For the longest time, all I knew about “granola” was that it was some strange, American breakfast. I didn’t connect it with the toasted muesli that Mum made most summer holidays, or the soaked, bircher muesli I learned to make as an adult. I eventually discovered that it’s simple enough – granola is oats, nuts and fruit baked until crunchy, while muesli is technically the same ingredients, consumed raw. In New Zealand though (or maybe just in my family?), we always called granola “toasted muesli” and muesli “natural muesli” so it’s no wonder I was confused.
For years I assiduously avoided buying toasted muesli/granola due to its higher fat and sugar content. During a fling with the Liver Cleansing Diet in my early 20s, I also learned that roasting nuts destroys some of their nutrients and that the whole baked-until-crispy business renders the oats and nuts harder to digest – not exactly what I was after for The Most Important Meal of the Day.
Thankfully, these days I like to live a little so I’ve been exploring options for the ultimate goodness-dipped-in-happiness cereal. Incidentally, “goodness dipped in happiness” is a phrase used by Cadbury to advertise their Brunch Bar, which is a (healthy) muesli/granola bar coated in (delicious) chocolate. I have used the phrase before to describe the bliss of battered, deep-fried tofu, and all things considered, it’s a pretty good way to sum up my approach to cooking and eating. It’s quite inconvenient then, that Cadbury has trademarked it.
It’s a wonderful thing to have a large jar of this granola in your cupboard. It keeps well if sealed tightly and can be stashed away for several weeks. I like to save it for breakfasts on the run, when a small bowlful topped with yoghurt provides quick sustenance and smug self-satisfaction for being responsible for such deliciousness. It has the most wonderful scent and flavour of orange. The coconut threads are rendered crispy and caramelised, and the currants become chewy little nuggets of concentrated sweetness. Maple syrup and butter also have something to do with the excellence of the end result, in fact, they are primarily responsible for the “happiness” part. Adding butter to your breakfast cereal might sound scary, but trust me, it’s not much, and butter (consumed in moderation) is swiftly becoming the fat de la mode. Anyway, it could be worse – I could be asking you to put butter in your coffee.
This recipe is another of my favourites from the wonderful Heidi Swanson who never fails to surprise with her fresh and innovative approach to vegetarian whole foods. Heidi advises using walnuts in the granola, but after experimenting with a range of nuts I’ve settled on a combination of pistachio and almond. It’s the only improvement I can think of for this already amazing granola. Although…I must admit that adding chips of dark chocolate has a certain appeal. But that’s just taking breakfast-happiness too far, right…?
Orange & Pistachio Granola
4 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup pistachios
3/4 cup almonds, roughly chopped
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 tsp fine-grained sea salt
2/3 cup dried currants
Finely grated zest of two oranges
85g unsalted butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F. Prepare two baking trays by lining them with baking paper.
In a large bowl, place the oats, nuts, coconut, currants, salt and orange zest. Mix together to ensure the zest is distributed evenly.
Heat the butter and maple syrup in a small saucepan over a low heat. Once the butter has melted, whisk to combine with the syrup. Pour the mixture over the oats and stir until the oats and nuts are all lightly slicked.
Divide the granola between the two baking trays and spread out into thin layers. Place in the oven and bake for 40-50 minutes, stirring twice during this time and rotating the trays once to ensure even baking.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.