Kitchen staples: granola with chia seeds

may 2009 032

Kitchen experimentation is a lot of fun, but early in the morning on a busy workday I don’t feel very experimental. I want something comfortable and familiar, quick to prepare, healthy, and tasty. Oh yes, and I also want it to keep me feeling good all morning, not just give me a sugar rush to get me out the door.

       My homemade granola fits the bill perfectly. It offers whole grains, fruit, nuts, lots of fiber and antioxidants, and good flavor. If you eat it with yogurt, as I do, you get a good dose of healthy bacteria too. One easy kitchen job every 3-4 weeks keeps two people supplied with good breakfasts, plus an occasional handful out of the jar as a snack.

     I use agave nectar as the sweetener due to its low glycemic index and good flavor. I used to use vegetable oil but now use a light-flavored olive oil. This is a great vehicle for chia seeds, too. If you’ve read Christopher McDougle’s interesting new book Born to Run, you know about how the Tarahumara tribe uses chia seeds as an energy source. Personally, I won’t eat anything just because it’s good for me; it also has to taste good. In this recipe, chia seeds taste good.

Click here for the recipe!

Ultra-healthy Granola
I recommend using all organic ingredients

6 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup wheat bran
1/2 cup chia seeds
1 cup raw sunflower kernels
1 cup raw Brazil nuts, sliced thin or chopped
1/4 cup mesquite flour (optional but I recommend it)
1/2 cup light-flavored olive oil
2 cups dark agave nectar
1 teaspoon salt
2 whole nutmegs, freshly grated
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract (optional but good)
8 oz dried wild blueberries, preferably the kind with no sugar added

Combine the oats, bran, chia seeds, nuts, sunflower kernels, and mesquite flour in a large bowl with plenty of room for tossing. In a separate container mix the agave nectar, olive oil, salt, grated nutmeg, and vanilla. Set the blueberries aside for the time being. Pour the liquids over the oat mixture and mix in well with your hands until thoroughly combined.
Heat the oven to 250 degrees, nonconvection. The long-slow cooking at low temperature is key; this allows it to toast with very little attention from you, so the project works well on a day when you have other things to do at home and don’t want to hover in the kitchen. Spread the granola out fairly evenly on a large tray, put it in the oven, and don’t worry about it for an hour. After an hour, turn it with a spatula and leave it for another hour. Now start watching the cloor. It will be soft while still hot, so don’t try to judge doneness by the texture. When it has turned a couple of shades darker and golder, usually about 2 1/2 hours for me, put some out on a saucer to cool thoroughly. If it crisps up, it’s done. Remove from the oven, mix in the blueberries, and let it cool completely uncovered (to avoid any steam buildup which would ruin the texture) before storing in jars or tightly sealed plastic bags.

This is an adaptable recipe as long as you maintain the basic proportions and cooking method. Don’t have chia seeds? Add some flaxseed meal instead. Like walnuts better than Brazil nuts? Use them. Use raisinhs instead of dried blueberries if you like. Don’t add the dried fruit until it’s removed from the oven, since they can develop a “cooked” taste that I don’t find pleasant.

More on chia seeds: they are known to contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, phytosterols, protein, and antioxidants including quercetin and kaempherol. There are no thorough nutritional analyses of them that I can find, and they are certainly not the wonder-weight-loss tool that some are suggesting that they are. They’re just a good healthy whole food that deserves a place in our diet. No need for any exaggerated claims.

More on mesquite flour and agave nectar: these ingredients, besides tasting good, contribute to a low glycemic index. Agave nectar, unlike other sweeteners, has a glycemic index around 31, and mesquite flour has a demonstrated ability to help sugars enter the bloodstream more slowly. Diabetes is nothing to take lightly, though, and if you have it, I urge you to use your own blood sugar record and your health care providers’ input to determine a healthy diet.

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