Savory Granola Bars
One of the best things about living in Colorado is that the mountains are (for all intents and purposes) in my backyard. For a girl who grew up in Kansas, I still can't get over this fact.
Three days a week I drive west on my commute home and I gaze upon the splendor of the Rockies. Whether snow-peaked, green, or grey, they never cease to capture my imagination or my heart.
I love the mountains.
I love hiking, backpacking, camping. I love the smell of the forest on a cold morning, sitting in front of a fire with a cup of coffee. I love the hot afternoons, sun on my back. I love reaching the peak of a mountain, where all of the sore muscles and aching lungs are suddenly worth it.
One of my very favorite things about hiking is experiencing the way food fuels my body. After long hikes, this is when I feel truly hungry. Thus, what I take on the trail with me is really important. I don't just take chips and PopTarts (actually, I did that once - worst decision ever).
I'm really not a fan of sugar on the trail (except, of course, peanut M&Ms - these are pretty much the ideal hiking food). I usually crave salt. I dream of salt.
As a result of my need for salt + convenience + delicious + healthy food for the trail, I pursued a quest to develop savory granola bars. That's right. Not blocks of sugar, but blocks of nutrition.
And I packed those babies with nutrition: almonds, pumpkin seeds, oats, and chia seeds. Anybody else a fan of chia? Not the weird (yet very entertaining) chia pets, but the seeds - the nutrition-packed "superfood" seeds. Let me tell you a little about these tiny little delights.
What's in Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids, similar to the kind found in flaxseeds. Even though vegetarian sources of Omega-3s aren't quite as good for you as animal sources like salmon (our bodies don't covert the fatty acids into the usable forms EPA and DHA as well as fish do), they are still a great way to add these healthy oils into your diet.
They are also a good source of protein and a great source of fiber (almost 5 grams in one tablespoon!), so adding to smoothies in the morning or mixing into yogurt will give you a boost of "staying power." The nutrients slow digestion and absorption of the carbohydrates and help you feel full for longer.
In the micronutrient category, these seeds are a good source of calcium and phosphorous and a great source of manganese. Not bad for such a little seed!
What's so Good about Chia Seeds
Because of the healthy nutrients in chia seeds, they are (of course) really good for you. The healthy oils promote heart health by lowering cholesterol and tryglycerides; they also help decrease inflammation in the body. The balance of micronutrients (low in sodium and high in calcium) helps lower blood pressure.
How to use Chia Seeds
Chia seeds can be eaten either raw or sprouted. Unlike flaxseeds (which pass right through your system if eaten whole), chia seeds do not need to be ground before consumption. When mixed with water, ground chia seeds develop a gelatinous texture. Add chia seeds to oatmeal, smoothies, cereal, or yogurt. Sprouts can be tossed with a salad and eaten raw.
So let's make some of this goodness. Start by gathering your ingredients - including smoked almonds and roasted pumpkin seeds. If you're feeling resourceful, consider roasting your own seeds - you can save the seeds from any winter squash and roast these instead of pumpkin seeds. Roast raw almonds in the oven tossed with a bit of liquid smoke for flavor. If not, you can find both of these items in your local grocery store, usually in the aisle with the nuts for snacking (not for baking).
Chop the almonds coarsely. I like them chopped pretty well - these are definitely fibrous granola bars, so the less chewing, the better.
Mix together your dry ingredients: two cups chopped almonds, one cup old fashioned oats, a half cup roasted pumpkin seeds, and a half cup millet.
In a separate bowl, mix together a half cup brown rice syrup (great because it's not so sweet, but will help the bars stay together), a fourth of a cup of honey, and two tablespoons of canola oil. Add two tablespoons ground chia seeds and the following spices to the syrup mixture: 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon chili powder, 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, one teaspoon of salt, and one teaspoon liquid smoke.
Mix the spices into the syrup mixture, then pour into dry ingredients and stir to completely coat. Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish, then line with parchment paper. Press granola tightly into the lined pan and spread evenly.
Bake at 325 for 18-20 minutes until edges are bubbly. Let sit in the pan about 10 minutes, then lift granola out of pan with the parchment paper and set on a cooling rack until set.
Cut the bars into 27 pieces (3 bars X 9 bars). I recommend leaving the parchment paper on to help the bars stay together. I recommend NOT using waxed paper - I made this mistake the first time I made these. When the bars dried, the wax paper stuck to the bars. And it was very, very hard to see.
I took a few of these bars to work to share with my co-workers and several bars were consumed - waxed paper and all. I forgot to warn a few people, but others still ate the paper even with proper warning. Here's hoping waxed paper is as non-toxic as it claims...
Store extra bars in the fridge to extend their life - remember, no preservatives in your homemade granola bars! I wrap the individual bars in parchment or waxed paper to take them on the trail.
Savory Granola Bars
2 c. smoked almonds
1/2 c. roasted pumpkin seeds
1/2 c. millet
1 c. old-fashioned oats (choose gluten-free if serving to Celiac friends)
1/2 c. brown rice syrup
1/4 c. honey
2 Tbsp. canola oil
2 Tbsp. ground chia seeds
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. liquid smoke
Chop almonds coarsely, then stir together almonds, oats, millet, and pumpkin seeds.
In a separate bowl, stir together brown rice syrup, honey, chia seeds and spices.
Add syrup mixture to dry ingredients and mix until combined.
Prepare 9 X 13-inch baking dish by spraying with cooking spray, then line with parchment paper. Press granola tightly into baking dish and spread evenly.
Bake at 325 degrees for 18-20 minutes until bubbly around the edges. Let sit in pan about 10 minutes, the lift bars out using parchment paper and cool on drying racks.
Cut bars into 27 pieces (3 bars X 9 bars). Wrap individually in waxed or parchment paper to take on the trail. Store in refrigerator to extend life.
Serves 27 - Serving Size: 1 bar - Nutrients per serving: 122 calories -- 6g total fat -- 0g saturated fat -- 0g trans fat -- 0mg cholesterol -- 104mg sodium -- 14g total carbohydrates -- 2g fiber -- 5g sugar -- 3g protein