I’ll level with you: the “no added sugar” in this post’s title means no refined sugars, no honey, no agave. This granola is sweetened — with dates, which are high in natural sugars for a fruit, but are also about half as inflammation-promoting as an equivalent amount of the aforementioned sweeteners. Dates are also packed with nutrients — like the elusive dietary iron — and fiber. That’s some good stuff. Dates can be pricey in a mainstream grocery store (1 lb of pitted dates costs $10.99 in ours) but try looking around for some Middle Eastern markets. Our local Middle Eastern grocery carries unpitted dates for just $4.99/lb.
It takes about 2 seconds to pit a date, so I don’t mind the extra bit of work for such great savings. Just slice the date in half, and pull out the pit with your fingers. Seriously, 2 seconds. You can often find prepackaged date puree, too. (Sometimes I’m lazy, or in a hurry.)
I’ve been making granola with date puree thanks to Anja’s Food 4 Thought, which is a wonderful “healthy eating” blog full of inspiring recipes. Anja often uses citrus zest to flavor her date puree for granolas (mmm… orange in granola is a favorite of mine!) I decided to try using vanilla bean seeds and coconut oil in the puree, and was positively gleeful over the way my kitchen smelled while this granola was baking.
The lovely thing about granola is that there’s really no wrong combination of ingredients, so it allows for infinite variations. Here I’ve added protein-packed amaranth seeds, which I partially popped in a dry skillet (like itty bitty popcorn kernels) before adding them to the granola mixture. They added crunch, an interesting texture, and a unique toasty flavor. (Not to mention all of amaranth’s nutritional benefits!) I’ve found amaranth seeds in a pre-packaged box at our mainstream grocery store, and also in bulk at our local food co-op. Shopping for granola ingredients in the bulk foods aisle of our local co-op, Wheatsfield, makes it easy to buy small amounts of new grains, nuts, seeds, and spices with which to experiment.
1/2 cup dates, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup boiling water
1 Tbsp vanilla bean seeds or paste
2 Tbsp coconut oil
1 1/2 cups gluten-free rolled oats or barley flakes (barley is not gluten free)
1 cup blanched, slivered almonds, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup amaranth
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup whole flax seeds
2/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
Preheat oven to 300 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Pour 1/2 cup boiling water over the pitted, chopped dates in a heat-proof bowl and let sit for 10 minutes. Stir in the vanilla bean seeds or paste and coconut oil. Add the whole mixture to the bowl of a food processor and whiz it up into a smooth paste.
I’ll be honest, at this point the vanilla-coconut-date mixture is going to smell so amazingly heady and delectable that you’re going to say to yourself, “screw the granola, I could eat this paste straight out of the bowl!” And that is A-o.k. I’ll wait; meet me back here once you’ve made up another batch.
Meanwhile, pop the amaranth. Pour 1/2 cup amaranth into a dry skillet over medium-high heat. Cover, and shake the pan occasionally until about half (or more) of the seeds have popped. Watch carefully to make sure they don’t burn. Cool slightly, and add to the oats or barley flakes, almonds, sunflower seeds, and flax seeds in a large bowl.
Scrape every last bit of the gorgeous date puree into the bowl of granola ingredients and stir well until everything is evenly coated.
Spread the mixture out on the parchment-lined baking sheet in as thin and even a layer as possible. Pop it into the oven and bake for about 45 minutes, checking and stirring the mixture every 10 – 12 minutes or so to keep the granola browning evenly. Pay special attention to the granola at the edges of the pan, which will brown faster than the middle. Sprinkle the shredded coconut onto the granola for the last 10 minutes of baking so it gets lightly toasted.
Let the granola cool completely on the baking sheet, stirring it up occasionally. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.