When I was helping Muna design the ambitious menu for the cooking class last month, we discussed whether or not to include a dessert.
“We really don’t focus on sweets the same way as Americans do. Not as a part of dinner,” Muna said. “Sometimes we have a nice piece of fruit.”
“Let’s not worry about a dessert,” I said.
“Of course, Baklava is easy to make,” she said.
I nodded. “Sooooo sweet, though.”
We fell quiet for a moment; sometimes you have to get quiet when summoning the kitchen muse for inspiration; then Muna’s eyes lit up with an “A-Ha!”
“My friend has this recipe for date-walnut bars. It’s really good. And healthy. You can’t believe how many nutrients are in dates.”
“Walnuts, too. I like that.”
The morning of the class I got her email with the recipe and it seemed simple: A short list of ingredients. No butter or oil, small amount of flour and sugar, and loaded with our nutritious headliners. No need to drag the big Kitchen Aid out of the closet either—this could be mixed up—dare I say—by Hand!
Still, my first attempt at making the recipe would be at the class—no matter, we’d all be learning together.
The batter was gooey, dense with nuts and dates, and took little time to make. The most effort went into chopping the fruit. I was concerned that the batter was too dense, but it baked up moist and chewy in less than thirty minutes. I liked that it could be easily cut into any size or shape.
Sure, these bars are calorie-rich–that’s the nature of dessert– but they’re so high in potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, niacin, countless amino acids, that a small piece is well worth it. While gobbling them up at class, everybody called them “Muna’s Brownies.” My little surprise–a discovery that enhanced them just a tetch more— came a few days later.
The following week, we made “Muna’s Brownies” for a First Harvest Café luncheon at the food bank.
(The recipe expanded ten-fold flawlessly.)
I wanted to garnish the bars, give them a little pizazz on the plate. We had heavy whipping cream on hand, but that alone didn’t seem right. What would be good? I wandered around the culinary arts center kitchen, feeling blank, hoping to access a bit of inspiration…
when I had my A-Ha! flavor the cream with cardamom—a heady spice that Muna espouses in much of her cooking.
I rummaged through our copious spice cabinet, which housed Everything But. Instead, I found a small jar of Garam Masala seasoning—that Indian compound of the big C’s in Spiceworld: coriander, cinnamon, clove, cumin, cardamom…along with black pepper.
I’d never whipped cream with all those spices–certainly not black pepper–but sometimes unlikely ingredients work. Following my kitchen-muse-nudge, I decided to go for it.
The lightly sweetened cream flecked with those fragrant spices and a little black pepper bite was the right complement to the bars—and an unexpected treat. It has opened a door to some new possibilities–already I’m thinking about some fresh takes on cream cheese icing for carrot cake!
“Muna’s Brownies” with a surprise spiced whipped cream
Date and Walnut Bars
½ cup sugar
½ tsp. vanilla
½ cup flour
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 cups chopped dates
Beat eggs until foamy.
Beat in sugar and vanilla.
Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together and stir into egg-sugar mixture.
Fold in walnuts and dates.
Spread mixture into lightly oiled 8″x8″baking pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 325 degrees.
Cut into squares while warm, but allow to cool before serving.
Spiced Whipped Cream
1/2 cup Heavy Whipping Cream
1 heaping Tablespoon Confectioners Sugar
1/4 t. Garam Masala spice blend -or-
1/4 teaspoon Cardamon and a pinch Black Pepper
Place all ingredients into a small, chilled bowl and whisk (again–easily by hand!) until thick peaks form. Scoop into a pastry bag outfitted with a star tip and pipe on top of each petite bar. Garnish with a sliver of date.