Amuse Bouche™: Weekly Musings on Food & Life

23Apr09

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Living Green? Start with a Bowl of Granola

By Suzanne Lenzer

Green is the new black it seems. From reusable shopping bags and compost bins to backyard vegetable gardens and electric cars, saving the planet has gone from crunchy through trendy and all the way to mainstream. Let’s hope it stays that way.

The more of us who recognize the impact we can have by making small, incremental changes the better off we’ll all be. And yes, that includes what we eat. Without diving into the very hot (as in, both current and heated) debate over the importance of eating locally or organically or seasonally or vegan or whatever the label of the moment is, I will say that eating well—and by that I mean good, wholesome food that’s produced under sustainable conditions—is a relatively easy adjustment that we can all make in our efforts to live a greener life.

Having spent the better part of the last two years working with Mark Bittman, the food writer, on a book about how what we eat–too many animal products and too much processed food–impacts global warming and our own health, I’ve learned more than I ever wanted to know about how we’re destroying the planet. But I’ve also learned a lot about what each one of us can do try and limit our personal impact.

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I’d suggest we start by embracing everyday as Earth Day (which was officially yesterday) and work toward what Mark calls “sane eating.” Reducing our conspicuous consumption of junk food in favor of more wholesome food (think: fruits and vegetables and whole grains) is a simple way to contribute to saving the world. So why not start with breakfast?

In honor of Earth Day, I decided a big batch of granola was in order. Now I realize you can buy granola, but I have a few problems with this approach.

First off, in my opinion it’s always too sweet. Next, it’s always got something in it I don’t want in my cereal (sunflower seeds for example) or something I don’t really get (like flax seeds). And lastly, packaged granola also always seems to cost an awful lot for what it is: basically toasted oats. If I can buy a huge box of oats for less than $3, why would I pay upwards of $6 for a few ounces of them tossed with nuts and sugar?

So I make my own, and I think it’s pretty much the best breakfast around. It’s also incredibly convenient: you can whip it up in under a half hour and have breakfast ready to go for a week or two (depending on how big your cereal bowl is).

What makes this recipe special, in my opinion, is the secret ingredient: brown rice crispies. Sure you can use regular rice crispies (or even denigrate the entire notion of granola by using coco-flavored crispies) but if you want to stay true to the earthy, hippie, crunchy spirit of granola, you want brown rice crispies. The rice makes this granola much lighter than others, and yes, it makes that fun popping noise when the milk hits it.

Keep in mind granola is basically anything you want it to be. I’ve played around with this recipe for years to come up with a combination I like, and you should too. Less nuts, more oats, less sweetener, or only one kind—it’s all up for grabs. Basically as long as you have enough of the butter mixture to lightly coat the dry ingredients you’ll end up with a delicious way to start the day–and honor the planet.

Crispy, Crunchy Granola

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1/3 cup brown sugar, or to taste

1/3 cup honey, or to taste

1/4 cup maple syrup, or to taste

1 tablespoon vanilla

6 cups rolled oats

4 cups brown rice crispies

1 cup roughly ground almonds

1 cup roughly ground pecans

1 cup roughly ground walnuts

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon cinnamon

2 cups raisins, dried cranberries, dates, figs or other dried fruit, optional

 

  1. Heat the oven to 325dF. Melt the butter and sweeteners together over medium-low heat; add the vanilla, stir well to combine and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients except the raisins (or other dried fruit). Slowly pour the butter mixture into the dry ingredients, mixing to coat the oats, rice, and nuts as evenly as possible; don’t rush this, it will take a few minutes to thoroughly combine the butter with the dry ingredients.
  3. Spread the mixture evenly on two baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes; then gently turn the granola using a spatula. Cook for another 5 minutes and turn again; continue with this process until the granola has cooked for a total of 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool; the granola will crisp up as it cools.
  4. Add the raisins or other dried fruit and store in an airtight container for up to two weeks. Serve with fresh fruit and yogurt or milk, or, sprinkle over ice cream.

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