Chewy tropical squares

I’m quite fond of January, even though I know many people loathe it. The seasonal celebrations may be over, but it’s my birthday this month so there’s still an excuse to party. New Year resolutions have been made, and broken all too quickly, and everyone seems to be on a diet; not me though, as I’ve found eating plant based and whole food means I never have to diet again (apologies for any smugness). There are some advantages of having a dairy and yeast intolerance, you know!

In the dieting world, sugar is getting a good bashing at the moment, and rightly so. Not that all types of the sweet stuff should be banished forever – how sad that would be – only the highly refined and processed sugars that do nothing but hit our pleasure centres at full force. Whole unrefined sugars (in reasonable amounts) are well suited for humans; we love the sweet stuff as our cells, particularly our brains, use it along with oxygen to carry out millions of different processes that keep our amazing bodies functioning. Refined sugars, though, give us too much too quickly, so the body ends up overcompensating, then plunging us into sugar dips – we’ve all had them, the shakes, the sweats, the panic and irritability that can only be assuaged with half a packet of biscuits.

Complex, unrefined sugars release their glucose more slowly, keeping everything on a much more even keel and minimise brain panic when it feels it’s running low on fuel. Moving to complex sugars, like using dates in desserts instead of caster sugar, may be less satisfactory on the taste buds in the short term, but this will change after only a few weeks, and suddenly refined sugars taste unbearably sweet and unmanageable in large amounts.

These chewy tropical squares make a great sweet snack if you are trying to reduce your refined sugar intake but love something sweet. Packed full of complex unrefined sugars as well as filling proteins and fats, they tick all the healthy boxes but taste just a little decadent too, plus they’re gluten free. Perfect for kids on the go, pre or post exercise or just because you feel like it, they’re really easy to make and keep well for about 5 days in an airtight container (if they last that long without being gobbled up).

So give these a go, the perfect January treat, hitting the sweet spot but making you feel good inside too.

Chewy tropical square
100g dates, chopped
100g dried apricots, chopped
50g dried mango or pineapple, chopped
100ml orange juice
150g ground almonds
100g whole almonds
100g mixed seeds (pumpkin, flaxseed,sunflower etc)
2 tablespoons desiccated coconut
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons maple syrup (optional)
dairy free spread or coconut oil for greasing
Grab a 20cm square baking tin and lightly grease with the spread or coconut oil. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºc. Put the dates, apricots and mango or pineapple into a bowl with the orange juice and soak for 5 minutes or so. Transfer to a blender, add the whole almonds and pulse a few times to break the fruit and nuts down, but retain some texture (i.e.: you don’t really want mush!).

Tip the blended mixture into a bowl and add the remaining ingredients apart from the maple syrup (if using). Press firmly into the lightly greased tin, pushing it up to the edges and flattening well, then bake for 20 minutes, or until the top starts to look golden. Remove from the oven, and brush with the maple syrup to give it a slightly sweeter kick if needed (optional). Mark out 9 squares with a sharp knife, then leave to cool in the tin.
When cooled, turn out onto a board and cut into squares. Enjoy!

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