A few months ago I saw a man on the treadmill at the gym eating a Kit Kat. I wasn’t sure if it was inspired, or insane.

Staying a sensible size when your days revolve around food is an interesting dilemma. It’s prompted posts like this from Niamh, and missives like this from Jay Rayner.

It’s something that’s a little relevant to me at the moment. There’s a lot of recipe testing going on as I come down to the crunchy end of finishing the book.

That’s making everything, three times, to make sure that it all works out. And while there are plenty of healthy things between its two covers there are also some items with both feet firmly in the ‘treat’ column.

Safe to say there are a lot of slices of black forrest cheese strudel and elderflower almond cake marching out of this kitchen at the moment.

Version 3.0 of the Elderflower Almond and Berry cake.

There’s a part of my personality responds to my quandary like this.

‘Tori, you eat healthily 80% of the time. You eat a lot of greens. Not that many sweets. You stopped scoffing juice a while ago  (after you found chilled peppermint tea is a pretty good alternative). You also successfully rebranded apple juice as ‘sugar water’ in your head. Harsh, but kind of true’.

It also reminds me to  clutch onto the simple forumla of energy in, energy out. My Dad taught me well as a kid- sure we got pastries for breakfast on a Saturday morning- but only after we’d competed at swimming club.

So to honour that spirit I’m becoming absolute about scheduling exercise into my day. Having a gym close to the flat helps. And having a husband who was once a personal trainer also doesn’t hurt in the motivational stakes. Most days involve 25 minutes on a cross trainer plus a 20 minute weights routine. I listen to truly shameful music and occasionally watch an episode of ‘Glee’ while doing cardio. I also have a great yoga class that I try and squeeze into once a week and try in vain to muster the courage to kick up into headstands.

By if I’m really honest, the one thing that seems to have made the most difference between the me of now, and the me of nine years ago who was a touch squishier around the face is fleeing clutches of my beloved white carbohydrates.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. While I love them (I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone of the sweet pleasures of toasted sandwiches, baked gnocchi, and pesto tortellini), they love me just a little too much.

So I’ve needed to get evangelical about pulses.

Turns out these slumpy, frumpy things just need some spicy, nutty and textural elements to make them sing. They’re no longer a sad substitute or  stand in for stodge. These are delicious dinners, all on their own.

I’m talking about kidney bean salads like this. Or chickpea bowls with broccolini, chilli, garlic and lemon like this.

So as I work my way through the roster of pulses I find it’s time to turn my attention to black beans.

Yes, they, like many other pulses will taste better if you cook them from scratch*. But not all of us have that kind of foresight when it comes to supper.

One way to get some more of these delicious dark beads into your diet is pick up some from a Mexican burrito restaurant- but watch out- lots of Mexican black bean recipes taste good not just because of the spices- but also because of the large amounts of lard they’re stewed in.

Luckily you can also find organic ones in cans at most health food stores and good supermarkets (but be sure to rinse them well from the terrifying slime they come in).

These pulses are my current favourite; largely for how they maintain their structure when cooked and how they cuddle up to spicy flavours like chilli and paprika.

I’ve found their sweetness holds hands perfectly with roasted butternut squash and the crunch of toasted coconut shards. So, let me introduce to you the black bean, pumpkin and coconut bowl.

From those three happy ingredients I then add red onion in two textures -both softly roasted and thinly sliced and raw at the end for colour and interest. There’s a tiny touch of chorizo for richness (though if you wanted to skip the pork and fat, smoked paprika sprinkled over the pumpkin would also work nicely). And then there’s some green herbs and yogurt which contribute to a dressing to link it all together.

It’s lovely piping hot and just as good room temperature.

Here are some more good things about it; it can be eaten out of a bowl, with a fork. You could easily add some chicken, prawns or squid for extra body. And there’s only one pan to wash up.

Unlike the bowl of pesto tortellini that used to fill the same brief, after eating this I feel less inclined to drape my  bloated frame on the couch, pregnant with a yearning to watch just one more repeat of The West Wing.

Instead, I have a touch more motivation to get on with some editing. Or get my bum down to the gym.

And after that I might even enough space left to test one more slice of almond cake.

Which in my current line of work is nothing but a good thing.

Black bean, pumpkin and coconut bowl

Nb, like all warm salads like this, the quantities and combinations of flavours are a little fluid. If you don’t have pumpkin, but have sweet potato;  substitute it. If you hate cilantro/coriander, then swap it for mint. If you can’t find coconut shards then flaked almonds would also work well. 

Serves 2

1 roasting tray. 1 strainer.


2 cups of butternut squash/ pumpkin, cut into pieces about the size of a playing dice.
2 tablespoons of olive oil
50 grams chorizo cut into thin coins and then in half (you could substitute by sprinkling the pumpkin with a teaspoon of cumin and a teaspoon of  smoked paprika if vegetarian)
1 red onion, cut into 8ths
1 handful of coconut shards
400 gram tin of black bean, drained, or 100 grams of dried black beans, cooked as per instructions below*
1 handful of coriander/cilantro (you could substitute mint if you hate it)
1 red chilli, cut into fine dice
Optional, yoghurt for drizzling

Here’s how we roll

1) Preheat the oven to 180C/ 350 F.  Place the pumpkin dice in the roasting tray and drizzle with olive oil and season with salt. Roast for 20 minutes.

2) After 20 minutes add the chorizo, coconut shards and most of the onion (leave one eighth aside to sliver raw at the end). Roast for 20 minutes.

3) When the pumpkin is cooked and the onion has been stained slightly pink from the oil from the chorizo, remove the tray from the oven and mix with the rinsed black beans. The heat from the baking tray, onion and pumpkin will help warm the beans.

4) Cut the remaining 8th of the onion into as thin slivers as you can manage. Add the slivers, diced chilli and coriander to the pumpkin/chorizo/bean mix.

5) Season with salt and pepper and drizzle natural yoghurt over the top.

*Cooking dried black beans. Best practice would be to soak them overnight before using them (though the likelihood of me ever remembering to soak something overnight before is about as likely as me blow drying my hair or putting a sweatshirt on the right way out). Instead I use a quick soak method- I cover them with water, boil them for two minutes and then turn the heat off and let them sit in that water for two hours.  Then I drain them, cover with fresh water and keep cooking them for about two hours. 

Other pulse high, carb low dinner options

Chickpeas, broccolini, garlic, chilli and lemon

Mexican kidney bean salad