Goji Berry Granola

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When I was a kid, one of my favorite Saturday morning cartoons was The Gummi Bears. If you were to ask my 8 year old self, I would tell you that they were better than the Care Bears because they were more than just lovable and cuddly. Oh no, Gummi Bears had spunk and a secret to boot. For one, the Gummi Bears had the magical ability to bounce and all it took was a sip of their super special gummiberry juice to fuel them up and get them going. As a kid, I already loved food and cooking, and the idea that a berry could store a vast amount of power that could be unlocked when prepared the right way seemed like the coolest thing ever.

Goji berries aren’t gummiberries, but you could say they come pretty close. In Tibet, they’ve gone so far as to call the Goji berry the “key to eternal youth”. And on the ORAC scale, the Goji berry is a bit of an overachiever. Standing for “oxygen radical absorbance capacity”, the ORAC measures a food’s ability to absorb oxidant “free radicals” in the body. This is considered a big deal because oxidative stress in the body is linked not only to aging, but also to diseases like cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Goji berries rank high as a source of these antioxidants, making it a berry that does, in a way, preserve some bounce in the body.

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For that reason, Goji berries, over the last few years, have been touted as a trendy superfood. But in reality, these unassuming little berries have an over 3,000 year old history of being a medicinal favorite to Chinese herbal bigwigs throughout the ages. Sweet in flavor and neutral in its therapeutic temperature, Goji berries are believed to enrich the yin and act on the liver, kidney, and lung channels. As part of traditional Chinese medical theory, the liver is connected to eyesight, and issues with dry, tired, red or blurry eyes are often resolved by nourishing the culprit, a deficient liver. Goji berries are wonderful for boosting and brightening strained eyes, especially when steeped as a tea with a handful of dried chrysanthemum blossoms added in.

Chinese medicine also gets behind the claim that Goji berries have anti-aging properties, and that’s because of its ability to positively affect the kidneys. Kidney energy oversees maturation and growth. Symptoms of old age, like having an achy lower back, weak knees and joints, poor memory, and graying hair don’t just come because you’ve been living in New York City for too long (city dwellers, I think you know what I’m talking about), but because of weakened kidney energy, which could derive from a number of factors (lifestyle and crazy city living being one of them). Goji berries are a gentle nourisher of kidney energy, supporting the kidneys and helping preserve the body.

With its sweet, chewy nature, the Goji berry is a natural lung moistener too, just like so many other herbs mentioned in this blog. This versatility makes Goji berries a natural favorite both as a medicine and as a food. As a culinary ingredient, these dried morsels can be cooked, steamed, baked, or eaten as is.

In this granola recipe, these berries are the sweet star, adding a bit of herbal goodness to make this a truly delicious, hippie-ish, crunchy granola kind of experience.

DSC_0131Let’s talk more about this granola. For one, it’s ace. It’s mad delicious. It’s the one recipe I always get email requests for because this is the kind of granola you want to be sharing on holidays and special days, and just any ‘ol kind of days. Along with the goji berries, I like to stud my granola with juicy golden raisins and crunchy almonds.

DSC_0136Slivered almonds work just as well, but a quick pulse in the food processor gives these whole almonds a certain unevenness that adds to the crunch factor.

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Brown sugar and cinnamon. Need I say more?

DSC_0228This saucepan of liquid gold comes from melting honey into olive oil. Add in a teaspoon of vanilla, then drizzle and incorporate into the dry oats mixture.

DSC_0244Spread out the granola on a large baking sheet covered in parchment paper. I love my big 14x20x1 pan, but two smaller sized cookie sheets work just as well.

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Into the oven it goes for 30-40 minutes at 300 degrees F. To get a nice even toast, check the granola every 10 minutes, and give it a gentle stir.

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The granola is ready when the oats and almonds appear golden brown. Don’t worry if it still appears soft, it will harden as it cools. Now’s your chance to add the goji berries and the raisins and to allow them to soften with the heat.

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Add some fresh blueberries, strawberries or bananas and douse with your favorite milk or dollop of yogurt.

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Voila! You’ve got yourself a Saturday morning cartoon quality grade breakfast (or snack for anytime of the day).

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Goji Berry Granola

Makes approximately 8 cups

Ingredients

  • 4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups whole almonds, roughly chopped (almond slivers work well too)
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup goji berries
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, chopped almonds, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon. Stir until it’s nicely incorporated together.
  3. In a saucepan, warm the oil and honey. Trick: if you’re using the same 1/4 measuring cup for both the oil and honey, measure the oil first. There will be a coat of oil left in the cup. When you pour in the honey, this remaining residue will make sure the honey slips out easily with no fuss. Voila!
  4. Take the saucepan off the heat. Add the vanilla to the oil and honey mixture. Stir to combine.
  5. Carefully pour the liquid mixture over the oat mixture. Although it may not appear like a lot, the liquid will thoroughly cover the oats. Mix gently with a spatula, finishing up with your hands, if needed.
  6. Place parchment paper or a baking mat over a large aluminum cookie sheet (mine is 14 x 20 x 1).
  7. Spread the granola evenly in the pan. Bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring carefully every 10 minutes. The granola is ready when the oats and almonds appear lightly golden brown. My gas stove tends to run hot, so I’m usually done just before the 30 minute mark. You’ll want to watch carefully towards the end until you know how your stove handles things.
  8. Transfer the pan to a cooking rack. Stir in the goji berries and golden raisins while the granola is still hot. This will soften the berries and raisins. The oats will still appear soft, but they will harden as they cool. If you want large chunks of granola, refrain from mixing too much. This will allow the sugars to harden and form clumps.
  9. Once cool, break up the larger chunks and seal in an airtight container or plastic zip bags. Store at room temperature for 1 week (though seriously, it never lasts a week at our place) or in a freezer for 3 months.
  10. Serve with your favorite kind of milk or yogurt, and top with fresh fruit. It’s also delicious straight out of the container.
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