The goodness of granola
It used to be “the lumpy woolen sweater of the food world” according to an article in the New York Times last February. It’s true that for those of us who can remember the 1960s and 70s, it can still have a vague whiff of counterculture. And it’s still regarded as inherently healthy, although these days that’s not always the case.
Granola has become mainstream, not just the province of whole-grain-eating back-to-the-earth hippies. But while some folks make their own and small-batch artisanal versions are frequently sold at local farmers markets, shops and cafés, the vast majority of granola consumed these days, whether cereal or bars, comes from food industry conglomerates. Most have at least some nutritious ingredients, primarily oatmeal. But most are loaded with refined sugars. In fact, sugar is usually the second ingredient listed, even in some granolas sold in health food stores. With or without the chocolate chips and marshmallows in some versions, such granola is no more “healthy” than a cookie or sugary cereal beyond having a bit more fiber – and not always even that.
Chefs creating new and different versions are barely recognizable as relations of their homelier counterculture cousins. Some are sweet, with such unexpected ingredients as strips of dehydrated yoghurt “leather.” Others are savory (aka not sweet) and can include such things as rosemary, quinoa and grated cheese. They’re using granola as a crumb coating for chops and to top salads ranging from lettuces to roasted beets.
Granola’s possibilities are limitless. Below is a master recipe for granola that’s lightly sweetened with honey and a recipe for granola bars that I developed years ago and have made in various forms. And there’s a newer master recipe for savory granola I’ve been working on.
- 1 c. unsalted butter
- 1 c. dark brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1/2 c. honey, preferably raw
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp. real vanilla
- 1 1/2 c. whole-wheat flour
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp. kosher or sea salt
- 3 c. rolled oats, preferably whole oats that haven’t been processed to remove the nutritious germ
- 1 c. dried fruit, cut into bite-sized pieces if necessary
- 1 c. lightly toasted nuts – pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, peanuts, etc.
- 1/2 c. flax seeds
- 1/2 c. millet seeds
Combine the butter, sugar, honey and eggs and beat on medium to high speed until the mixture is creamed and fluffy. Add the vanilla and mix for a couple of minutes more until it’s combined.
In another bowl or on a sheet of parchment paper or paper towel, mix the flour, soda, cinnamon and salt so that no lumps remain.
Add the flour mixture a bit at a time to the butter mixture on lowest speed. When it’s just combined, add the oats, dried fruit, nuts and seeds. Remove the bowl from the mixer attachment and stir with a rubber spatula to ensure that everything is well incorporated.
Scrape into the floured baking pan and spread it evenly. Bake for 30 minutes or longer, until the edges just start pulling away from the sides of the pan.
Cool completely in the pan before slicing into bars. Makes 16-24 bars.
Master recipe for granola with honey and dried fruit
- 1/2 c. vegetable oil, such as canola
- 1/2 c. honey
- 4 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
- 2 c. raw wheat germ
- 1 c. raw sunflower seeds
- 1/2 c. raw sesame seed
- 2 c. chopped walnuts, or other nuts such as pecans, hazelnuts, or a mixture of nuts
- 1 1/2 c. dried fruit, cut into bite-sized pieces if necessary
- 1/2 c. millet seeds
- 1/2 c. flax seeds
Hint: If you measure the oil in the half cup measuring cup, then the honey, the honey won’t stick to it and need to be scraped out.
In a saucepan, heat the oil and honey until just beginning to show a few bubbles. Meanwhile combine the remaining ingredients except the dried fruit on a large sheet pan, mixing to combine.
Drizzle the honey/oil mixture over the dry ingredients and stir with a spoon until well mixed. Divide between two rimmed baking sheets and spread the mixture evenly. Place in the oven on two racks and toast, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes. Spread evenly again before returning the mixture to the oven, rotating the pans between the top and bottom racks each time. Bake for about 45 minutes or until browned to your taste.
Cool completely and then stir in the dried fruits. Makes about 12 cups.
Blueberry lemon granola – Add 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon peel to the saucepan with the honey and oil. Use dried blueberries.
Cranberry orange granola – Add the finely grated rind of 2 large oranges to the saucepan with the honey and oil. Add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon before baking. Use dried cranberries.
Tropical granola – Use coconut oil and cashews, and/or peanuts for the nuts, and bite-sized pieces of dried pineapple and/or mango for the fruits. Replace the sunflower seeds with an equal amount of flaked (preferred) or shredded unsweetened coconut.
The trickiest part of developing a savory granola was finding a substitute for the honey that would help form the ingredients into tasty little clumps. Egg white turned out to be the perfect solution. The variations are a work in progress; so far my favorite is the Italian below, but again the possibilities are limitless, so feel free to experiment. Savory granola is good by itself as a snack, but also wonderful sprinkled over salads or cooked vegetables.
Master recipe for savory granola
- 4 large egg whites (about 1/2 c.)
- 1/2 c. oil
- 4 c. old-fashioned oatmeal
- 1 c. wheat germ
- 2 c. nuts, broken if necessary
- 1/2 c. millet
- 3 c. puffed cereal, such as rice, wheat or corn (unsweetened and unsalted)
- 1 T. salt
Divide between two rimmed baking sheets and spread the mixture evenly. Place in the oven on two racks and toast, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes. Spread the mixture evenly again before returning the mixture to the oven, rotating the pans between the top and bottoms racks each time. Bake for about 45 minutes or until browned to your taste.
Cool completely. Makes about 10 cups.
Italian herb – Use olive oil. Add 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper, and 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, or aged Asiago cheese to the oil/egg white mixture. Use pine nuts for some or all of the nuts.
Cajun or Mexican – Add 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic, 2-4 tablespoons Cajun seasoning, taco seasoning or chili powder, 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan, Pecorino Romano or aged Asiago. Use pecans and puffed corn. If the seasoning/chili powder contains salt, omit other added salt.
Contact Julianne Glatz at firstname.lastname@example.org.