My friend Lindsay taught me how to run. I mean, I was always physically capable, I think, but I had viewed running mostly as something that was necessary only when being chased. Or something conceived by my high school gym teachers, who would torture us by seeing how many times we could run around the school yard in 12 minutes. Which, by the way, I still don’t know, but I can tell you how many times you can *walk* around the school yard in 12 minutes: once.
In any case, sometime around 2003 I decided to become a runner, and my friend Lindsay, a Human Kinetics student at the time, took on the task of dragging my whining self through a learn to run 10k walk / run program. We worked at the same facility at the time and would go out for runs on my lunch break or after work, and I remember the early days of the program where it was walk four minutes then run one minute x 10 and that one minute of running seemed like an eternity of burning hell. Lindsay would always be beside me “motivating” (read: threatening) me to keep running, and keep running I did. Somewhere along the line a change happened and I realized that I had actually started to *like* running, which may have had something to do with the Very Cute Triathlete I had started dating around that time. Or maybe I just actually truly had learned to like running because I had worked up to it properly rather than just being told to go run for 12 minutes. Whatever it was, I had become a runner, and in 2009 I did my first half marathon. Take that, 12 minute run.
Fast forward to now, and Lindsay, ever motivating people around her to do good things for themselves, has got a bunch of people doing this 30 day fitness challenge. It’s pretty simple, you choose an exercise or set of exercises for yourself and commit to doing it every day for 30 days. You have to check in each day and confirm you’ve done them, and if you don’t do them or if you forget to check in, you go back to day one and start again. I have had to re-start twice now, both times due to jet lag when I chose sleep over exercises. I’m on day 19 now. There is also the option of doing a tandem nutrition challenge for the 30 days; I’ve committed to eating extra greens each day, which I’ve been getting in most often by adding a handful of spinach to my daily smoothie. Lindsay, because she’s hard core, has given up refined sugar for 30 days. And because she’s super hard core, she’s not even eating unrefined sugars like maple syrup or honey, just naturally occurring sugars in fruits. And because I like a challenge, I told her that I would make her dinner and include a dessert which wouldn’t break any rules. Enter this granola.
As it happened, around the time I was brainstorming a no sugar dessert, Angela over at Oh She Glows posted a recipe for chocolate dessert granola, which looked amazing. Her recipe was the inspiration for this granola for sure, but she had used brown rice syrup and chocolate chips in her granola, neither of which I’d be able to use in mine. Remember back when I posted this recipe for No Sugar Banana Branners? I started thinking about the date base that served as the sweetener for those muffins, and I wondered if I used the same technique with the dates but then pureed them with cocoa, coconut oil, and a little vanilla, would I get a chocolate syrup that would work as both the chocolate component and the sweetener for granola? Folks! It worked like a dream. A delicious chocolaty dream. Honestly, you could make the puree and stop right there; you’d have a great no (refined) sugar chocolate sauce. You could eat it by the bowl-full like a pudding. When Lindsay arrived at my house I handed her the bowl from the food processor to lick out, and she had at it without stopping even once to question whether it fit within the confines of her no sugar challenge (trust, friends. trust.) and licked that baby clean.
I have made three batches of this granola in under a week. It comes together incredibly quickly, it’s tasty and nutritious, and it seems to keep disappearing. I’ve tried it with nothing but oats and a handful of peanuts, but my preferred combo, also referred to as ‘test batch two’, uses oats, large coconut flakes, and chopped almonds. It’s amazing straight out of the jar eaten by the handful, over some plain yoghurt, or, if you’re feeling wild and crazy, sprinkled over vanilla ice cream. The recipe uses no refined sugar, is vegan, and gluten-free*. If you’re sensitive to nuts you can leave them out.
*Current food labeling laws in Canada actually prohibit labeling anything that contains oats as being gluten free. Often oats are processed in the same facilities that process wheat, which creates problems for people with serious gluten sensitivities. Be cautious purchasing oats if you’re truly gluten-free, or consider swapping the oats for another rolled grain.
No (refined) Sugar Chocolate Coconut Granola Recipe:
I have used coconut oil in this recipe because it is a great natural oil which doesn’t impart any flavour to the recipe. If you don’t have any you could sub in another light flavoured vegetable oil, like grape seed oil or canola. The finished granola isn’t as sweet as the chocolate sauce is, but it is still plenty sweet, and has a great toothsome chewiness to it.
200g (about 1 1/2 cups) of chopped dates
1 cup water
1 tsp baking soda
3 Tbsp coconut oil (or other light flavoured vegetable oil)
1/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp sea salt
3 1/2 cups whole rolled oats
1 cup large flake coconut
1 cup almonds, roughly chopped
Pre-heat oven to 325 F / 160 C. Line a large cookie sheet or cake pan with parchment paper.
In a medium pot, combine chopped dates and one cup of cold water. Uncovered, bring to a rolling boil. Add 1 tsp of baking soda, stir, and remove from heat. The date mixture will foam up for a few min, this is normal. Stir a few times, and set aside to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, combine oats, coconut, and chopped almonds.
Combine cooled date mixture, coconut oil, cocoa, vanilla, and salt in a food processor. Puree until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides a couple of times.
Pour the chocolate sauce over the oat mixture, and stir well to combine. Turn granola mixture out onto the prepared baking sheet, and spread out evenly. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and using a spatula, carefully turn the granola over. Bake for another 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. Store in a glass jar.
All text and photos © The Muffin Myth 2011