Soft, crunchy, sweet, chewy – homemade fruit, nut and seed bars. So good and full of nutrients that I have to remind myself that even good things need to be eaten in moderation.
I was a bit indulgent over the holidays. Cheese, chocolate, cookies, cake all featured on the menu. On one occasion, we were scouring the shelves of the bakery aisle in the grocery store and I spotted a favourite from a few years back that I hadn’t had in ages – fresh baked giant squares of shortbread with Belgian chocolate chunks!! WOW!! I forgot all about them but now had to have some – but I also noticed right next to them, in another cute little paper bag (amazing how packaging draws you in) were fresh baked fruit and seed granola/flapjack squares. Being the holidays, we took both!!
The granola squares were opened in the car. They were moist, buttery, vanilla-y with a lovely natural crunch and taste from the seeds, raisins and cranberries. The granola bars lasted minutes, the shortbread sat around for days which got me thinking. If you are going to indulge in a treat – isn’t one that satisfies your sweet tooth and ‘comfort needs’ but also provides some nutrients better than just empty calories? And if you could increase the nutrients, decrease the empty calories but keep the satisfying sweetness, moistness and crunchiness – wouldn’t that be even better?
That is why I have been on a quest for a healthy (well as healthy as possible) recipe for granola bars or power bars or flapjacks. Whatever the name, it would have to have little or no added sugar and lots of seeds, nuts, berries, fruit and although I’m not vegan I don’t feel the need to use animal products where they are not needed so also no dairy or eggs. It was actually really hard to find a healthy recipe!! So many were full of sugar – using lots (1 or 2 cups!!) of brown sugar, honey, maple syrup even corn syrup, to hold all the healthy stuff together. I finally decided to use the method I use for making muffins – mashed up ripe banana for sweetness, along with almond milk with added agave and chopped dates. For an egg-free binder I use a flax seed substitute.
After deciding on my low sugar options, the next level of ‘healthy’ would be are they raw, dehydrated or cooked? Do I need to soak and sprout the seeds and nuts?
I was first properly introduced to the health benefits of raw food and soaking when I attended a 6 week course with Claire Beecroft, Raw Food and Lifestyle Coach with ‘In Excellent Health’. Claire not only taught us about the added benefits of soaking your seeds, nuts and pulses, she showed us how to do it, what equipment you would need (for soaking and dehydrating) and how to plan so that your ingredients are ready when you need them. If you want to find out about future classes or one to one coaching you can contact Claire on her facebook page Raw food and Healing or via the ‘In Excellent Health’ website. One of our guest bloggers, Faith Canter also runs Raw Food workshops which you can find out about from her facebook page.
Why soak: Seeds are naturally in a dormant state so that they don’t start to grow unless they are in the right environment. That’s why your packet of seeds can keep so long, especially in a cool dark place. When in warm, moist environment (like soil) the dormancy controlling enzymes are broken down and the seeds awake and start to grow. The nutrients are now released to allow the plant to grow. By soaking seeds, nuts, pulses in water before eating we switch them from their ‘dormant’ state to a ‘nourishing’ state – which means they are easier to digest and we get more nutrients from them. I try to do it as much as possible – always with pulses – but is does take time and planning. I recommend that if you are feeling run down have a lack of energy, headaches, digestive problems – you may benefit from the extra nutrients soaking can provide. Have a read up and you can decide what’s best for you and your lifestyle. Eating a large portion of raw food everyday can also provide extra nutrients that may be lost in cooking. Again this may take some extra reading, planning and preparation and different seeds, nuts and pulses have their own soaking requirements so I’ve put some links to soaking guides in the recipe below.
Soaked pulses can be used wet – ready for cooking, or use in things like veggie burgers; but nuts and seeds should be dried out at low temperatures using a dehydrator or the lowest setting on your oven (unless soaking nuts to make milk). In order to maintain nutrients and still be considered ‘Raw’, dehydration should be carried out at temperatures less then 48C, although some recommend keeping the temperature closer to 40. I don’t have a dehydrator but have successfully used my oven set at the lowest temperature (bake) with a folded tea towel holding the door slightly open (don’t let the towel hang in the oven and touch the element!). As you can see in the picture, this gave me a fairly constant temperature of 38C. Dehydrators also come with trays that are non-stick and permeable to air – to improve circulation. I found replacement dehydrator sheets from UK Juicers – not too expensive, fit nicely on my oven racks and are great for whenever you need a non-stick, reusable surface. Now I just need to buy spare racks so I can dehydrate more at the same time!
Thanks to some input from the Healthy Edinburgh Facebook followers this is the recipe I came up with, including some options depending on whether you choose to soak, cook or dehydrate your bars. Also, use your favourite seeds, nuts and fruits. I just used what I already had lurking in the cupboards; it’s a good way to use up things that have been hanging around. I’ve provided a couple of different options so that you can make your bars raw or cooked. Or, if you want raw, but don’t want to bother with dehydrating the bars, you can use honey and/or nut butters to stick your seeds together and roll into balls – just don’t add any wet ingredients such as the mashed banana and almond milk. And remember, if you soak your seeds and nuts – they will need to be dehydrated before using or you’ll end up with soggy bars!! You can soak and dehydrate in large batches and store the extra in glass jars for several weeks ready for more recipes, sprinkling onto salads or as a healthy snack (luckily I had pre-soaked pumpkin and sunflower seeds). I also find that after soaking and dehydrating, nuts such as walnuts taste sweeter and less bitter – bonus!!
Recipe: Power Bars – The Raw and the Cooked
This recipe is meant to be more of a rough guide – have a read, have a look online for more ideas and get inspired to have a go!!
Note if you are soaking – you’ll need to start 2 or 3 days in advance for soaking and dehydrating!!
Here are some great guides to soaking times for different seeds and nuts:
- Electric coffee mill
- Mini food processor
- Optional: dehydrator or equivalent
- Square baking pan (9 or 10 inch) or dehydrator sheets, non-stick
- 2 TBSP Flax seeds, finely ground in coffee mill
- 100 ml Water
- 100ml Almond milk, or equivalent (omit if making raw balls, without dehydrating)
- Dates (3 or 4, finely diced)
- Very ripe banana (omit if making raw balls, without dehydrating)
- 2 cups Oats
- Handful of Pumpkin seeds (soaked and dehydrated if desired)
- Handful of Sunflower seeds (soaked and dehydrated if desired)
- Handful of Dried fruit (cranberries, prunes, raisins etc..)
- Handful Desiccated coconut, shredded
- Handful of nuts, I used raw hazlenuts – lightly crushed with a rolling pin
- Sprinkle of Sesame seeds (over the top before baking/dehydrating – or to roll your balls in)
- Optional: sweetener of choice (Honey, Agave, Maple Syrup, etc…) – I added a tablespoon of Agave to the Almond milk; use more if ‘sticking’ the ingredients together for a raw ball.
- First, measure out the ‘milk’ into a small jug or bowl and add the chopped dates, vanilla, agave. Allow to soak for at least 30 minutes.
- Make the Flaxseed egg substitute:
- Grind the seeds into a fine powder using a coffee mill
- Place the ground seeds and the 150 ml of water into a small food processor, blender or hand blender and whip for about 1 minute (some sites say you can do this with a hand whisk but I’ve always used the processor). It will turn gloopy – like egg whites. This makes enough to replace 2 eggs.
- This can be kept in the fridge for several days and sets up more when chilled.
- In a large bowl, mash up the banana and add the milk mixture and the whipped flaxseed. Beat together with a fork.
- Now add the cinnamon and all the dry ingredients and fold together.
- If you are going to dehydrate the bars, divide the mixture in two and spread into a rectangular shape onto a non stick sheet (as recommended for your dehydrator or similar to the ones in the link above). To lessen the drying time, roll into 1 inch balls, place on the sheets and flatten into cookie shapes. These could take anywhere from 10 hours upwards to set up depending on thickness and shape. Sprinkle with (or roll into) the sesame seeds.
- If baking these (which I did this time), line a square baking pan with parchment paper and lightly grease with some coconut oil. Press the mixture into the pan, sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake at 170 C for 25 minutes. Remove from pan and cut into bars while still warm. These were soft and chewy on the inside and a little crunchy on the outside.