HYDE PARK, N.Y.— If you want to get more whole grains into your diet, search no further than granola. This sweetened blend of grains, nuts, seeds and dried fruits is high in fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
Best of all, it's rich in flavor and texture. Enjoyed as a meal, portable snack or nutritious ingredient, granola is a healthy addition to the day, morning, noon, or night.
Whether eaten out-of-hand, doused with milk, or added to baked goods, granola has a variety of uses that easily come to mind. It is traditionally associated with breakfast and snack food, but its full-bodied texture can add character to many dishes. Use it to top a casserole, for example, sprinkle it over a baked sweet potato, or serve it layered with yogurt and fresh fruit. You may be surprised to discover how well it goes with an assortment of foods.
"One of the best characteristics of granola is how it lets you enjoy a variety of textures all at once," Bruce Mattel, associate professor in culinary arts at The Culinary Institute of America, says. "Ingredients such as nuts and seeds provide a hearty crunch, while soft, dried fruits and oats are chewy and satisfying."
Before testing the many uses of granola, consider the benefits of preparing your own.
First, if you're interested in cutting down on calories and fat and avoiding preservatives, homemade can be the better choice. You can use a more nutritious recipe than store-purchased varieties, and it will be guaranteed fresh. Experimenting with different types and amounts of ingredients lets you alter the nutrition profile, too.
Secondly, homemade granola can be more economical, especially if you take advantage of bulk-bin ingredients found at many markets. When buying in bulk, you can purchase as much or as little as you like. Not only does this keep costs down, it's the best way to sample a variety of granola combinations.
Making granola is simple. Most recipes are easily doubled or tripled, which makes eating healthy even more convenient.
Remember: When you're baking granola, stir frequently, as it has a tendency to burn quickly. Also, make certain the mixture has cooled thoroughly before storing in tightly sealed containers at room temperature. This will ensure that your crunchy concoction remains crisp.
The following recipes for a granola and a parfait to make with it are from The Culinary Institute of America's "Breakfasts and Brunches" cookbook (Lebhar-Freidman, 2005, $35).
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup turbinado sugar or granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup packed sweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup raisins
Preheat oven to 300 F.
Combine the oats, oil, sugar and cinnamon. Spread mixture into an even layer on a half sheet pan and bake until fragrant and lightly toasted, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.
Add the sunflower seeds, coconut, wheat germ, sesame seeds, almonds and walnuts to the mixture in the pan. Stir together, spread into an even layer on the pan, and bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes; stir as needed. Add the raisins and cool completely.
Store granola in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
Makes 8 servings.
Nutrition information per serving: 340 cal., 8 g pro., 39 g carbo., 19 g fat, 25 mg sodium, 0 mg chol., 6 g fiber.
1 1/4 cups blueberries
1 1/4 cups raspberries
1 1/4 cups quartered or sliced strawberries
4 cups plain yogurt
4 cups granola
Combine the berries in a bowl and toss together.
Add a layer of the berries to each of eight parfait glasses, followed by the yogurt, and then the granola. Repeat the layering process. Top the parfait with berries. Serve at once or keep refrigerated for up to four hours.
Makes 8 servings.
Nutrition information per serving: 450 cal., 13 g pro., 52 g carbo., 23 g fat, 85 mg sodium, 15 mg chol., 8 g fiber.
(These recipes are among about 175 explained and illustrated in The Culinary Institute of America's "Breakfasts and Brunches" cookbook (Lebhar-Freidman, 2005, $35), available at bookstores nationwide or at: