There are few things I miss from my pre-gluten-free days. Honestly, I could care less about banana bread and carrot cake, whole grain toast or English muffins, pasta or pizza. Give me a plateful of sweet potatoes or brown rice any day. Gluten-full foods don’t mean that much to me.
With one exception. Granola.
Just a year or two before I went gluten-free, I crafted the most addictively good and ridiculously easy granola recipe. Laden with oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, natural sweeteners and spices, that stuff was incredible. Drizzled with just enough almond milk to coat the crunchy clusters, it was heaven in a bowl.
I was sorely disappointed when I tried the same recipe with gluten-free rolled oats only to find that my body doesn’t jive with them. A few here or there in a baked good is tolerable, but when it comes to eating straight oats in something like granola or oatmeal, it’s a no go.
So, quite miserably, I’ve given up granola for the last few years. It’s one of the very, very few “gluten foods” I actually crave from time to time. But ever since a few bad experiences with gluten-free oats, I’ve laid aside all hope of enjoying it again.
When I saw that Lauren of Celiac Teen was hosting Go Ahead Honey, It’s Gluten Free this month, and when I discovered that her theme was “Follow the Calendar,” and when I found out that January 20 was National Granola Bar Day, something fluttered in my stomach. Like an old highschool crush come back to haunt me, I recalled my love for granola with an ache in my chest. In a bar or in a bowl, it doesn’t matter. Granola is heaven in all forms.
I quickly scrolled through a few lists of January food holidays. Fig Newton Day was a possibility and Chocolate Cake Day was certainly a tempting option, but my mind would not wander from the glory of granola. So, armed with nothing but passion for my deepest culinary love and a pantry full of nuts, seeds and dried fruits, I set out to make what I hoped to be an oat-free granola knock-off that would satisfy even my strongest cravings.
As I mixed together my favorite combination of usual granola suspects—walnuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, dried blueberries, honey, cinnamon—I felt a surge of hope flood through me. Maybe this would work after all.
Pinching the mixture between my fingers as I was about to spread the granola out in an even layer on a pan, the thought occured to me: why not turn this granola—my favorite anytime snack—into a bite-sized ball?
I took the idea and ran with it. These balls, firm enough to hold their shape but not so much as to break a jaw, are a testament to the fact that even our most cherished recipes can be modified to fit a new lifestyle. Enjoy these balls alongside a cup of tea and you favorite newspaper (or, if you’re like me, food magazine). For all you winter travelers, these are exceptionally transportable, too. They’d make a healthy (and incomparably delicious) alternative to airplane peanuts.
The results of writing this recipe have confirmed my belief that granola in all forms—be it by the bowl, bar, or ball—is completely and utterly perfect.
I cannot think of any other word in the English language to describe it. So perfect will do just fine.
Grain-Free Granola Balls
Makes 12-14 balls
½ cup raw sunflower seeds
½ cup raw pumpkin seeds
½ cup blanched almond flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 cup raw walnuts, chopped
¼ cup dried blueberries
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon good quality honey
2 tablespoons almond butter
1 tablespoon water
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, combine sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almond flour, cinnamon, and salt. Pulse for ten 1-second pulses to form a coarse meal. Transfer to medium mixing bowl.
- Stir in the walnuts, blueberries, and raisins.
- Then add the honey, almond butter, water, and vanilla. Stir to combine with a wooden spoon. Dough will be thick and stiff.
- Using wet hands, form dough into tightly-packed balls about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Arrange on parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Bake for 20-22 minutes until golden brown. Balls will still be soft to touch. Cool completely before serving or storing. Balls will set up as they cool. (Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.)