It’s been quite some time since I’ve eaten granola, save the odd emergency bar during a long tennis match. But I miss it, the comfort food of my adolescence. In 1973 my Mom returned from a visit to her family in Eastern Canada bearing gifts – a bag of a new kind of cereal called “granola” and a Neil Diamond album called Hot August Night that included the song, Crunchy Granola – “Drop your shrink and stop your drinkin’, crunchy granola’s neat!” Mom immediately got on the case and created a recipe including 12 cups rolled outs, 2 cups sunflower seeds, 1 cup melted honey, 1 cup safflower oil and more, all baked together in a big pan. It was delicious and the granola jar was just wide enough to get your hand in for a favorite after school snack.
It wasn’t long after that granola caught on across North America, touted as the new health food. Soon “being crunchy” became synonymous with being a natural type of person, referring to “the crunch of granola, which (as goes the stereotype) hippie-esque people are likely to eat”. Since the 70’s granola has become mainstream. I know this because my son used to eat granola bars for breakfast and there is a whole aisle full of nothing but such bars in the grocery store. This once “health food” may now be filled with dangerous non-foods such as high fructose corn syrup and highly processed soy protein.
But was granola ever really a health food? On the pro side, my Mom’s was made from mostly whole ingredients, processed at home and infused with a mother’s love and care. But even good granola is primarily carbohydrate including a great deal of simple sugar. Look for example at the nutritional analysis of one of the better quality commercial granolas, Bear Naked. One serving provides 140 calories: 18 grams carbohydrate (6 grams sugar from honey, maple syrup and sugar-sweetened cranberries), 3 grams protein and 7 grams fat. Watch out though, one serving is only 1/4 cup. Aside from all that sugar, granola is largely made from its namesake – grain. Mainstream nutrition literature touts whole grains as a staple, but grains can irritate the digestive system and cause a host of health problems in some people. Since having cancer I’ve cut way back on sugar (which can feed many kinds of tumors) and also cut out grains almost entirely to avoid the inflammation they can cause. So even the best granola isn’t on my menu.
Imagine my delight when last year I discovered a raw grainless version made by Lydia’s Organics. Since then, following in my mother’s footsteps, I have worked out a new recipe that is too good to keep to myself. I call this Paleola, as I follow a Paleo. It fits the bill as a vegan, raw, gluten-free, grain-free, sugar-free and fat-free, thereby making it suitable for almost any eating regimen. It is delicious, healthy and yes crunchy too!
- 3 pounds apples
- 2 cups sunflower seeds
- 6 dates
- 6 figs
- 6 apricots
- ½ cup goji berries
- 2 cups walnuts
- 1 1/2 cups pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- 1 cup pecans
- 1 cup cashews
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 1/4 – 1/2 tsp cayenne (optional)
- 1/2 tsp salt (optional)
The nuts and seeds should be raw and refrigerated before and after purchase. Ideally everything should be organic.
Making Paleola requires some organization, a food processor, a sprout jar and a dehydrator. It is fairly labor intensive, but well worth it. If you’re planning to make Paleola on Wednesday, for example, you will start on Sunday night. Remember, this is a labor of love!
Sunday overnight: Soak 2 cups sunflower seeds in a large sprouting jar (at least 4 cups) for 8 hours. Over the next couple of days you will keep these in a dark place and rinse twice a day. Drain well after each rinsing. They will grow a tail as long as the seed in this time. In warm weather be alert as they can turn sour if you miss a rinsing or grow them too long. If the sprouts are done but you’re not ready to make Paleola you can store them in the fridge for up to two days.
Tuesday morning: The rest of the nuts and seeds should be soaked and dried before using, as they contain anti-nutrients that soaking helps to deactivate. I do each nut or seed separately a pound of each at a time so my dehydrator is full. I keep the rest on hand for using as a condiment or for the next time I make Paleola. These soaking directions come from Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions.
Soak the nuts/seeds in water, in a ratio of 4 cups of water to 1 tbsp salt. After 6 hours rinse the cashews and put them in the dehydrator on the hottest setting. Two hours later rinse the rest of the nuts and put them in the dehydrator. You will continue to dry the cashews as well. At this point you want to get the temperature as close as possible to 110 degrees without going over. Continue to dry the nuts in the dehydrator overnight.
Wednesday morning: Take the nuts and seeds out of the dryer and let them cool to room temperature. Take out what you need for the recipe and store the rest in glass jars. I’m not sure you need to keep them in the fridge at this point but that’s what I do.
Core and cut the apples, and grate them with the appropriate food processor attachment. After grating use the S blade attachment to gently process the apples a little more. If you miss this extra step your Paleola will be stringy. Next, use the S blade to process the sprouted sunflower seeds so they get chopped a little. It is better to process both the apples and seeds in small batches. Now, use kitchen scissors to cut the dried fruit into tiny pieces. Excessively dry fruit will need to be soaked first. Add the cinnamon, cayenne and salt and mix well. Divide evenly into your dehydrator trays and dry at the same temperature as you did the nuts, 110 degrees. Stir after about six hours. Depending upon your dryer it will be at least another six hours before this mixture is dry.
Next you mix in the dried nuts and seeds. The nuts are a feature of this recipe. You want them to be a little chunky and have a nice shape. You can chop them in the food processor, but I think it’s worth it to prepare them by hand. Pecans can be sliced into three slivers following the spine of the nut, the cashews can coaxed in half where they naturally divide. The pumpkin seeds and walnuts just need to be coarsely chopped or leave the pumpkin seeds whole if you prefer. Of course you could dry the chopped nuts with the apple and sunflower mixture and skip the separate drying step. My dryer isn’t big enough and I like to dry a lot of nuts at once for other uses. Suit yourself.
Depending how much you munch along the way, this makes about 16 cups. It is very concentrated, so use it sparingly – 1/4 cup is still the ideal serving size. Together with almond milk and currently mangoes, it makes a superb finishing touch to our Special Breakfast.
Paleola is a concentrated food and should be used as a condiment. It is also a great emergency food in my tennis bag or for travel. Eating well takes attention, time and commitment. Trust me though, once you have the knack of making Paleola it is a worthwhile way to spend a little of your precious time.