August 29, 2013

Recipe: Savory Granola Clusters (aka "Granola Croutons")

In an attempt to balance out all the baked goods I've been making lately (Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies, Blueberry Lavender Scones...), I'm turning to the healthful, ever-open arms of vegetables. Specifically, I'm trying to eat more leafy green salads, which - as a vegetarian - I'm comically bad at consuming. The best way for me to increase my salad consumption is playing around with interesting additions that make a simple green salad taste exciting. New dressings and toppings are ideal ways to perk up a salad, especially when you get a little creative... which is exactly what we're doing today! Boring Green Salad, meet your newest friend, Savory Granola Clusters.

Savory Granola Clusters are exactly what they sound like - crunchy clusters of a savory (not sweet) granola that can be tossed on top of salad (or soup!) for a textural pop and toasty flavor. Granola Croutons, if you will. There are several non-vegan versions of savory granola floating around, like this Cheese-Herb Granola from The Kitchn and this Pumpkin Seed and Rye Granola from CHOW. Saveur even placed a savory granola - Daniel Humm's Provencal Granola - on its Saveur 100 List back in 2010.

Clockwise from top: Pepitas, Oats, Poppy Seeds, and Puffed Quinoa

My version of savory granola forgoes Daniel Humm's suggested puffed rice for a more nutritious option - puffed quinoa. Puffed quinoa is a new technique for me, and I am super excited to use it in a bunch of recipes down the line. Basically, you're popping the quinoa kernels in an oiled pan, just as you would popcorn, transforming the hard seeds into toasty, puffed tidbits with a satisfying crunch. It's delightful. To make the granola, the puffed quinoa is added to rolled oats, roasted pepitas, and poppy seeds, then the whole mess is tossed with a sticky, garlic-y "honey"-mustard syrup. After 30 minutes in the oven, you'll have gorgeous, crunchy clusters of granola that just might have you craving salads all week long.

Savory Granola Clusters (Granola Croutons)
Inspired by Daniel Humm's Provencal Granola
Makes 4 cups 

1 tablespoon oil (I used rice bran oil)
1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup roasted pepitas
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
3 tablespoons brown rice syrup
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
a few grinds of black pepper

Pop the Quinoa: Let's talk about what we mean by "pop". Just like popcorn, the kernels will jump about. Unlike popcorn, you won't really see a change in appearance while they do so. Quinoa kind of "pops on the inside". Rest assured that when all is said and done, the quinoa will have a delicate-but-definite puff-y crunch.

Place the quinoa in a mesh strainer and rinse well for a minute or so under cold running water, then tap the strainer to remove excess water and let the quinoa drain for a couple minutes while you heat your pan. Bring a large heavy-bottomed pot with a lid (a dutch oven is perfect for this) over medium/just-above-medium heat (a "6" on my stovetop). If you have a mesh splatter guard, grab it to have on hand - those little quinoas will fly around once they get popping.

Once the pot is heated, add the oil and swirl around to evenly coat the bottom of the pot. Give the strainer of quinoa a final tap (you want as little water as possible on the quinoa), then add the quinoa to the pot. The wet quinoa might make the oil splatter a bit, so please be careful. Stir the quinoa around every 30-60 seconds to prevent it from burning. From here on out you'll want to keep a close eye on things, but feel free to place the lid/splatter guard on the pot as necessary. After 3-5 minutes, the quinoa will start to pop. After 5-7 minutes, the popping should continue and the quinoa will start turning golden brown. Somewhere between 7-9 minutes the popping will subside, but err on the side of caution and remove the quinoa whenever you feel the golden color shouldn't get any darker (see picture of ingredients above for a good reference on the color of the finished quinoa).

Immediately transfer the puffed quinoa to a large plate and spread out into an even layer so it can cool quickly. Resist the urge to taste the quinoa before it's finished cooling - those little buggers are burn-your-face-off HOT.

Make the Granola:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray or a bit of oil and set aside. Grab a piece of foil or parchment a bit larger than your baking dish and place it on your counter - this will be the landing zone for your granola to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the puffed quinoa, oats, pepitas, and poppy seeds, stirring together to create a consistent granola mixture. In a small microwave-safe bowl, add the brown rice syrup, mustard, garlic, salt, and pepper and stir together until smooth. Microwave the syrup mixture for 30 seconds, or until the syrup is bubbly, hot, and pourable. Pour the hot syrup over the granola mixture and toss together until the granola is evenly coated with the syrup.

Transfer the granola into greased baking dish and press down into an even layer. Bake granola for 25-30 minutes, gently tossing and pressing back down into an even layer every 10 minutes or so (a rubber spatula works best for this). The granola is done once it is deeply golden (but before the edges have burned!) and the oats have a toasty, crispy texture (feel free to carefully steal a little taste to check). Promptly remove from oven. Using a large spatula, scoop out the granola in as many large pieces as possible and place onto the foil to cool. Once granola has cooled completely, break apart the big pieces into crouton-sized clusters, or whatever size suits your fancy. Store granola in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

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