Like many second-generation Chinese immigrants, I developed an appreciation for resourcefulness in the kitchen from an early age. For as long as I can remember, my parents have preserved used oil in a cool corner of the pantry, which they reused once, twice, several times over. Bread bought in bulk supplied weeks of school-lunch sandwiches. Cheap cuts of meat, once sauced, spiced, and stir-fried with fresh vegetables, produced dishes rich in flavour that kept our family well-fed. Following family dinners, my parents scooped any leftovers into Tupperware containers, ready to be nuked back to life for lunch the next day, unless, in the case of the choicest dishes, deviant fingers got to them first. Flavour, more than frugality, drove these habits. I never understood why so many North Americans limit themselves to chalky chicken breasts, plain pork chops, and flaccid fish fillets when, for a fraction of the price, they could play around with and savour hearty hog maw, crunchy pig ears, and fine-boned whole fish, eyes and all. To this day, I save vegetable scraps – carrot tops, onion peels, celery leaves, cauliflower nubbins – to make stock, and my freezer houses enough leftovers to feed a family of five for a week.
Another major benefit of an economical approach to food is that it invites inventiveness. Before blitzing canned chickpeas into a batch of hummus, I always add some of the reserved bean brine to help thin the mixture. Given the utility of the bean brine, it now seems silly to me that I never thought to reserve and to repurpose the rest of the brine. Never, that is, until a post-pavlova craving for more meringue and a lack of eggs in the fridge set me on a quest for an eggless meringue recipe and directed me to an article on aquafaba. “Bean water,” it turned out, could function as the foaming agent in a meringue. Intrigued, I saved canned chickpea liquid the next time I made hummus. Sure enough, armed with a hand mixer, a bag of sugar, and a vial of vinegar, I beat the bean brine into a fluffy cloud of meringue.
The rest unfolded organically. Half of a can of coconut cream, initially purchased to make curry, went into making a chai-spiced ice cream. Black bean brownies, leftover from a recent movie night, served as the bases for the Baked Alaska bites, ensconced in a snowfall of ice cream and freshly whipped meringue. I left the Baked Alaskas under the broiler just long enough to gild the tips. The result was serendipitously vegan and gluten-free, making this recipe safe for the growing number of people who fall somewhere on the spectrum of real to imagined food sensitivities. More importantly, it was delicious. And now I am spilling the beans on how to make these Baked Alaska brownie bites that wildly taste nothing like beans, just wildly good.
CHAI COCONUT BAKED ALASKA Brownie BITES
Base (Black Bean Brownie Bite):
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 tbsp chia seeds, soaked in water
2 tbsp olive oil
¾ cup cocoa powder
¼ tsp kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1½ tsp baking powder
A pinch of unsweetened coconut flakes
An extra pinch of kosher salt
Centre (Chai Coconut Ice Cream):
½ can coconut cream
1 cup water
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
Coat (Bean Brine Meringue):
Liquid from 1 can of chickpeas
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp vinegar or lemon juice
¾ cup sugar
Meringue Cloud Nine, Here We Come
To make the brownies, preheat oven to 350° and grease a 12-cup muffin tin. Puree all the ingredients using a food processor and pour into the muffin tin. Sprinkle coconut flakes or kosher salt on each well of batter. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
To make the chai coconut ice cream, blend all ingredients for about 1 minute, until mixture is smooth and frothy. Pour into a freezer-friendly container. Store in freezer for several hours. Once frozen solid, remove from freezer and let soften at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
To make the meringue, pour bean brine into a large bowl and add sugar gradually, beating using a hand mixer. Add vanilla extract and vinegar. Continue beating until stiff peaks form.
To complete the Baked Alaska brownie bites, position oven shelf in top position and turn broiler to high-heat setting. Cover a baking sheet with tin foil and distribute brownie bites on the sheet. Add a layer of ice cream to each brownie bite, then dollop meringue onto each brownie bite until it is ensconced in a cloud of meringue. Use a spoon to create snowy swirls and peaks that will brown well under a broiler. Place baking sheet in the oven for about 30 seconds, until the tips turn golden. Remove from oven. Dig in!