Black Bean Brownies

I’ve been working on perfecting a recipe for black bean brownies for about a week now. At first, I wasn’t even going to create a recipe, as Ricki Heller’s looked so good that I was just planning on making hers (sometimes I just want someone to take the guess work out of it for me, ok?). But when I went to make them, I realized that the recipe called for Baker’s chocolate, and all I had was cocoa powder. So I tried to see if I could compensate by changing around some other ingredients in the recipe. The first round of tweaking didn’t go so well (my fault, and nothing to do with the original recipe, as I had NO idea how to go about substituting cocoa powder for solid chocolate) but I saw potential. At that point I wanted to try and get it right, so I had to put Ricki’s recipe off for another day, and I tried again. A little closer that time, but just a little “wet.” The next time a bit dry. Then just right. The one problem was that they didn’t really seem to me like brownies. Gennaro certainly didn’t recognize them as brownies when he texted me one night (I was at class): “I really like those chocolate bar things in the fridge.” Whether or not they’re brownies or “chocolate bar things,” he liked them, which was a good sign.

This month, I am honored to be a part of 30 Days to a Food Revolution, a blogging event organized by Diane over at The W.H.O.L.E. Gang, which was inspired by Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Now, Jamie Oliver has received some backlash for his show (in addition to the loads of support), which has struck me as a bit odd. I understand that it’s a network show and that cynicism is inevitable when the guy starting the revolution is rich, famous and good-looking. But with diabetes and heart disease on the rise and obesity a growing problem (and increasingly among our younger generations), I wonder why there is such resistance to making some changes.

At the same time, I understand that food, like religion and politics, is personal. People don’t want to be told what to eat or what they shouldn’t be eating. I get this. I also get that people have come to view eating healthfully as somewhat of an elitist thing. As a law student (soon to be graduated law student looking for a job as a lawyer…in a bad economy) I’m well aware of the painfully high prices of organic foods, fresh produce, and specialty ingredients. But I also think that the assumption that a “food revolution” necessitates  an all-organic Whole Foods-esque lifestyle somewhat misses the point. From what I gather, Jamie Oliver’s goal is to reconnect people with what they are putting in their bodies. And it’s nearly impossible to connect with something when it’s passed to you through the window at a drive-through, or thrown into the microwave for a few minutes before it’s hurriedly eaten in your car.

My great-grandmother worked in the Detroit auto factories for most of her life. She wasn’t rich by any means. But she cooked real food. Whole foods. Cucumbers and tomatoes from her garden. Chicken paprikash and noodles and cabbage and goulash and fresh crepes. Some of my greatest childhood memories were at her house, and they revolved around her food. I’m not advocating that we all morph into Alice Waters overnight here. I’m just saying: home-cooked meals and family dinners and fresh dinners don’t have to be — and shouldn’t be — a privilege. My great-grandmother could tell you that. That’s why I think it’s great that Diane is trying to make healthy, whole food recipes accessbile for those who are interested in making a change, but don’t know where to start. Today’s my guest post, and I did my best to contribute a recipe that could be made from scratch, but was still healthy and cheap.

But there is one thing that I AM going to force on all of you. Today also happens to be Oprah’s “No Phone Zone” day, which means to make your car a no phone zone: DON’T TEXT AND DRIVE. It’s stupid. Really. If you agree, you should sign the pledge. Anyone who knows me well knows that I cry at the drop of the hat. Literally, you could probably drop your hat and I might cry about it. But all kidding aside, I REALLY don’t want to have to cry over any more Oprah episodes about people who’ve lost their lives because of texting and driving. THANK YOU.

Ok, back to the fun stuff: the brownies. You have to let these cool substantially before cutting into them. Better yet, cool them in the refrigerator a bit. Considering these brownies are grain-free, vegan, high in fiber, very low in sugar and a fairly decent source of protein and good fats, they’re also pretty darn good. But like I said, they’re not your typical brownie. A bit fudgey and gooey on the inside, but not very sweet, these treats are best referred to as “healthy brownie bars” so as not to confuse anyone looking for a classic brownie here. But for those looking for a much healthier option, these are a great alternative to the classic.

Brownie Bars:
Inspired by a recipe from Diet, Dessert and Dogs

1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup canned pumpkin puree

1/2 cup coconut oil (liquified first)

1/4 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

1/4 cup brewed coffee

1/2 cup flax seed meal

1 teaspoon vanilla stevia*

2 tablespoons agave nectar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder**

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup unsweetened carob powder


1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a blender, on high speed, blend all ingredients except cocoa powder and carob. You may need to coax the mixture a bit with a spoon, but it will eventually get to a smooth consistency, which is where you want it. Pour mixture into a large mixing bowl and fold in cocoa powder and carob powder until incorporated.

3. Pour batter into a pre-greased 9×9 inch baking dish or brownie pan. Spread with a spatula or spoon to smooth. Bake in preheated oven for about 40 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. I would suggest waiting at least a few hours for brownies to cool before slicing and, better yet, letting chill in the refrigerator first.

* I used NuNaturals

** traditional baking powder is not technically grain-free, but for a grain-free baking powder recipe, check out Kelly’s over at the Spunky Coconut.


  1. says

    Beth–These look and sound great to me! I’ve long been a fan of black bean brownies and I love adding pumpkin into anything. I don’t have all the ingredients, so I’ll probably make my own gf/df/sf version. ;-) It’s great finding your blog through our Food Revolution effort with Diane. In fact, she had just mentioned you and your wonderful writing (I agree!) the other day. I love that you shared this info about your grandmother’s cooking. It’s so very true … anyone can cook real, nourishing food, not just the folks who frequent Whole Foods.

    And, no worries on me texting. I’ve texted a total of two times now. Once while sitting on my sofa and another time while in an airport. You, and Oprah, are completely right. It is insane, and often leads to tragedy, when one texts while driving.

    Happy to find you! And, loved your post over at Diane’s, too! :-)


  2. says

    These sound like a fabulous cocoa-based version! Mine also are a bit too soft when not yet cold (the coconut oil needs to firm up first, and that happens in the fridge). I was looking for a way to use the unsweetened chocolate, but I want to try yours now with the cocoa! Your photo looks so tempting. :D

    PS is it the cornstarch in baking powder that’s the grain? Not a problem for me, so I completely didn’t think of it!

  3. Beth says

    Ricki — Thank you!!! I can’t wait to try yours (and I WILL do it one of these days!!) and your cookbook.

    Yes, I think the corn starch in the baking powder makes it not grain-free (if you’re getting super technical, here). I honestly had no idea — and didn’t think about it, really — until I saw Kelly’s post on making your own grain-free baking powder. Who knew?

    Thanks again — you’re an inspiration : )

    Sarah — Thanks!! Can’t wait til you try them, either!

  4. says

    Love these. I’ve tried a version of black bean brownies before, and while they’re not “brownies”, they are nice! Yours look great – love the addition of pumpkin!

  5. Beth says

    Shirley — I am so happy to have found YOU. Thank you so much for your kinds words. Coming from you, it means that much more (as I love your site and loved your post).

    Haha, I am not much of a texter, either (it takes me way too long to write 1 word), but I’m glad we can agree on that point!

    Thanks for such a sweet comment. is going to be such a great resource for me from now on.


  6. says

    Beth, those brownies look great! Love the pumpkin addition.

    Since we don’t have TV reception (no regular cell phone either, so I guess I’ve got Oprah’s challenge covered :)) I haven’t seen Jamie’s show, but I am a part of the 30 day revolution and think you couldn’t be more right. However, I think for many people it is really not even understanding what real food is.

    I didn’t know anyone with a garden growing up, and my grandma (and mom) served up pretty much everything from a box or a can. Fortunately, I was a little fruit and vegetable addict, and started doing my own shopping at a young age, learning more and more about food. But really, it wasn’t until I hit my late 20’s and had to go dairy-free (something I am now grateful for) that I really learned what real, whole food is. Each year gets better and better.

    Short story long, I think it can be hard for people to wrap their heads around this new concept because many think they are eating very healthy diets – which may actually be filled with process foods. A slow building of knowledge and good recipes is key :)

  7. says

    I liked your post over at the Whole Gang. These would be great for breakfast with a glass of milk. I have black bean brownies before and loved them.


  8. Beth says

    Alisa- you’re so right. I think the food revolution stems from many things, and pre-packaged and instant food has been a staple in our culture since long before Michael Pollan or Jamie Oliver were talking about it. That’s so cool that you were a little health nut when you were younger! I was raised in a family where tofu and veggies were a favorite and the Moosewood cookbook was a staple, so I guess everyone has a differnent perspective on what getting back to real foods means. I also agree that what many consider healthy not always is. I still have to explain to my fiance that just because something was bought at Trader Joe’s doesn’t mean it’s healthy (I don’t know where he got that idea!). Thanks for your insight. I’m looking forward to your 30 days post!

    Nisrine — Thank you!! Although I had seen them in many recipes, this was actually my first time trying black bean brownies. I’m glad I did!! I’m hooked! : )

  9. Kelli says

    Is this the right place to leave an entery for the WHOLE gang? Either way, I will be looking around your blog, it looks like you eat very healthy, and I only want to add healthy recipes from now on!

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