Granola –From Trendy to Trendy

As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, with parents on the fringes of the back-to-earth movement, granola was familiar to me as a child. I had friends who had never heard of it and friends whose parents bordered on growing their own oats for it. Mom made our granola from Quaker Oats, honey from Dad’s beehives and quite a bit of oil. She made it in the crockpot and it cooked all day, giving off heavenly aromas of toasting oats and hot honey.

Now you can find granola in every grocery store, farmers market, health food store and big box store. It usually costs an arm and a leg, even if it is from one of the big cereal makers. At my usual grocery store it is in the health food aisle, the cereal aisle, next to the yogurt case and on a display by the ice cream. All of it is either outrageously high in fat for what is supposed to be a health foods, or it is “low-fat” and bulked up with puffed rice, extra sweeteners and who knows what else.

I haven’t made granola in forever, but I have been thinking about it for weeks, months really, since I bought a copy of Melissa Clark’s “In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite.” In it she rhapsodizes about olive oil granola that she bought and then recreated. I did hesitate over the full ½ cup of olive oil she used. I looked up an old granola recipe from Cooking Light that I used to make all the time and decided that I didn’t want to go with the miniscule amount of oil it used either. I settled on ¼ cup of oil, and decided to use olive oil, which intrigues me as an ingredient in something sweet. I set out to use one or the other of the recipes I had, but I ended up coming up with my own.

I wanted to keep the focus on the olive oil, so I opted to use only honey for sweetener, and cinnamon and vanilla for other flavorings. I kept the add-ins to wheat germ for extra nutrition and sliced almonds and sunflower seeds for added crunch. I am not including dried fruit in this batch, to keep the oats as the star, but I might add a few raisins or dried cranberries to my bowl on days that I feel like it.

The aroma of the vanilla when it hit the hot honey was heavenly. The fragrance only intensified when the whole mixture started toasting in the oven. Once cool, the toasted oats dominated the flavor, with the olive oil adding a very subtle “something” to the mix. The granola is only slightly sweet, with overtones of the vanilla and cinnamon.

I am already thinking of enough variations for several batches – pecans or pistachios instead of almonds, more spices, or more vanilla and no spices, maple syrup instead of honey. What variations sound good to you?

Olive Oil Granola with Honey
from The Cook’s Life
Makes about 8 cups granola
Serving size, about ½ cup

This is a slightly sweet granola. Feel free to add a drizzle of honey on top of each serving if you want more sweetness.

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
½ cup sliced almonds
½ cup wheat germ
¼ cup sunflower seeds
2 teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup honey
¼ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and grease a large baking sheet. Combine oats, almonds, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl.

Warm honey in the microwave for about 30 seconds, or until thin.

Add olive oil and vanilla and mix well. Pour over the oat mixture and mix well.

Spread onto baking sheet in an even layer and bake for 10 minutes. Stir well, moving the toastier outside parts to the middle and spread in an even layer again. Bake another 10 minutes and stir again. Turn the oven off and return the granola to the still hot oven for another 5-10 minutes, until golden brown and toasty, but not browned.

Remove granola from the oven and let cool on the baking sheet on a rack until room temperature. Store in an airtight container for a month, or in the freezer for longer storage. Serve as cereal with milk, over yogurt, or eat by the handful.

Download the recipe here.