Oct 9, 2012

My granola

I’ve always had mixed feelings about granola. I love it to death, but there are some definite nutrition issues to consider, whether you’re making it or buying it.

A friend of mine recently made the famed Madison Square Park granola. It tasted great – but of course it did, with nearly a cup of sweetener in a granola with just 2¾ cups of oats! Similarly, Melissa Clark’s recipe includes 1¼ cups of sweetener. Granolas like this are delicious, but hardly the ultimate healthy breakfast.

Many granolas are also loaded with seeds, which have a very high level of Omega-6 fatty acids, which promote inflammation. (I try to limit excess Omega-6 consumption, and boost Omega-3 fatty acids to compensate.) And when it comes to commercially-made granola, many contain “vegetable oil”, which probably means highly-processed soybean oil, not the heart-healthiest choice.

Another common granola ingredient is coconut, which I avoid because of the high saturated fat content. Yes, I know a lot of people believe coconut is heart-healthy, but I’m not convinced – and as someone with serious heart problems, I have to be extra cautious.

So what’s a health-conscious granola lover to do? 

The first thing I did when concocting my granola was to cut down the added sugar from the typical recipe. Of course, I didn’t cut out the sugar altogether, as that would make for a granola no one wants to eat. I used a little each of maple syrup, applesauce and coconut palm sugar, which is said to have a lower glycemic index level (not sure how much stock to put in the health claims, but I love the taste.)  Don’t worry, you won’t miss the heavy sweetness, especially if you spice up the granola up with a hefty dose of cinnamon, along with cardamom and fresh orange zest.

I included nuts, but ditched the usual pumpkin and sunflower seeds, which are higher in Omega-6.  I didn’t include any coconut. And I used extra-virgin olive oil, which is an unprocessed oil that’s high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.

Is my granola health food? That’s debatable, as it does contain added sugar. But for me, this is a granola with the right balance of health and deliciousness. Now I just need to stop myself from eating it in huge quantities!

Heart-Healthy Granola

5 cups rolled oats, preferably thick-cut (if you’re gluten-sensitive, be sure to use oats marked gluten-free)
1 cup whole raw almonds
1/3 cup roughly chopped pecans or walnuts
4 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c maple syrup
1/4 cup coconut palm sugar (or increase maple syrup to ½ cup)
Zest of one organic orange
2 teaspoons vanilla paste, or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup dried fruit of choice (raisins, cranberries, etc.)

Heat the oven to 275 degrees.

Combine the oats, nuts, cinnamon, salt and cardamom in a large bowl.  In another bowl, whisk the applesauce, olive oil, sweeteners, ginger or orange zest and vanilla.

Combine the two mixtures, then spread on a large rimmed baking sheet.

Bake for about 45 minutes, stirring once or twice. Add the dried fruit.  Cool, then place in an airtight container for storage.

I’m pleased to announce that my chili – with homegrown vegetables and not a can in sight – is featured today on Eating Rules as part of October Unprocessed. Thanks to Andrew Wilder for inviting me to do a guest post for this amazing series. For the recipe, just click on over to Eating Rules. You’ll want to make this chili right away, while you can still get really good tomatoes!

A lot of people say “I don’t eat processed foods”, but when they really think about it, and take a hard look at all of their food labels, they see a different story. We can all do better – myself included!

So this is just a quick reminder to take the October Unprocessed Pledge over at Eating Rules. My friend Andrew Wilder is doing an amazing job of encouraging thousands of people to eat zero processed foods for the month of October. You can do it, too – just take the pledge here.  You can read more about October Unprocessed in today’s L.A. Times!

By the way, I’m doing a guest post for October Unprocessed with a great new chili recipe, so keep your eyes out for that early in the month.

I’m always in search of good savory brunch recipes that don’t include eggs, butter and cheese.  When I had a brunch for Brooklyn food bloggers a while back, I came across Heidi Swanson’s recipe for vegan quiche. I simplified the cooking method to suit my “OMG, 20 bloggers are coming over this morning” mood, but otherwise left the recipe the same. With a sesame oat crust and a flavorful tofu, spinach and  mushroom filling, the quiche was very well-received at the brunch – even among the non-vegans.

I made the quiche a second time this summer when I needed something to take to a barbecue. I found an interesting variation on the recipe on the beautiful blog jugalbandi. Replacing the spinach and mushrooms with Swiss chard and corn sounded like a great idea, but I also added red bell peppers to highlight the sweetness of the corn.  I think there was some eye-rolling when I told people I was bringing vegan quiche, but let me tell you, it was a major hit. I actually made the original spinach and mushroom version along with this chard, pepper and corn version, and it was no contest. The new variation had worlds more flavor and zing.  Just goes to show….sometimes it pays to tinker with a recipe.

Vegan Quiche with Swiss Chard, Corn and Red Pepper
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

1/2 cup rolled oats
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/3 cup plain soy milk
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 cup finely diced onion
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup fresh corn kernels
1 large bunch (or 2 smaller bunches)  Swiss chard, stemmed and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dry white wine or water
1 pound firm tofu (use very high-quality tofu for this dish)
10-12 fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon rice vinegar or cider vinegar
Paprika, for dusting

Heat the oven to 350.

Toast the oats and sesame seeds on a baking sheet for 7-8 minutes. Process the toasted oats and seeds in a food processor with the flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, paprika and oregano, until the mixture is finely ground. Place in a large bowl.

In another bowl, whisk together the soy milk and oil. Gradually mix into the dry ingredients to form a dough, holding back the final few teaspoons if the dough is in danger of getting too wet or sticky.

Spray a 9-inch pie pan or tart pan with oil. Put the dough in the pan and press down to fill the bottom and all the way up the sides (you can place plastic wrap on the dough to make this easier.) If using a pie pan, crimp the edges as shown in the photo.

To make the filling, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil on medium-high heat in a large skillet or dutch oven. Add the onions and pepper flakes and sauté for 10 to 12 minutes. Add the garlic and red bell pepper and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the corn chard, thyme, cumin, wine and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook for 2 minutes.

Crumble the tofu into the bowl of the food processor. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil, basil, lemon juice, vinegar and 1 teaspoon salt, and puree until very smooth. Add the puree to the vegetable mixture and gently mix well.

Fill the tart shell with the filling and smooth the top. Dust with paprika, if desired. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until firm. Let cool slightly before slicing and serving.

Serves 6



What’s better than blueberry pie? Not much. In fact, it’s my husband Tim’s favorite food in the world. (He loves it even more than he loves broccoli rabe, and that’s a lot.)

So when we were on vacation with some friends in Maine last week, I made quite a few pies with those wonderful little wild Maine blueberries. Sometimes we ate it for breakfast. Sometimes we ate it at midnight. And sometimes people snuck the last piece when I wasn’t looking!

There’s nothing much different about my blueberry pie filling – nearly everyone uses blueberries, sugar, lemon and a thickener, and there’s no reason to change that. What is different is my crust. It’s tender with a nice crunch on the edges, and is super flavorful. So people can never believe there’s no butter, shortening or lard in it. I know there are people out there who are skeptical about such a crust. When my recipe was published on Salon.com once, the rants against me were unbelievable. If I could only feed those people my pie, they would change their tune. Go ahead, try it out on your butter-loving friends and you’ll see.

The other great thing about this pie crust is that it’s nearly foolproof. My only caveat is that the texture of the dough is quite wet, so making it into a lattice crust is quite a challenge. I did it with this pie, but not sure I’ll be attempting that again soon!  If you do it as a regular crust, you’ll have no problems.

Bottom line: if you can still get your hands on late summer blueberries, do it this weekend and make this simple pie. You won’t be sorry.

Blueberry Pie with a Heart-Healthy Crust


6 cups of fresh blueberries
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour or tapioca starch
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Pinch salt


1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup high-oleic safflower oil
6 tablespoons milk (soy, or fat-free cow if you prefer)
½ to 1 teaspoon sugar

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the sugar, starch/flour, cinnamon and salt. Add the lemon juice and blueberries, stirring gently to combine.

Meanwhile, whisk the flour and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Pour the oil in a glass measuring cup and add the milk, without stirring. Pour this mixture into the flour and stir briefly, just until combined. Divide the dough in half and form two balls. Roll the pie crust out immediately; do not refrigerate.

Place a piece of wax paper on your work surface, putting a few drops of water under the paper to keep it from sliding around. Put one ball on the paper and use your hands to press it into a 6-inch circle. Top with another piece of wax paper and roll it out with a rolling pin to a 12-inch circle (the edges may extend beyond the top and bottom of the wax paper slightly, but you can loosen it with a knife when you lift the dough.)  If your circle is uneven, simply tear off a piece from one part and add it to another – it’s easy to make repairs, before or after the dough is in the pan.

Remove the top sheet and turn the dough over into a 9-inch pie pan, pressing to remove any air pockets. Pour in the filling. Roll out the second disc between fresh wax paper and place it on top of the pie. Fold the top crust under the bottom all the way around, and crimp the edges. Cut some slits in the top and sprinkle with the sugar.

Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 and bake about 40 to 50 minutes, until the crust is lightly golden and the filling is bubbling. Cool four hours before serving.


I have a problem with millet. There, I’ve said it.

I see a millet recipe, and I think to myself, “I should eat more millet!” After all, it’s a healthy whole grain (well, actually a seed) –  right up my alley. So I make the recipe and excitedly take a bite. Then I remember that I just don’t like millet. Hrmph.

The same thing happened when I made a Moroccan Millet Salad, adapting the favorite recipe of a friend. But that’s not to say it isn’t a great dish – the flavors are terrific, and everyone else who tasted it loved it. I guess you’re either a millet person or you’re not.

The good news is that this salad can easily be made with any other grain. I recommend using quinoa, because it works so well with the sweet and savory flavors here. But you could also make it with brown rice, farro, barley or freekeh. Feel free to adjust the recipe to your taste by varying the dried fruit and nuts, or adding red bell peppers, kalamata olives, or cucumbers.

Despite my millet issues (I need to get some therapy about those!), it’s hard to go wrong when you’ve got pistachios, apricots, chickpeas and a lemony dressing with warm Moroccan spices.

Moroccan Millet or Quinoa Salad with Chickpeas

1 cup millet or quinoa
2 teaspoons olive, canola or safflower oil
2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup chopped unsulphered dried apricots
1/2 cup dry-roasted pistachios
½ cup sliced scallions
1½ cups cooked chickpeas (1 can, drained and rinsed)
¼ cup chopped fresh mint or cilantro, or a combination


3 to 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (use less for quinoa, more for millet)
1 tablespoon agave nectar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
zest of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cumin
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a high-sided skillet or saucepan. Add the millet or quinoa and toast over low heat, stirring, until it becomes toasty (7 minutes for millet, 8 or 9 for quinoa).

Add water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer until all the water is absorbed, about 18 to 20 minutes for millet, 13 to 15 minutes for quinoa. Remove to a bowl to cool. Once fairly cool, fluff with a fork.

Whisk together dressing ingredients. Add the dressing, scallions, apricots, pistachios, chickpeas and herbs to the grain, stirring very gently.

Serves 6