Sunday, May 8, 2011

Dried Cherry-Almond Muesli

My father used to bring unusual foods back from Europe when I was a child.  Several became family favorites despite initial skepticism.  One of those was muesli.  One spring day, my father got through customs from Switzerland with several boxes of what appeared to be saw dust and crushed crackers clinging to raisins.  With enthusiasm my father served us 1/4 cup portions doused with milk.  It was a far cry from Sugar Pops and I didn’t even like them much (not being big on cereal as a child).

This was my first taste of grown up cereal and probably the closest we could come in the 1960s to organic or all natural food.  The sweetness was derived solely from the dried fruit—which turned out to be dates as well as raisins.  The sawdust and crushed crackers were in reality wheat, oat and rye grain flakes, slivered almonds, sunflower seeds and other ingredients we now recognize as “high fiber.”

Muesli is raw food’s answer to granola.  And while most Americans enjoy granola on its own, in bars or as cereal it has become almost as sweet as the aforementioned Sugar Pops.  It’s hard to find a low-calorie/low-fat granola without making your own. (More on this in future weeks).  Muesli is pure grain goodness and very low in fat. 

The thing about eating foods like muesli when you are young, even if you don’t immediately take to it, is that you have a memory of a highly satisfying, not too sweet, crunchy snack that goes well with milk.  You find yourself searching it out years later.

Happily, we no longer have to transport muesli from Switzerland in our suitcases.  There are some good makers on health food store shelves and muesli is also surprisingly simple to make from scratch.  I made a batch the other morning that I’ve enjoyed soaked in a bit of milk and/or yogurt with some fresh berries.  As promised, complex and filling enough to get through a morning thanks to all that fiber and lightly sweet from nuts and dried fruit flavors rather than sugar.

Grain flakes are the main ingredient—these look like rolled oats and come in wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oat varieties.  Pick them up in the cereal or natural food aisle at the supermarket.  They are often combined and called 5- or 8- grain cereal.  (Bob’s Red Mill makes a nice 5-grain version.) From there raid your pantry for nuts, seeds and dried fruits.  You can even add commercial stand-bys like shredded wheat cereal and grape nuts.  Here’s one recipe that will give you a sense of proportions.  This one is for cherry-almond muesli.

Dried Cherry-Almond Muesli
Makes 6 1/4 cup servings
Ingredients
2 cups mixed grain flakes
1/4 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons roasted sunflower seeds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Method
  1. Mix all ingredients together in a covered container. 
  2. Serve in 1/4 cup portions with plain yogurt or milk, berries, and if desired, honey or maple syrup.  If you've never eaten muesli before, allow it to soak for a few minutes in the yogurt or milk before consuming.   
Other combinations: 1) raisins and peanuts, 2) dried apricots pieces and chopped hazelnuts with pepitas, 3) dates, coconut and a touch of ground ginger or 4) dried pineapple pieces and walnuts, etc.

Several years ago we stayed at a Vermont inn owned by an Austrian couple.  The breakfast buffet included one of my favorite ways to enjoy muesli.  Muesli is mixed with plain yogurt and grated apple and left overnight (covered and refrigerated).  The grains are sweetened by the grated apple and soften and plump up in the yogurt.  Serve with a drizzle of honey and garnish with some finely chopped nuts or wheat germ.   Use about 1 cup yogurt, 1/4 muesli and 1/2 a grated apple per serving.