No April Fool’s joke from me today. I’ve had enough of them here on my end, so I am not pass the fooling onto you all. Quite the opposite instead. I’m actually debuting a new regular guest column from Elizabeth Miller of the food blog Savory Salty Sweet. Twice a month, on Fridays, Elizabeth will share some of her adventures in cookery with you and with me via her column called Melting Pot: recipes and adventures in food.
I’m loving this first recipe and can’t wait to see what else Elizabeth sends our way. xoxo- jen
A few years ago, my husband’s grandmother, Janet, culled through her vast and impressive book collection and gave me some cookbooks she thought I might find interesting. Several weeks passed before I was able to set aside some quality time to really explore the books, and when I did finally sit down with them, armed with a big cup of coffee and a homemade scone, I was flabbergasted. These cookbooks, collected over Janet’s decades of dedication to mindful eating, frequent exercise, and clean living, were practically exploding with healthfulness. There were recipes for triple bran rolls, pinto bean-wheat waffles, and something called “gluten roast.” I looked at my coffee and scone and briefly considered hiding them under a chair so the book wouldn’t see them and solemnly judge me.
Convinced that I would never be able to live up to the standards of roughage consumption and soybean preparation required by the books (one of which featured an actual chapter entitled “Soybean Magic!” exclamation point and all), I closed them up and prepared myself to admit defeat in the face of lentils and bran (which, come to think of it, was another combination of waffle ingredients that managed to catch my eye). As I shuffled the books together, I noticed that one of them had a small bookmark sticking out from between two pages. I opened the book to the marked page, and saw that it was holding a place in the chapter on desserts. Dubious of the types of desserts such a cookbook would offer, I began to warily scan the pages.
To my surprise, the desserts were actually sort of interesting. A recipe for brittle peanut cookies looked like a reduced-sugar version of classic oatmeal lace cookies. There was a recipe for macaroons that called for grated carrots, but, combined with the shredded coconut that is a macaroon standard, it seemed like the sweetness of the carrots would play nicely with the other flavors. The best looking desserts, however, were the ones that didn’t rely on substitutions to get by. Much like the best vegetarian dishes are the ones that are made to unapologetically celebrate vegetables—and not just provide half-hearted substitutions for meat—the most delicious healthy desserts featured in this book were the ones that were made to be healthy to begin with: fruit soup, pineapple and mint shakes, and these wonderfully chewy, crispy fruit bars that are made with only a single tablespoon of refined sugar. The natural sweetness of the dried, chopped fruit requires no additional sweetening, and the savory oat crust that envelops the fruit is the perfect mix of heartiness and mild sweetness.
I changed the recipe just a bit, adding spices and a bit of sea salt to the oat crust (why is food that is touted as being aggressively healthy so often woefully timid when spices are involved?), and changing up the combination of dried fruits that make the filling, but when it came to altering the health factor of the recipe, I stepped back and left well enough alone. I can’t be too dubious of a healthy dessert, especially when it was found in a book given to me by such a healthy woman who has led such a satisfying life. I could learn a lot by emulating the health habits of Janet, a woman who only recently, at age 97, stopped cleaning out her own gutters (and that was purely because her son-in-law confiscated her ladder).
Fruit and Nut Granola Bars
Adapted from The Oats, Peas, Beans, and Barley Cookbook
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons soy flour (I used oat flour and it was fine, but I’ll bet that plain old all-purpose flour would work just as well)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 cup oil
1/3 cup warm water
1 1/2 cups dried fruit of your choice (I used a mixture of raisins, dried apricots, and dried cherries, and they went together splendidly)
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used almonds)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
To make the crust, combine all of the dry ingredients and spices in a medium bowl. Measure oil and water into a cup and beat with a fork until oil is moistened evenly. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and spices and mix well with fork or fingers. Let stand while preparing filling.
To make the filling, grind and chop dried fruit with water in a blender or food processor. Combine with nuts. Add salt and lemon juice, then mix well.
Flatten a little less than half of the oat mixture into bottom of greased 8″ x 8″ pan. Press down firmly with fingers. Spread filling evenly over crust. Put remaining oat mixture over filling and press firmly with fingers or fork.
Bake at 375 degrees° F for 25-30 minutes, or until a delicate brown. Cool before removing from pan. Cut into 2″ squares, this recipe will yield 16 bars.