tin. Once completely cool, tip out onto a board and finish cutting into squares. Then try not to eat them all at once!