I love a challenge, especially a recipe challenge. It’s part of what hooked me on cooking contests more than a decade ago. Many of the contests had strict limitations, along the lines of “Create a dinner recipe with no more than 5 ingredients, one of which must be any variety of Auntie Lola’s Bodacious Beans” or “Share your favorite family-friendly picnic recipe using only common pantry items, a microwave, and Jo-Bob’s special sauce #4–all in 15 minutes or less.” More than a challenge, each contest was a deliciously bizarre logic problem; all were great–and fun–practice for re-thinking ingredients and techniques.
So when a friend recently asked if I could develop a simple grain-free granola, I was excited to oblige.
Here are the granola challenge parameters:
*Grain-Free (The friend in question is following a no-grain diet, plus one of her children has celiac disease)
*Easy (she has 4 children, volunteers for multiple charities, and is a part-time accountant working out of her home–need I say more? I don’t know when she showers, let alone cooks, but she does both).
*Frugal (she has made, and likes, several all-nut granolas, but they are too expensive to make on a regular basis for a family of six).
*Low-Sugar (and preferably a natural sugar)
*Delicious (this should be at the top of the list–who wants to eat food that isn’t delicious?)
Are you ready for the winning result: Red Lentil Granola!
I got the idea for a lentils in the granola from Leanne, who writes the beautiful and inspiring blog Healthful Pursuit. Her granola looks gorgeous and delicious, but involves a lot of steps that I am too impatient to follow, most notably sprouting the lentils, which takes several days. I’ve sprouted quinoa, but beyond that, I haven’t wrapped my brain around sprouting anything else (I’m holding out for a “how to sprout wings tutorial”). Additionally, her granola includes a variety of grains. So…it was time for some experimentation.
In place of soaking and sprouting the lentils, I boiled them for just a few minutes until just barely tender. Red lentils are great because they are much thinner than common brown lentils, which means they cook in a fraction of the time. The only semi-fussy step is that you next need to drain and pat dry the lentils before mixing them with the remaining ingredients. On a scale of 1 to 10 on a fuss-ometer, I would only calculate it at a 2; nor too bad. At this point, think of the lentils as rolled oats, ready to be mixed with a bit of sweetener, spices, and any additional ingredients that suit your tastes. It’s important to keep the temperature low (300F); if your oven runs hot, turn it even lower. I tried it at 325F on my second batch, to see if I could shave off some cooking time, but the lentils on the outer edges scorched, even with the occasional stir. Low and slow is the way to go to allow the lentils to dry out and become crispy.
I passed the test, as my lovely friend informed me that she has made 4 batches, she and her kids love it, her husband tolerates it (alas, you can’t please everyone), and she just ordered 10 pounds of red lentils from nuts.com.
- 1-1/3 cups red lentils, rinsed
- ½ cup agave nectar, pure maple syrup or honey
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or 1 teaspoon almond extract)
- 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom or cinnamon (or spice blend of choice)
- ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ¾ cup chopped nuts or seeds, (e.g., pecans, sunflower seeds, walnuts, pepitas)
- Optional: 1 cup unsweetened flake or shredded coconut
- Optional: 1 cup chopped dried fruit (any variety)
- Preheat oven to 300F.
- Fill a medium saucepan halfway full of water. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Add the lentils and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, stirring once or twice, for exactly 6 minutes. Drain thoroughly and pat dry (in the colander) with a paper towel. Spread evenly onto a large, unlined baking sheet.
- Place the lentils in the oven for 15 minutes to steam and dry.
- Meanwhile, whisk the agave nectar, oil, vanilla, cardamom, and salt in a large bowl until blended. Add the lentils, stirring to coat. Line the same baking sheet with parchment or a silpat; spread evenly with the coated lentils.
- Bake, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. Stir in the seeds or nuts. Continue baking for 45 to 50 minutes longer, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until browned and crispy. If using coconut, stir in during final 15 minutes of the cooking time.
- Cool completely on sheet on a wire rack. Stir in dried fruit, if using. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.