Spicy 4-Seed Gingerbread Bites
Among the flavors that, for me, evoke nostalgia for the holidays, cinnamon and ginger dominate. The cozy-spicy duo is hard to beat — any time of the year — and even more so when the two merge in gooey, intense gingerbread bites with other warming spices, sticky dates, a hint of orange, plus four types of seeds.
I’m sharing these today not just to prolong my love of the winter season, but also because the ingredients show some serious love to your heart for American Heart Month.
The leading cause of mortality for both men and women in the US, heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease or CVD, is accountable for approximately 1 in 4 deaths annually. Though genetics do play a role in who is affected, heart disease is largely considered a “lifestyle disease.” The good news? We have the power to make significant changes in our own heart health by addressing the habits that contribute to increased risk, mainly smoking, exercise, and diet.
To eat for your heart means enjoying a variety of foods that provide an array of nutrients + antioxidant compounds. Focus is placed on healthy fats from omega-3-rich fish, like salmon, sardines and trout + seeds and nuts; plant-based proteins like beans and lentils; a rainbow of fruit + veg for phytochemicals; and fiber-filled whole grains. Also important: swap some salt for herbs + spices, and rein in added sugars. An antioxidant boost from the occasional glass of wine or square of dark chocolate is also most welcome.
As a light but energizing midday snack or a healthfully sweet dessert, my spicy 4-seed gingerbread bites are on point.
What’s in them for me?
Seeds in general are sources of both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, as well as fiber, small amounts of lean protein and essential amino acids, and phytochemicals. Research links regular intake of seeds to reduced markers of inflammation, decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, improved digestive, immune and bone health, and potentially a lower risk for obesity and certain cancers.
Pepita and other seed flours provide plant sterols, and pepitas in particular are excellent sources of magnesium and phosphorous. With more than 8 grams protein per 1-ounce serving (about 2 Tbsp), pepitas also provide iron, B vitamins, vitamin E, and the immune-supporting, inflammation-reducing zinc.
Teardrop-shaped sesame seeds are rich in iron and calcium, and contain coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) — an antioxidant involved in energy production that may also play roles in treating high BP and cholesterol, diseases of the eye, asthma, chronic fatigue, and possibly Alzheimer’s.
Rich in fiber, brown or golden flax (also known as linseed) comes in at only about 37 calories per 1 Tbsp (ground). Recent research suggests that flax may help lower systolic BP, thereby decreasing stroke risk up to 10% thanks to antioxidant effects from high levels of heart-healthy omega-3 alphalinoleic acid (ALA) + lignans — plant-based polyphenols, of which flax is one of nature’s best sources.
Hemp seeds are among only a handful of plant foods containing all nine of the essential amino acids for humans, and provide 10 grams of protein per ounce (about 2 Tbsp). Small, soft and mildly grassy tasting hemp hearts are simply the shelled versions of the slightly larger round seed, and are even better sources of healthy polyunsaturated fats than a comparable serving of flax.
A member of the palm family, dates are a source of essential vitamins and minerals like B6, iron, and magnesium. One 1/4-cup serving (approximately 5 small, or 35 grams) provides just over 100 calories, 3 grams satiating fiber, and about 7% of your daily potassium needs.
Fresh ginger + the dried spices — ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice — add a spicy, sweet, warming kick plus beneficial vitamins and minerals, and potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
The healthy fats here increase the body’s absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) as well as those phytochemicals, while the multiple hits of fiber help lower your LDL cholesterol — all helping prevent or manage heart disease.
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What’s not in them?
Sweetened solely by dates, with a boost from fresh + dried ginger plus other warming spices, each “bite” provides 2 grams of fiber and only 3 grams of natural (not added) sugar. Furthermore, the moisture added by the dates makes them no-bake, and eliminates the need to add extra fats as binders.
For anyone working around allergy or other food restrictions, these are nut-free — four super seeds providing 6 grams of plant-based protein (equivalent to 1 egg) and 9 grams of healthy unsaturated fats. They are also gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian + vegan, and more affordable than most pre-made bars, bites, balls, etc.
Plug in the food processor, make it feel like the holidays, and show your heart some love — during American Heart Month and all the year round. Because there is no “wrong” time to enjoy the tastes and aromas of gingerbread.
Tell me… What ingredients trigger nostalgia for you?
- 1 cup pepita pulp, or 1 cup whole raw pepitas (see HGN Notes)
- 1/4 cup dried unsweetened dates, pitted (or dried unsweetened figs, stemmed), soaked in 1/2 cup hot water 10-20 minutes
- 2 Tbsp raw hemp seed, plus more for rolling
- 2 Tbsp raw white sesame seed
- 2 Tbsp ground flax seed
- 1-inch chunk fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 1 tsp powdered ginger
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp ground allspice
- 1/8 tsp orange blossom water, or 1 tsp fresh grated orange zest
- Pinch of salt
- Put the pepita (or other nut/seed) pulp, or equal amount of whole raw seeds/nuts) into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to loosen it up (or pulse the whole raw seeds/nuts until finely ground) -- you don't want it to turn into butter, so stick with the pulse function.
- Drain the dates, reserving the liquid. Add the dates, along with the remaining ingredients and a pinch of salt into the processor with the pepita pulp. Process to combine, turn off and scrape down the sides and top. Process again for 1 to 2 minutes until everything comes together and forms a ball. If needed, dribble in some of the reserved date soaking liquid 1 Tbsp at a time, and continue processing another 1 to 2 minutes to help it hold together. You may need to scrape the sides and top again, depending on how strong your food processor is.
- Transfer the "dough" to a bowl. Place the reserved hemp seeds onto a rimmed plate or into a pie tin. Pinch off a piece of the dough slightly smaller than a golf ball, roll between your palms to form a ball, then roll to coat in the hemp seeds. Continue rolling and coating until you have about 10. Transfer the completed bites to a wax or parchment paper lined tray, then place the tray in the freezer for 30 minutes.
- Once set, remove the tray from the freezer, and transfer the bites to a tightly sealing container or zipper top bag. Will keep refrigerated 1 to 2 weeks, or frozen 1 to 2 months.
- TO MAKE BARS INSTEAD OF BALLS: Press the dough evenly into a standard loaf tin (8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch OR 9 x 5-inch are fine), or an 8-inch square baking tin, lined with a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper large enough to hang over the sides. Sprinkle the hemp seeds over top, if desired, and gently press in. Fold the edges of the plastic or paper over to cover the dough, and refrigerate at least 2 hours. When set, remove the dough from the tin, peel off the plastic or paper, and use a sharp knife to slice the dough into 10 pieces. Store as indicated above.
Alternatively, skip the "milk" method and run 1 cup raw pepitas (or other favorite seed/nut) through a food processor or high-speed blender on high until a fine meal is achieved.
+ Boost the protein + calcium for minimal calories and no added fat with 2 Tbsp non-fat powdered dry milk. Note that because you're adding another dry ingredient, you may need to add more of the date soaking liquid to get the "dough" to come together.
+ Swap poppy seeds, chia, and/or black sesame seeds for the hemp, flax, and/or white sesame seeds.
+ Use raw sunflower seeds in place of the pepitas, or go nutty with raw pecans, almonds, walnuts, pistachios or cashews.
+ Really any other dried fruit can be used to replace the dates 1:1. With these flavors, my recommendations would be dried figs, black or golden raisins, apricots, unsweetened cherries or cranberries. If your dried fruits are dry (I'm looking at you, figs), soak them as directed for the dates to re-hydrate before processing.
+ Add 1 to 2 Tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut or finely ground coconut (toasted or plain) to the food processor at the end. You could even coat the rolled bites in some coconut before popping them into the freezer.
An HGN original recipe.
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