Creating naughty flavor with nice ingredients

A spinach and black bean brownie topped with a not-your-typical homemade frosting. — Photo by Kaylea Moore

This past fall I cooked for a family that was dairy free and gluten free. I quickly learned the gamut of dairy substitutes and gluten alternatives.

My cupboards began to fill with coconut oil, nut butters, quinoa flakes, brown rice flour, and tapioca flour. I learned how to use xanthan gum to add volume to baked goods and arrowroot as a thickener. I am still testing the waters, and it will take a while to become an expert in this field.

With the rise of food allergies and the prevalence of holistic, humane, and healthy eating as well as religious dietary restrictions, cooking can be very complicated. Eating out on the Island with dietary restrictions can often seem bleak and uninspired, but many restaurants will work with you to create delicious dishes that suit your needs.

Here is just a selection of gluten-free and vegan foods on the Island:

Grab a gluten-free pizza at Rocco’s Pizzeria in Vineyard Haven, or sample the gluten-free chowder at M.V. Chowder Company in Oak Bluffs. Lucky Hank’s in Edgartown offers items on their lunch and dinner menus that can be vegan or gluten-free. The Farm Share, served at dinner, consists of three different vegetable components inspired by the chef. Little House Café in Vineyard Haven has icons on their menu that indicate whether an item is gluten free. Many of the sandwiches are gluten free when served over salad instead of their bread. Other offerings include fish tacos served on corn tortillas and chocolate chip, peanut butter, and toffee cookies. The staff will help to create a gluten-free meal that works for you.

For sweet treats, The Black Dog Bakery and Café in Vineyard Haven offers a gluten-free peanut butter cup and Mocha Mott’s in Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs has a vegan and gluten-free sunflower bar made with sunflower seeds, raisins, coconut, pecans, peanut butter, and honey (depending on how strict you are, honey may not be vegan).

The Scottish Bakehouse in Vineyard Haven has a variety of gluten-free options as well as a few vegan selections. Gluten-free breads, quiches, cupcakes, brownies, and cookies are available and made with gluten alternatives such as soy flour, rice flour, quinoa flour, and millet. Many items can be special ordered such as gluten-free cakes and cheesecakes. Vegan choices include dark chocolate cookies and nut bars.

The chocolatiers at Not Your Sugar Mamas in Vineyard Haven pride themselves in creating raw chocolate packed with superfood ingredients such as coconut oil, maca, and spirulina. Their antioxidant-rich treats are mostly vegan and gluten free, as well as free of refined sugars. All of their chocolate bars, except for the Be Sexy bar that has a small amount of local honey, are vegan. A favorite treat is their signature chocolate chip cookie, made with gluten-free oats, gluten-free oat flour, raw coconut palm sugar, coconut oil, Himalayan sea salt, and water. Check out their Facebook page for daily confections.

Experimenting in the kitchen

My usual brownie recipe consists of flour, sugar, butter, eggs, chocolate, and vanilla. Replace the flour with black beans and oats; the sugar with dates; and the butter and eggs with almond butter, spinach, and chia seeds and voila — gluten-free and vegan brownies.

At first I was apprehensive, how could these ingredients come together and taste good? The batter was reminiscent of refrigerator surprise or backyard mud pies, a thick brown paste with flecks of green. As I scraped it into the pan I caught myself licking my fingers and it wasn’t half bad, I was hopeful.

Next came the frosting, a combination of raw cashews, dates, almond milk, and vanilla extract. After the brownies were cooked, cooled, chilled, and frosted, it was time for the final taste test. The consistency was fudgey (with no butter!), but the black beans overpowered the rest of the ingredients giving the brownies an earthy burrito-like quality. The frosting, on the other hand, added a touch more sweetness and was bowl-licking good.

I will most likely not make the brownies again using the same recipe. But I do have hope for them and think that the base is strong, but the amounts and ingredients need to be manipulated. Another downfall of the brownies is the cost to make them. Unless you have most of the ingredients on hand, the cost is prohibitive.

The real show-stopper on my gluten free and vegan cooking adventure was the chocolate pudding made with vegan chocolate chips, maple syrup, silken tofu, and vanilla extract. The consistency of four-ingredient pudding/mousse was spot on: creamy and smooth in texture. The taste was pretty close to chocolate pudding as well. The added plus, it is much easier to make than the dairy-based alternative. I topped the pudding with coconut milk whipped with confectioner’s sugar and vanilla (a sugar substitute can be used). Again the consistency was just right but the coconut taste was a bit overwhelming. You could also top with berries, oranges, or chopped nuts.

Selection of gluten-free and vegan baking alternatives:

Flour: buckwheat, quinoa, millet, soy, cornmeal, nut meal, bean/legume flours, sorghum, brown rice flour.

Starch: tapioca starch, cornstarch, potato starch, arrowroot starch, xanthan gum.

Sugar: honey, agave, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, stevia, coconut palm sugar, molasses from cane or sorghum, dates, raisins, apple sauce, banana.

Fats: coconut oil, olive oil, canola oil, non-dairy no trans-fats shortening, nut butter.

Egg: ground flax seed, chia seeds, tofu (as well as modified egg replacers).

Dairy: coconut milk, hemp milk, rice milk, soy milk, almond milk, silken tofu.

Chocolate pudding recipe
(Recipe from Vegan Planet Cookbook By Robin Robertson, adapted by Gail Shufrin)

1 cup semi-sweet vegan chocolate chips (I used Enjoy Life mini chips)
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
12 ounce package of silken tofu, drained
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
whipped coconut cream (recipe to follow)


Melt chocolate chips and maple syrup in a double boiler over medium heat, until the chocolate is melted, stirring until smooth. Set aside to cool.

Place tofu and vanilla in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Add the chocolate, and process until smooth and well combined.

Whipped coconut cream

Open one can of full fat coconut milk, do not shake. Scoop the coconut cream from the top, taking care not to add any coconut water. Whip coconut cream, vanilla extract, and confectioner’s sugar or sugar substitute until the desired consistency (the cream will thicken if chilled).

Top pudding with mixed berries, kiwi, orange or chopped nuts.

Spinach and Black Beans Brownies
(Recipe adapted from

3 cups cooked black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups pitted Medjool dates, soaked in 3/4 cup of water for at least 1 hour
1/2 cup unsalted almond butter
1/4 cup rolled oats (gluten-free if necessary)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. chia seeds
2 cups packed baby spinach leaves
1/3 cup carob powder or cocoa powder
Non-stick cooking spray


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray an 8- by 8-inch pan. Combine all ingredients in a high-speed blender or food processor and process until smooth; adding a small amount of almond milk if necessary to blend, the batter should remain thick. Alternatively, process each ingredient until smooth before adding the next.

Pour batter into pan and bake for at least 45 minutes. Let brownies chill completely before serving, preferably overnight in the refrigerator.


1/2 cup unsalted cashews
2/3 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 cup pitted Medjool dates
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


Combine ingredients in a high-speed blender and process until smooth. Note: it is not necessary to soak the dates for the frosting recipe.