Savory cheese-herb granola

Let me introduce you to the most addictive snack to come out of my kitchen thus far: savory granola. Sounds funky, looks goofy, tastes like a cheese-and-herb cracker with the volume turned to 11. For a salty-crunch addict like me, this is daydreamy stuff.

I love finding out that sweet foods don’t have to be sweet. I held off on making granola for a long time, because the sheer amount of liquid sweetener needed to bind it together made my gut tangle uneasily. Then the all-knowing internet offered up the suggestion to replace the sweetener with egg white, and the sugary-chewy notes with cheesy-herbal ones. I gave it a whirl, and came away with a cookie sheet full of crisp, fragrant, salty-savory oats and nuts, coated oh-so-delicately with Italian seasoning and Parmesan cheese. The smell alone made my chilly little apartment a little cuddlier and warmer.

Of course, I stuck my paws in as soon as it came out of the oven. At first, there was a shiver of cognitive dissonance, as I teased out the flavors of hazelnut and pecan and almond and oat from the cracker-like seasoning. But it didn’t take long for my brain to register something good, and I was hooked. It’s a little hard to believe how healthy this stuff is, because it tastes like a total cheesy-snack indulgence.

This granola is looser and crumblier than its sweet cousins, making it more like confetti than clusters. I imagine it would be a terrific addition to a cheese board or an hors d’oeuvres spread. It makes a glorious gluten-free alternative to croutons, especially on top of a rich, creamy soup. I haven’t tried it with tomato soup yet, but I expect the clouds will open and beams of light will descend. You could use this instead of seasoned breadcrumbs on top of a gratin or casserole; for breakfast, you could sprinkle it over baked or fried eggs, or mix it with yogurt. And when it comes to out-of-hand nibbling, it might be the best secret office snack in existence. I can slip a jar into a desk drawer, shake out a handful or two of granola in the morning, and go happily for hours without a rumble of hunger. That’s pretty special.

Savory Cheese-Herb Granola (makes about 3 1/2 cups)

Adapted from CHOW, via The Kitchn

Note: This recipe is incredibly flexible. Not only can you use just about any combo of grated cheese and herbs you have around, but the proportion of oats and nuts is easily adjusted. You’ll need roughly 3 1/2 cups of oats, chopped nuts, and seeds; how you divide that 3 1/2 cups is up to you. The ingredient list below reflects what I like in granola–it’s a guideline, not a rule. Play. Experiment. This is fun.

1/4 cup olive oil

1 large egg white

1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tbsp minced fresh herbs OR 1 1/2 tsp dried herbs (thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, or a mix of herbs)

3/4 tsp celery salt

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 cup old-fashioned (rolled) oats

1 cup slivered almonds

1 cup chopped mixed nuts (walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, pine nuts, and/or cashews)

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas) or hulled sunflower seeds

1/4 cup flax seeds, whole or coarsely ground (optional)

1/4 cup finely grated cheese (like Parmesan, Gruyere, or sharp cheddar)

Preheat the oven to 300º F and place a rack in the middle of the oven. In a small mixing bowl or glass measuring cup, combine olive oil, egg white, Worcestershire sauce, herbs, celery salt, onion powder, garlic powder, and pepper. Whisk until the mixture is thoroughly combined and thick. In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, almonds, chopped nuts, sunflower seeds, flax seeds (if using), and cheese. Pour the olive oil mixture over the dry ingredients and stir until everything is evenly coated.

Lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet, or line it with parchment paper. Transfer the granola mixture to the baking sheet and use a flexible spatula to spread it in an even layer. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until pale golden and toasty. Stir the granola twice in the first 20 minutes, then every 5 minutes until it’s done. (Because there’s no sugar, this will never get as deep brown and caramelized as sweet granola, so pay attention to texture more than color.)

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place it on a cooling rack. Let the granola cool completely, then transfer to an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 2 months.

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