Zel's Vegan NutGourmet

Zel Allen Goes Nuts for Good Health


Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on March 3, 2011

Once again, the inimitable Chef AJ set the ultimate challenge to her students to create the most delicious ball ever using nuts, fruits, seasonings and spices, and a good measure of innovation and creativity.

The stage was set. The evening had arrived. The judges had cleansed their palates and were readying their taste buds. One could almost feel the electric charge mounting in the cozy room. The crowd was large, the contestants were many and anxiously waiting for the judging to begin. The Great Ball-off was under way!

Sixteen contestants spent the previous week blending pounds of nuts of every variety with all manner of innovative ingredients to present their creations to the panel of judges. Their goal was to win the contest and bring home an autographed copy of my cookbook, The Nut Gourmet. I was privileged to be included as one the six judges of this wild and wacky contest created by Chef AJ to encourage her cooking students to leap into the creative world of the kitchen for some fun and perhaps a little mayhem.

Each of the judges was given a rating sheet and was asked to judge using four distinct categories for their criteria: appearance, creativity, texture, and taste. The challenge was on!

The balls were presented one at a time, beginning with Hawaiian Truffles. Then came Apricot Pineapples, followed by Tricky Treats, Goji Crunch Pop, Mud Bites, Pumpkin Fudgy, and Mommie’s Minty Mounds. Even the names of the balls had an inventive flair as did their presentations. Some were shaped in unique ways, while others were coated with an imaginative array of ingredients to catch the attention of the judges.

When the tasting and rating of all sixteen balls was completed, the judges gathered in a huddle to choose their top three finalists. Full of nutty balls and a little nutty spirit, we quickly came to a consensus.

Taking the top prize was the sister team Melony Jorenson and Belle Temkin with their Old Hairy Belle Peckers that were the sensation of the evening, not only for their exceptional flavor, but also because of their daring, belly-laugh producing, and shocking appearance!

Second place went to Brenda and Doug Cohen for their Helluva Hallava Bitty Balls. Landing a third place was Pam Leelayuwapan with her Goji Berry Crunch Pops.

You, too, can prepare these tasty First and Second Place prize-winning sensations in your own kitchen because the convivial sisters, Melony and Belle, and the husband and wife team, Brenda and Doug, have generously shared their recipe:


1 6-ounce package of dried Bartlett pears
1 cup spiced apple cider

2 cups whole almonds

1 1/2 cups dried figs
1 1/2 cups dried dates
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon caramel extract

Shredded coconut

1. Soak the dried pears in the spiced apple cider until soft. Reserve any liquid remaining.
2. Combine the nuts in the food processor with the S blade and process until they are finely ground. Add the dried figs, dates, nutmeg, and cinnamon and process until well incorporated.
3. Add the vanilla and caramel extracts and process until the mixture has the consistency of a soft dough. If needed, add some or all of the reserved cider to achieve a moist, yet firm consistency.
4. Roll the mixture into balls, then, flatten them out to make a disk. Use a penis cookie cutter or a knife to create the intended shape. Alternatively, use other cookie cutters to create your desired shape. For the finishing touch, dip the surface into the shredded coconut.


1/2 cup raw sesame seeds
2 teaspoons raw cacao or carob powder
1/2 teaspoon maca powder
Dash cinnamon
2 tablespoons yacon syrup or date syrup
1 tablespoon raw tahini
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cacao nibs (optional)

Combine all the ingredients in the food processor one at a time and process until a cohesive mass forms. Roll into bitty balls and enjoy!

Well, there you have it. These sensational little treats left us breathless and almost speechless!

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