breakfast/ gluten free/ vegan

chunky monkey granola

Things I’ve been thinking about lately:

What’s up with granola? It’s touted as a health food, or at least a *healthier* option than cereal, but, my findings have revealed, it’s still densely packed with sugar. Strangely, blatantly, paradoxical, isn’t it?? I have a deep love for granola; it is the perfect matrix of crunchy and sweet and savory. Sadly, granola is also a marriage of dessert and breakfast; I’ve looked long and hard, I’ve hunted every grocery store around me, and spent, collectively, let’s just say more than an hours time, perusing Amazon for a truthfully-lower-sugar granola brand, but all of those expeditions have left me empty handed. Sure, honey or coconut sugar make their way into many brands that tout themselves as *healthy*, but really, those words simply dress up the granola in a fancy facade, and make it’s consumer (or at least me) feel better. At the end of the day, lesser processed sugar is still sugar (sad, I know); is 2 tsps of maple syrup at breakfast such a big deal? Probably not, and I readily douse my pancakes in the golden syrup every chance I get, but I’ve also found that consuming sugar in what seem to be smaller increments throughout the day often adds up fast; beginning my day with a towering bowl of granola that is layered with 4+ tsps of sugar only sets me up to crave more sweetness. Why? I don’t know (and I wish it didn’t have to be this way), but I imagine dousing my breakfast with maple syrup, honey, insert other liquid sweetener here., is akin to bathing my taste buds in gold; should it really come as a surprise to me that plain oats taste a little earthen-flavored afterwards?

In my desperate search for gut-friendlier granola, I learned that the average amount of sugar per serving in store-bought granola (1 serving being 3/4 – 1 cup) was about  2 1/2 – 3 tsps, or 10 – 12 grams, of sugar! That’s already half of the recommended daily amount of sugar for adult women (which is 6 tsps, according to the USDA). Anyway, I wasn’t having it, and, feeling a little dismayed at the state of both physical and virtual granola aisles, decided to take it into my own hands. Alas, I stumbled upon this recipe, and a *ding* *ding* *ding* vibrated through my body; could this be the alternative to heavily sugar-laden granola that I’ve been searching for, but unable to conceptualize!? At first I was skeptical, but let me break it down for you: the mashed ripe banana helps to bind the granola, and, as it bakes at a lower temperature for longer, the waters from the fruit evaporate, leaving a sheet of golden puzzle pieces (and a lovely banana bread smell, goodbye air freshener). Initially, I was not convinced that this recipe would be capable of producing anything close to traditional granola, but I was very, splendidly, wrong.

In answer to the foremost burning question of the day, yes, it has CRUNCH. It also has flavor that surpasses simply SWEET; the toasted, though subtle, banana bread flavor will shine through so long as you use heavily ripened bananas (i.e. so speckled that they are almost completely black. You may be a little frightened and think they are rotting, but trust me, they’re just developing more flavor and sugars). Just like any other kind of granola, it can be altered to suit your fancy; aside from the banana, which is essential for replacing the usual sweet binders, all of the other ingredients can be swapped out for similar alternatives! I was feeling extra childish and decided to fully embrace the presence of banana; what else is banana-friendly? Ah yes, that strange Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream flavor (i.e. the abominable one with fruit in it). I was never a fan of banana in my ice-cream, but I have always been a fan of chunks of chocolate (translation: BROWNIE) and nuts. Because banana pairs so perfectly with another one of my favorites, peanut butter, I decided to incorporate the nut butter into the recipe, while cutting down on some of the usual oil in the process. If you’re not a likewise nutty PB fan, fear not; simply replace it with a nut butter of your choice, or use a couple tbsps more oil to make up for the lost fat (in other words, don’t drastically cut down on the fats; fat makes things taste very good, especially when there isn’t as much sugar in the picture). On a last, and arguably most important note, know that there are enough brownie bits to ensure no fighting will ensue over the distribution of the granola (backup context: I grew up the middle child of 5). Enjoy!!!

Ingredients~
Makes enough for 4-6 servings 

3 1/2 cups rolled oats 
2 very ripe & spotty bananas, mashed (~3/4 cup)
3 heaped tbsps salted peanut butter
2 tbsps coconut oil, melted
2 tbsps maple syrup, or other liquid sweetener (or totally omit for less sweetness)
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Generous pinch of salt
3/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped in half
2 – 3 chopped “brownie” bars (I used Luna “chocolate cupcake” protein bars, but any heavily-chocolate bar will do)

Instructions~

Bake at 325 F for 30-40 minutes, stirring often (every 7-10 minutes), and removing from oven once the oats are a deep golden brown (but not yet burnt!) Allow to fully cool on baking sheet (i.e. forget about it for at least 30 minutes to an hour) so that it can gain it’s crunch before transferring to glass jar/tupperware for safe keeping (until breakfast that is).

Note: this banana-sweetened granola idea was inspired by/loosely adapted from Youtuber Nina Montagne’s recipe, which is featured in this video.

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