Healthy food can carry a bad wrap. The most common complaints I hear? That it’s bland and unsatisfying (as if we’re all eating raw tofu without anything on it). In contrast, I’ve actually seen good-for-you, plant-based food that’s more flavorful, inventive, and delicious than a more traditional Western diet. (See Heidi Swanson’s, Jess Murnane’s, and Claire Ragozinno’s recipes for some prime examples).
The one area where I have found the healthy alternative to be lacking is granola. Though touted as a healthy alternative to pre-packaged cereals, granola can actually be less than angelic: many granolas have a large amount of oil and sugar on them, and granola in itself can be drying and hard on your digestive system because of the raw oats, dried fruit, and unsoaked nuts and seeds.
For my digestive system, the most troublesome part of eating traditional granolas are the raw oats. My belly just gets bloated and unhappy with all that roughage, and mixing in dried fruit just exacerbates the problem. A great way to make digestion of granola easier is to soak the oats, nuts, and seeds before you bake them. But the majority of soaked granolas are pretty ugly and pretty bland (you can google this for yourself). I decided it was time to give soaked granola another try, with an emphasis on making sure it was a delicious alternative to regular granola. The results were a rousing success!! (It was even approved by my boyfriend). If anything, I even prefer this granola to the regular type because it is full of clusters, has a great flavor, and keeps my tummy feeling good.
The secret to delicious soaked granola?
1. Enough salt.
2. Draining the oats after soaking and before baking.
2. Enough (but not excessive!!) sugar and oil.
3. Baking the granola way longer than you think you should, and breaking up the granola as you bake it.
First – Why soak oats and nuts before you use them for granola?
I feel like I am talking about this all the time, but it’s a message that bears repeating: Soaking grains is important because they contain phytic acid, which inhibits the absorption of important vitamins and minerals and proper digestion of these grains. Incomplete digestion in the stomach is what ultimately leads to bloating in the intestine. Luckily, most grains have a naturally occurring enzyme, phytase, which breaks down the phytic acid, so you can keep that bloating at bay. How do you activate the phytase enzyme and reach digestive bliss? Just soak the grains (usually 8-24 hours) before you cook them!
Oats are a special case because they don’t naturally contain enough phytase to break down the phytic acid, so you have to add some wheat or rye flour while you soak the oats to get rid of the phytic acid.
Nuts on the other hand, contain enzyme inhibitors in their skins that similarly block your body from properly digesting and absorbing all the nutrients they have to offer. For nuts, soaking them in salted water for ~8 hours neutralizes those inhibitors. For all the information you’ll ever want or need on soaking grains, legumes, and nuts, please see Sally Fallon’s amazing book, Nourishing Traditions and resources on from the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Soaked Granola that Actually Tastes Good
A small note: there are a lot of parts to this recipe, but don’t be alarmed! Each step is fairly simple, and like all granolas, there’s a lot of latitude – feel free to experiment with different oils, sugars, nuts, and seeds to find the perfect granola for you!
2.5 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup rye or wheat flour
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup flax seeds
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup sorghum syrup (you can substitute honey or maple syrup!)
3 tbsp blackstrap molasses
1/4 cup olive oil
The night before bake time (or ~24 hours before):
1. Combine oats and wheat flour in a bowl with water. Make sure the water comes 1-2 inches above the oats because they will expand!
The morning of (~8-12 hours before):
2. Combine chopped almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a bowl with water. Once again, make sure the water comes 1-2 inches above the nuts and seeds.
1 hour before bake time:
3. Drain the oats/flour mixture using a fine mesh sieve (or cheese cloth). Let the oats sit in the sieve above a bowl or pot for 1 hour to drain the excess water.
At Bake time:
3. Preheat your oven to 300 F.
4. Drain and rinse your nuts/seeds, and combine them in a large bowl with the drained oats.
5. Add cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and flax seeds.
6. In a small saucepan, combine the molasses, sorghum, and olive oil, just heating to combine them all together.
7. Stir the wet ingredients into the nuts and oats until well combined.
8. Lay out the granola on a baking sheet, spreading it evenly across the pan.
9. Bake in the oven for ~ 1 hour, then take your granola out of the oven and cut into squares (like you were cutting brownies). Flip all the squares over and put back in the oven for ~1 more hour.
10. Flip the squares again, and use a knife (or your hands) to break up the granola into smaller pieces. The great thing about this granola is that you’ll DEFINITELY have clusters, and you can choose how big you want the clusters to be!
11. Turn the oven down to ~200 F and keep in the oven for about another hour.
12. Take the granola out and taste it – is it still soft and squishy in the middle? If it’s still really soft, consider breaking up your clusters more, and keeping it in the oven at that 200 F for another hour or two. When the clusters are a little soft in the middle, similar to a cookie, then you can turn off your oven. I leave the clusters in the oven overnight to harden. What you’re looking for is crispy crunchy granola, so you can store at room temperature.
After a night in the (turned off) oven, I store the granola for up to 3 weeks in mason jars!
In this form, you get a crunchy, delicious snack that’s great for when you’re on the go. I love that this granola has big clusters, which makes it much more portable than other granolas. In milk, with yogurt, with fruit, or dried, it tastes awesome. You can also add dried fruit after cooking if that’s your jam. Endless possibilities.
Would you give soaked granola a try? Your stomach will thank you! I’d love to hear what you think about this soaked granola that ACTUALLY tastes good!!