School Safe Granola with Cherries and Sesame
It’s the first day of school around here. Can you smell the pencil shavings and new shoes? I’m not crying. Your’re crying!
Actually, I am crying. Or I was. Just a bit, but enough that it totally caught me off guard, because I was totally prepared to be skipping around my house doing a happy jig this morning (possibly naked Kidding!?). You may remember that today my youngest little girlie, Mae, enters Junior Kindergarten, and I am officially out of the full-time care-giving business. When it came to it, though, when I saw her little yellow coat and pigtail braids and enormous backpack standing in line on the other side of the fence, I kind of lost my shit for a minute. I guess the combo of social anxiety on behalf of my tiniest baby finding herself marooned in a classroom full of strangers and the self imposed pressure to immediately and simultaneously DO ALL THE THINGS I have been unable to do for the past six years proved a little bit overwhelming. Go figure.
So. . . I am trying to force myself to focus on simple, easily achievable tasks for today. And what could possibly be more achievable that granola??!!
Zoe and I love granola. Mae, on the other hand, hates all seeds, nuts, dried fruits, and oats, so granola is pretty much revolting to her. Whatever—more for Zoe and me! Unfortunately, our usual blend, heavy on pecans, almonds, and cashews, is defiantly not school safe. So, I have set out to create a version that I can safely tuck in Zoe’s lunch box for her to sprinkle on her yogurt.
I have made a lot of granola in my day, but the version from Nekisia Davis of Early Bird Foods is my favourite. It uses olive oil instead of the usual vegetable oil, which gives a really complex, almost savory background note. A mixture of brown sugar and maple syrup combines with the olive oil to coat everything in slick, sweet-but-not-too-sweet coating that renders everything perfectly caramelized and crisp. It also includes big, beautiful shavings of unsweetened coconut that become deeply, irresistibly toasty in the oven. I have so much trouble not going through and eating out all of the coconut chips out of the container when no one is looking—they are that good! They are also not the easiest ingredient to find. I ordered mine online, but I suspect you could also find them in a health food store or a bulk food store.
I do not claim to have been the first to discover this gem—many, many other food writers I love have also sung its praises, including my Martha Stewart, Melissa Clark, Kristen Miglore, and Molly Wizenberg. Heck, I am not even the first one to come up with a nut free version (see this recipe from Carla Lalli Music). I was, in fact, very late to this particular party, but now that I am here, I think you should join me.
One of the best things about granola in general is that it is infinitely customize-able. You could swap out the olive oil for coconut oil, the pecans for almonds, honey for the maple syrup, chopped dried apricots for the cherries. You could add chia seeds or flax. Go wild! The only real rule is that any dried fruits should be added after baking to prevent them from burning.
To make this version school safe, I replaced the pecans with more of those delicious coconut flakes and a full cup of sesame seeds. The result is something that tastes like regular granola had a baby with a sesame snap. So good! I added the dried cherries because Zoe and I love them; they are tart and sweet and taste sort of like they contain cinnamon even though they don’t.
I do feel obliged to admit that this list of ingredients is a little bit on the pricey side. Sorry about that! I do strive to feature affordable, accessible recipes whenever I can. However, I would also point out that it is still cheaper to make your own granola than to buy a good quality pre-made bag of it. Also, while this stuff tastes light and wholesome, it is also really dense in terms of calories—a little bit goes a long way! It will also keep at room temperature for weeks in an airtight container. If you are worried about the cost of making it, feel free to make a smaller batch, and defiantly try sourcing your ingredients from a bulk store in order to get the best value.
Olive Oil Granola w/ Cherries and Sesame
adapted from Nekisia Davis via Kristen Miglore
Yield: about 8 cups
3 cups (300 g) rolled oats*
1 cup (130 g) hulled pumpkin seeds**
1 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut chips
1 cup sesame seeds
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 1/2 cups dried cherries
*Be sure to use gluten-free oats if that is important to you
**The green kind, not the ones that you pull out of your jack-o-lantern and roast!
Preheat oven to 300 degrees Celsius
Combine all ingredients except for cherries in a very large bowl and toss very well to combine
Spread the mixture evenly over a parchment-lined rimmed (very important!) baking sheet
Bake until golden brown, stirring often, until a deep golden brown*
Remove from the oven and stir in the cherries. Let cool completely before transferring to an airtight container
Enjoy sprinkled over yogurt, oatmeal, or fresh fruit. This also makes a lovely gift for someone really awesome.
*Miglore says this should take about 45 minutes. In my oven, it was closer to 65. It is best to use your own judgement here, baking until the granola is deeply and evenly brown all the way through, checking on it frequently towards the end, and removing it before anythings starts to burn.